Not only did director Tom Hooper take a big risk by attempting to bring the musical version of "Les Miserables" to the big screen, but he also had the guts to go back to the show's creators and tell them they weren't quite done.
"Les Miserables," by Victor Hugo, tells the story of Jean Valjean, a criminal whose life is transformed by an act of mercy. In response to that moment, he eventually adopts a young girl who teaches him what it means to love another.
It is among the most adapted novels of all time, spawning dozens of films and TV shows since its publication in 1862. While the musical is among the most beloved in Broadway history, no one had ever attempted a screen version until now.
Naturally, Hooper went back to the source material for a re-reading, during which he noticed that the story's hero goes through not one, but two life-changing moments.
"What I learned from the book is that Jean Valjean experiences two epiphanies – when he meets the bishop, where he learns virtue and compassion and faith and starts a new life," said Hooper during a recent press conference in New York City. "And then, when he meets Cosette, he discovers love for the first time. Here's this guy in his late middle age who's never loved or been loved, and experiences parental love for a child and re-commits his life to this child."
That first realization was immortalized in the song "What Have I Done":
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
The second epiphany, however, wasn't made as clear in the timeless musical, explained Hugh Jackman, who embodies the role in the new film.
"This is one of the most incredible dramatic moments ever written about and we don't have a song for it?" Jackman asked incredulously. "It also propels the second half of the movie. He doesn't just look after Cosette – he's terrified, he's full of love and anxiety."
Hooper believed it was such an integral part of Jean Valjean's journey that he asked the show's composer and lyricist to get back to work.
"So I asked the original composers (Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil) to come up with a song that's about what that is like... discovering this love for his child" and realizing that "the hardest part is letting this child out into the world."
The result is "Suddenly," in which our hero ponders the depth of his love for Cosette:
And memories I cannot share
The song fits seamlessly into the fabric of the musical, and wouldn't arouse a bit of suspicion in anyone who didn't already know the show.
"I think I'll count it as one of the great honors of my life to have these two incredible composers write a song with my voice in mind," said Jackman. "The first time I sang it I felt like I had been singing it my whole life."