Carol's (almost) starring role in Les Misérables
January 17, 2013
Sonning Common journalist Carol Evans is a beggar in movie Les Misérables.
She shares her experience of swapping a newsroom for a film set
How did your role in Les Misérables come about?
It all started last February when my husband, John, and I were sent details about an open casting at London’s Barbican Centre. We queued for about four hours, along with more than 1,000 other people, hoping to get picked for filming at Pinewood Studios in March. As it turned out, filming started in April and went on until June, and it included location work in Greenwich. John got a week’s notice that he had been successful and I got a day.
What role do you play?
We were both cast as beggars, the real low-life who lived in the most horrendous conditions on the streets of 19th century Paris. There were 80 beggars in total, of all ages.
We were very much part of the action – climbing the barricade, marching with the student revolutionaries, and fleeing from horses ridden by soldiers brandishing weapons. And we were singing too.
Later, when we moved to the indoor set, director Tom Hooper called for ‘abject poverty’, meaning all the beggars had to go barefoot on a set that included horses and a cow (plus their deposits on the cobbles!).
On another day, I was one of three beggars who spent the day curled up on those self-same wet cobbles.
What was your costume like?
It was very cold and, in our beggar rags, we all appreciated just how awful it must be living in the open air. My costume consisted of a shapeless, grey linen shift with tattered, elbow-length sleeves, underskirt and khaki overskirt, topped by a reddish waistcoat.
This was finished off with a thick, high-waisted beige apron which I had to be stitched into every day. I had a rag round my hair beneath a torn and misshapen green felt trilby.
Once in costume, we were ‘broken down’, ie dusted with what looked like soot, giving us an ingrained dirty and unkempt appearance. In fact, we all looked so awful that in the early days of the shoot, those dressed as Parisian toffs actively avoided us in the mess tent! The make-up was brilliant too and we really did look a sorry bunch, with our filthy faces, livid scars, bruises, dark shadows, exaggerated wrinkles, and open sores (fashioned with Rice Krispies!). Any exposed skin was dirtied up too.
Our teeth were painted throughout the day with a yellow-brownish gunge which, when you smiled, made you look gummy and super-repulsive.
Where did you film and what was it like being on set?
Our first few days of filming were on location at the Old Naval College in Greenwich, starting at 5.30am and, some days, finishing at 8pm or 9pm. [Some of the film was also shot in Ewelme, a small village near Henley.]There was terrific camaraderie. Everybody there was a fan of the Les Mis stage musical, and we endured the intense cold because we all just wanted to be a part of what we felt was something quite awesome.
After Greenwich we moved to Pinewood, where we were the first to film in the brand new Richard Attenborough Stage. There weren’t such huge numbers of extras there and we were in scenes involving all the stars (with the exception of Anne Hathaway). It was also interesting to see how the professional team worked, from the director down to the guy holding the clapper board.
Are there any moments on set which stand out as particular highlights?
The whole experience has been one long highlight, but I will always remember shooting at Greenwich, in particular the impressive funeral scene when we marched with the revolutionaries singing the stirring Do You Hear the People Sing?
There must have been 300 extras on set that day and about 50 horses.
Did you chat to any stars of the film?
The stars were all brilliant but basically kept to themselves, although in the finale at Greenwich, Anne Hathaway ran up to all the extras with arms spread and thanked us all for ‘being great guys’, which was nice. Russell Crowe was great, joking with the crew and chatting to the kids. In the stifling Pinewood studio, he went to find some water for a tiny tot who was crying because of the heat.
My only claim to speaking to any of them was while freezing in Greenwich. I was warming myself on a radiator next to an indoor loo and Hugh Jackman asked me if I was in the queue.
Being part of a huge blockbuster seems very glamorous. Were there parts of filming which weren’t so glam?
I don’t think that being an extra is particularly glam. The working day is long and there is a lot of hanging around while you wait for your scene or while the camera is re-positioned. On one day we started at 7.30am and didn’t get on set until nearly 6pm.
What did you think of the film when you saw it?
I thought it was absolutely terrific – although cynics will declare that’s what I’d say anyway.
What did it feel like spotting yourself on screen?
Among so many people, it was only a fleeting glimpse, but I felt a little glow of pleasure. But it was more like, ‘My God, I was there. I’m actually part of this amazing film’.
Has the experience made you want to get involved in more films?