Mackintosh: ‘Miss Saigon’ film depends on ‘Les Miz’
LOS ANGELES – As early as May this year, Cameron Mackintosh told us that he was looking for “fresh faces” for his new version of “Miss Saigon.” During our visit to the “Les Miserables” set at the Pinewood Studios in the UK, the producer of megamusicals said he would soon be scouting for talents, preferably under 20 years old.
(Cameron recently announced that Manila auditions for “Miss Saigon” would be held in November.)
He said he would start from scratch for his new production of the Vietnam War musical based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly.” He was all praise for the Filipino talents who had starred in “Miss Saigon” productions all over the world, led by Lea Salonga (“fantastic,” “remarkable”), Leo Valdez (“terrific”) and Monique Wilson, whom he asked about and complimented as well (we told him Monique was based in London).
When we asked for an update on the plans to turn the musical penned by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil into a film, he replied: “The fate of ‘Miss Saigon’ depends on how successful we are with ‘Les Miserables.’ ”
He added: “We will owe it all to Cosette (a character in the novel Les Misérables) if we get a chance to bring Kim to the screen.”
Later, Hugh Jackman, in full costume as Jean Valjean—beard and all—joined Cameron in the interview. A question about how Hugh and Russell Crowe (who plays Javert) were cast made Cameron remember the latter actor’s surprising “Miss Saigon” connection.
Cameron, a wonderful storyteller (the man can talk!), said with a laugh: “What I didn’t know until Russell and I first chatted was this—Russell said to me, ‘The first musical I had auditioned for was for you, bastard. You didn’t give me the role.’ It was for ‘Miss Saigon.’”
The modern-day impresario added: “Russell had just come out of college—drama school. My managing director over there, Matthew (Cameron pointed at him in the back), and Russell were school friends. Matthew kept encouraging Russell to go and come up for the show because I think it was the beginning of the 1990s when I was doing it (‘Miss Saigon’) in Australia.”
Cameron had more—can you imagine Geoffrey Rush, the Oscar and Golden Globe Best Actor Winner for “Shine” as the Engineer? Cameron recalled: “Ironically, another person I didn’t take for that show was Geoffrey Rush and only because he looked too Caucasian. But he was brilliant. I remember saying to Geoffrey, ‘If I were doing Fagin (from ‘Oliver!’), I would be pleased to have you.’”
The producer cited the serendipity: “And it shows what happens in life—six weeks later, Geoffrey got ‘Shine.’ Who knows what might have happened to that early part of his career if he was under contract with me for a year and he was not available for that role? It’s just weird how stuff happens so thank you, God. I always go, God on high.”
Cameron turned to Hugh and joked, “I turned you down, too, did I?”
Hugh laughed and offered his own “Les Miz” connection. When he auditioned for an Australian production of “Beauty and the Beast,” Hugh sang Javert’s song, “Stars,” from “Les Miz.” Cameron reacted with, “I told you that you should play Javert at one point.” “You did,” Hugh said.
Hugh shared what the “Beauty and the Beast” audition folks told him: “‘Why did you sing that song? It’s not really applicable at all to this.’ I said, ‘It was the only thing I had music to.’ They said, ‘Well, you can throw that away.’ ”
Looking at Cameron, Hugh cracked: “I don’t think you’ll ever do that one.”
Cameron volunteered that he had always thought of Hugh and Russell as his male leads for the film adaptation of “Les Miz.”
He said: “Over the years, I did often think, because I had worked with Hugh on ‘Oklahoma,’ that God, Russell and Hugh—wouldn’t they be brilliant in the roles? Initially, I thought it would be the other way around (Hugh is Javert; Russell is Jean).’ I used to have an office in Sydney because I did so many shows there. I saw Russell do ‘The Blues Brothers’ when he was starting his career. He started in musicals like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ‘Blood Brothers.’”
Both “Miss Saigon” and “Les Miz” still resonate with the times, according to Cameron. “It’s interesting to see how the Asian markets absolutely adore it (‘Miss Saigon’),” he said. “When I went to the opening (of the production) in Holland, I hadn’t seen it in four years. The world has caught up with ‘Miss Saigon.’ All the stuff in it—the resonance of (modern day) pirates and refugees is about Europe and people coming in from Africa. It has a completely different resonance now from when we did it. Sadly, we have so many wars in the world.”
“Nobody’s really thinking about the story of ‘Les Miserables’ in the context of the 1830 counter revolution—that it could come from today’s headlines everywhere,” Cameron continued. “It’s the same with it (‘Miss Saigon’). It’s interesting that the ‘American Dream’ number which ends badly turned out to be a premonition of what greed does to the American dream in the (economic) collapse. All of that is starkly there without (us) changing a single word so that number is very timely.”
Cameron maintained that “Miss Saigon,” like “Les Miz,” has creative potential as a film. “It was always an incredibly powerful story,” he stressed. “It’s about the ultimate mother’s sacrifice. I’ve always felt that if there was a market for dramatic musicals, that (‘Miss Saigon’) would be made.”
Back to “Les Miz”—which Tom Hooper directs—we asked him about the new Schonberg-Boublil song, “Suddenly,” which was added to the film version. “It happens exactly the very first movement that, having promised Fantine to look after her daughter, Valjean rushed to save her and this little girl immediately trusts him. There’s a fantastic scene in the movie where they meet in the forest which is really one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
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