Anne Hathaway is no stranger to the backend work it takes to prepare for a classic role. During an exclusive interview with The A.V. Club’s Jack Smart, Hathaway and her Armageddon Time co-star Jeremy Strong mused on the deepest dives they’ve taken preparing for a part. For Hathaway, the first research rabbit hole that comes to mind is her exploration of Les Miserables’ tragic mother Fantine.
“I went so deep on the research for Les Miserables that I discovered that there was a law against prostitutes in France at the time the book was set—or Fantine’s portion of the book was set—that a prostitute could be jailed if she did not have her head covered,” Hathaway explains.
In Les Miserables, Fantine’s arc is defined by a fall from factory work to homelessness to prostitution, all in the name of sending money to her daughter Cosette, who lives at a boarding house. Hathaway says that when she discovered the law, she realized it could serve a devastating purpose in a pivotal scene where Fantine dips further into the depths of destitution.
After a series of unfortunate events find her out on the street, Fantine is forced to sell her hair and teeth to survive before beginning to resort to sex work. Recalling the prostitute-specific law she had encountered, Hathaway says she told Les Miserables director Tom Hooper that it should be part of the scene.
“I said, when I’m fighting with the man, played by Bertie Carvel, could he knock my hat off?” Hathaway recalls. “Because if I were to have the police come upon me and my head is uncovered it instantly means go to jail like there’s nothing to be done.”
The scene in question is subtle; after Fantine sings “I Dreamed A Dream,” Carvel’s character Bamatabois attempts to solicit her. Fantine resists, and, in the ensuing scuffle, loses her hat, and is then arrested.
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“It’s just, in a savage system, that’s annihilation,” Hathaway concludes.