‘Les Miserables': A Guide to the Surprising Depth of Its Stars’ Singing Backgrounds

Samantha Barks (Eponine)

More than any other name in the Les Mis cast, “Samantha Barks” is the one most likely to make audiences go “wait, who?,” and that’s a damn shame, because she’s the only main character in the entire cast who has previously played her role in a stage production of Les Miserables (we won’t count Seyfried, because she was a child and she played the part for one show).

A bonafide theater nerd, Barks spent her childhood training (ballet, tap, modern dance, and opera) and performing (including school plays and amateur productions), so it must have been pretty satisfying for Barks when came in third in 2008 on British television show I’d Do Anything (a sort of American Idol where the prize was the leading role of Nancy in a new production of Oliver!). Though Barks didn’t win the show, it didn’t matter, because in 2011 she was cast as Eponine in a new London production of Les Mis, got to perform as Eponine during the massively successful 25th Anniversary Performance of the show, and (oh, snap!) ended up getting cast as Nancy in the UK tour of Oliver! in 2011. That worked out pretty well for her, right?

Barks singing “On My Own” from the 25th Anniversary Performance of Les Miserables:

Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier)

Bonham Carter’s credits include stage, screen, television, and radio. Her high, often-whispery voice is one of her many, many trademarks. She’s got sass and panache, but Bonham Carter has done scarce little actual singing. She didn’t sing on-screen until 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (though she did sing for 2005’s Corpse Bride).

Weird, right? Turns out, Bonham Carter had to convince her own partner (Tim Burton, you know) that she could sing for his Sweeney Todd. Bonham Carter took singing lessons for months to convince Burton she was right for the part, all while he continued to look at other actresses for the role.

Bonham Carter sings in Sweeney Todd in a featurette for the film:

Sacha Baron Cohen (Thenardier)

While it would be easy to joke that Baron Cohen should just stick to his silly singing work as Borat, Ali G, and Bruno, the funny man seems bound and determined to change that perception – between his work in Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, and that gestating Freddie Mercury biopic, Baron Cohen definitely wants to be recognized for his voice work.

You’ll be shocked to learn that Baron Cohen has no formal voice training.

Baron Cohen sings, ahem, “So My Country Can Be Free” in Borat:

Colm Wilkinson (Bishop of Digne)

Remember how we said that Hugh Jackman was the most qualified to lead such a production? Well, we might have fudged a bit. As a special bonus bit of trivia, Wilkinson, who plays the role of the Bishop of Digne in the film, actually originated Jackman’s role of Jean Valjean in both the London and New York stage versions of the film. He also played the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera during its original Canadian run, has released a number of his own albums, has won a range of awards for his work (including a Helen Hayes Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Theatre World Award), and was nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award.

So, yes, Wilkinson just might be the most qualified person in this entire cast. And that’s saying something.

Wilkinson sings “Bring Him Home” from the 10th Anniversary Concert for Les Miserables:

Les Miserables opens on December 25th.

Kate is an entertainment and culture writer and editor living in New York City. She is also a contributing writer for VanityFair.com, Cosmopolitan.com, RollingStone.com, Vulture, MTV.com, Details.com, The Dissolve, Screen Crush, New York Daily News, Mental Floss, and amNY. Her previous work can also be found at MSN Movies, Boxoffice Magazine, and Film.com. She lives her life like a French movie, Steve.

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