STACK caught up with Brit actor David Oyelowo to discuss BBC One’s star-studded drama adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 19th century classic, Les Misérables.
Adapted by the award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace), the six-part mini-series brings to life a vast and unforgettable cast of characters, and tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict unable to escape the shadow of his past life, and his relentless pursuit by the chilling police officer Javert.
David Oyelowo (Selma) who plays Javert says, “Having recently had a very good film version of the musical , you ask yourself, ‘Do we need another Les Misérables?’ Well, you only need one if it is bringing something genuinely revelatory to the table, and this really does, because even though it is the same story, it’s the characters as you haven’t seen them in the musical, and it is the bigger story in a very real way that is so, so faithful to the book.”
The opportunity to delve deep into the character of Javert, one of the great iconic villains of world literature, is what drew Oyelowo to the role.
“I love the musical, but that piece only gives you so much of a true sense of Javert, and if you read the book of course he is so much more than the musical could ever show,” he says. “And when I read Andrew Davis’s six episodes of Les Misérables, it was clear that the opportunity being afforded me was to bring a whole load more context and complexity to a character that was already well known.”
Javert’s unfaltering belief in duty and the law makes him a relentless, fearless nemesis for the story’s hero, Jean Valjean, played by Golden Globe nominee Dominic West (The Affair). Discussing how he and West approached the cat-and-mouse dynamic, Oyelowo says, “We did a lot of talking, we did a fair bit of rehearsal, and Tom [Shankland] our director was also phenomenal in terms of his understanding of those characters and their dynamic.
“And then Dominic’s a really great and very funny guy. I actually had to stay away from him a fair bit while we were shooting because the nature of our relationship is so acrimonious in the show, and I wanted to keep my powder dry in order to be as nasty to him as I needed to be.”
Joining Oyelowo and West in the star-studded cast are Lily Collins (The Last Tycoon) as Fantine, Golden Globe & BAFTA winner and Oscar nominee Olivia Colman (The Favourite) as Madame Thénardier, with BAFTA winner Adeel Akhtar (The Night Manager) as her husband. Ellie Bamber (Nocturnal Animals) is Cosette, Josh O’Connor (The Crown) is Marius, and Erin Kellyman (Raised By Wolves) is Eponine.
“Everyone was there for the right reasons,” says Oyelowo. “I think Andrew’s script had really gathered a group of people who all recognised that we had been afforded something special in terms of the writing and in terms of the project and how ambitious it was. So even though we had a lot of fun doing it, everyone was there really ready to roll their sleeves up and get down to it. And you just have some great actors throwing down some really special performances.”
The Lookout Point and BBC Studios production, which does not feature any songs, was filmed in Belgium and Northern France.
“Such a brilliant job was done in terms of the locations,” says Oyelowo. “They are vast and epic and that’s definitely what you feel reading the book, and somehow I feel we managed to capture that with the mini-series.
“What was also great for us as actors is to be in an environment where you are not having to do too much acting from a period point of view. You could put on a costume and walk onto a set and you felt like you had gone back in time, and so you were just having to play the truth of the situation as opposed to having to do too much imagining.”