Four years ago, Samantha Barks — then just 17 — was an entrant in the West End television star-search program "I'd Do Anything," which sought to cast the lead role of Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh's Drury Lane revival of Oliver! She placed third in the public vote, but is now playing the role, at last, for herself onstage in Mackintosh's new touring production of the show. On Jan. 31, she was dramatically given the news that she had won the role of Eponine in the forthcoming film version of Les Misérables. Playbill caught up with her on tour.
You heard the news at the end of the Jan. 31 performance of Oliver! in Manchester. Was it completely unexpected?
Samantha Barks: I have been auditioning for the last 15 weeks — going in and out, doing camera tests and screen tests. Then at the end of last Tuesday's show, we were taking our bow as usual, and Cameron [Mackintosh] came onstage. We were all wondering what it was about, and though that maybe he was going to give a speech about the Dickens 200th anniversary, but instead he told me I was going to be Eponine in the film! I've watched the video back, and just stood there frozen — it was such a surprise.
How do you feel now?
SB: I feel so over the moon, but I'm still in a slight state of shock. It's been a crazy week but everyone's support has been amazing.
You've played Eponine already in the West End and in the 25th anniversary concert at the 02 Arena that was also filmed, so you've made the role your own already. Is your approach going to be different for the film?
SB: I've had a lot of experience with the role, so it is fantastic to be able to now work on another side of it. New things emerge every time you go through it. Especially working with Tom Hooper, who is such a fantastic director, it's good to be bringing out new, fine details. And screen-testing with Eddie Redmayne [who was already cast as Marius for the film] was great: he's so fantastic, and screen testing with someone who was so lovely and made me feel so comfortable really helped. He's had such an amazing year — he's so talented, but also the nicest guy. Frances Ruffelle, of course, created the role in the original stage production, and I know she tweeted her support when the news was announced.
SB: The first step of the crazy year I had with Les Misérables happened before I even opened in it; I was asked to sing a duet with Frances — we did a duet of "On My Own," which was kind of ironic! I was so honored to be singing with the brilliant original Eponine. Lea Salonga also tweeted me, and to have their support has been mind-blowing.
|photo courtesy of BBC|
Is Eponine a role you always wanted to play?
SB: Yes, Les Misérables is absolutely one of the classics, it's such an epic musical. I always loved the part of Eponine, but it was only when I auditioned and got the part that I realized how much the character meant to me — she really evokes something in me. It's really such an incredible role, and to explore that in the West End, then in the concert and now on film is such an honor. I love that character so much.
Doing it at the 02 Arena was quite a big deal, too, wasn't it?
SB: Yes, and it was announced that I'd be doing it there on my opening night in the West End, so I've been on quite a journey with this character. To perform at the 02 was the biggest thing I've ever done.
But of course you're now playing the role of Nancy in Oliver!, which is what you went after when you took part in the TV show "I'd Do Anything."
SB: To be playing the role I auditioned for when I was 17 is such a joy. I was still at drama school at the time. I think the good part of doing that show when I was 17 is that it was such a hard process to go through, auditioning in front of the nation, that it proved to be a good training for my mind in learning not to take things to heart so much, and not to get too disheartened when you're criticized. It feels like such a long time ago — I was so young — but to do it now onstage is a dream in itself. It's such a fantastic role and with a great cast.
You're still young now!
SB: I'm 21 now, but it's amazing how different my life is now to then. I've been very lucky with the career I've had from then to now! I've learned that I've got to keep level-headed. If you go with every single emotion, it's a rollercoaster. But I've been given so many great opportunities, and I've tried to work as hard as I could in each show so I could keep growing as much as I can as a performer. The day you stop learning and creating must be the most boring day. It's important to be able to keep things fresh, no matter what age you are, or how many years you've been in the industry.
Who are your personal role models?
SB: I've got so many different role models for different things, but I really admire Beyonce — no matter how successful she gets, she still seems to remain this level headed human being. Every time I see an interview with her I think that's the way to be! She's someone I'd love to meet. When I hear her sing, she just blows me away every single time. But when I see her in interview, I fall in love with her — she seems to remain his wonderful human being. You'll be working with some great people in Les Misérables — Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter. Are you intimated?
SB: I'm so excited! These are people I have so much respect for as actors, the whole cast is phenomenal, and I can't wait to get working with them!
Filming for "Les Misérables," the motion picture, begins in March in London. Mark Shenton is Playbill.com's London news correspondent. Follow his work in our International News section.