When speaking of fiction, an average girl best relates to a heroine, who like them, knows nothing of the easing delight yielded by living out the Summer Finn equation. For this reason, it’s no wonder that the story of an ordinary beauty harbouring unrequited love for her friend Marius should evoke sympathy, despite her sometimes not-so-honourable behaviour towards the tale’s kind-hearted and fairy-tale lovely heroine — beloved of the very same Marius.
Charging the role of Éponine with a piercing raw purity, Hollywood newcomer Samantha Barks, holds her own in the musical blockbuster Les Misérables amongst a heavy-hitting cast including Anne Hathaway, Russel Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), the film has been generating buzz since casting began early last year, with anticipation soaring following the release of teasers showing off the vocals of Hathaway — hair snipped to her scalp — singing “I Dreamed a Dream” in the role of Fantine.
While cinema audiences will be meeting Barks for the first time in Les Misérables, the 22-year-old actress is already an established name on the theatre bill in London’s West End. Her introduction to the scene came when she was 17 in the form of the BBC reality TV series I’d Do Anything, where contestants competed for the part of Nancy in the West End revival of the musical Oliver!. While Barks was not crowned winner, she went on to play the part of Nancy in the musical later on down the road. It was in fact during the curtain call of Oliver! that Barks was met by mega theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh with the news of her casting in the film adaptation of Les Misérables. Far from an introduction to the role, Barks had at that point in time already perfected her Éponine twice over, first in the West End, and then in the musical’s sold out 25th anniversary production, staged at the city’s O2 arena.
A slight figure made big by an indomitable spirit sunk in a sprawling wasteland, Barks plays the part of Éponine with evocative authenticity. Her performance is one of passion, sorrow and innocence; a sensitive and intuitive portrayal of an unhappy soul conflicted by wanting the one she loves, and resigning herself to helping him obtain the happiness he seeks in the love of another. “It’s interesting to me that Éponine is so streetwise and tough, and has only ever experienced a world full of dark characters,” says Barks of her character. “When she meets Marius, he is a good person, and in a way shines a light on her dark soul, making her feel exposed, and almost nervous to interact with him.”
Green though Barks may be in comparison to her co-stars, we predict this little triple threat from the remote Isle of Man will hear the people sing with praise come the release of Les Misérables on Christmas day. Gearing up for her film’s premiere, Barks takes a moment to talk to FILLER about her first feature experience, her co-stars, and the affection she feels for her character, Éponine.
Let’s start by talking about the magical way you were told you got the part of Éponine. Did you nearly fall off your feet when producer Cameron Mackintosh came on stage to share the news?
It was the most shocking moment of my life.To find out such life changing news — especially in the way I found out — was so shocking, I can barely remember it. It was like something from a dream!
I can only imagine! During the audition process, was it difficult tuning out the talk about singers/actresses such as Taylor Swift and Scarlett Johansson being shortlisted for the part, or were you able to just focus on nailing the part despite all the hype buzzing around?
This was the biggest opportunity of my life so far, so it was hundred percent crucial that I ignored all the media hype surrounding the casting process, that way I could give my entire focus to to the part itself.
For more than some fans of Les Misérables, Éponine is the one their heart goes out to rather than Cosette, perhaps because of the romance of unrequited love. Why do you think so many adore her as a heroine, despite her sometimes questionable morality?
Unrequited love is something we all go through at some stage in our lives. I think in some way, it’s actually easier to relate to than actually falling head over heels in love with your “soul mate” because that isn’t always the way things pan out. She comes from parents who are criminals, so her morality is very twisted. She does eventually do the right thing, but this brave act only makes her ending more tragic.
She’s a complex character, tough, but sensitive at the same time.
I wanted to show her insecurities, while remaining the streetwise tough cookie that she is! I love the escapism that’s described in the number “On My Own,” but also the strength in character with the line: “and I know it’s only in my mind.” I wanted to portray both those aspects. She has never felt love before, or really seen much of the existence of love. She is left conflicted as to weather to choose the path of good or choose the path that feels most natural to her. I think love redeems her in the end, which makes her a character I feel for.
It’s true, it’s hard not to feel for her. When you auditioned for I’d Do Anything back in 2008, did you imagine that you would end up in film?
My goal when I auditioned for I’d Do Anything was to gain fantastic experiences both in life, and for my career. Singing with Idina Mendel and Liza Minnelli certainly ticked those boxes! I never dreamed I would one day star in a movie, I am still pinching myself!
And what a way to do it! To transition from stage to film by way of a star-studded blockbuster musical production must have been nerve-wracking. Were you intimidated at first?
Singing live is something I feel comfortable with, however, camera work is totally new so it was mixed feelings! I think I was entering a world I knew nothing about, but at least was entering with a character I knew a lot about, which was comforting!
Coming from a stage background, did you change or adjust your style of acting for the big screen?
I had to adjust my acting style for the movie because I no longer had to project emotions or my voice to the back of a theatre, I could allow those intimate details to come through. I found the experience thrilling!
How was it working with director Tom Hooper?
Tom is an incredible director! His eye for detail is incredible, but he always allows you that freedom to discover your character, and guided you through it. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have worked with him. The man is a genius!