Fra Fee discusses life on the barricade in Les Miserables

Fra Fee

West End actor Fra Fee played Courfeyrac in the Academy Award nominated film Les Miserables.

 

Les Miserables  is more than a movie, it’s a monumental piece of culture that is garnering attention across the world.

The film took home three of the top honors at the Golden Globes on Sunday (including a best picture award while leading actor Hugh Jackman and supporting actress Anne Hathaway also walked away with wins) and it’s a fan-favorite for the Academy Awards in the Best Motion Picture, Best Actor (Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Hathaway) categories.

In the film epic, the familiar faces in the Les Amis de l’ABC (or Friends of the ABC – the students of the revolution) included Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit but for any true Les Miserables fan, there was another familiar voice in the call for freedom.

Fra Fee, an Irish actor who performed as Marius and other roles in the West End production of Les Miserables, transitioned from the stage to the screen to play Courfeyrac, one of the students who puts his life on the line at the barricade.

(For the casual moviegoer, Courfeyrac was the student who tugged at our heartstrings as he attempted to scale the barricade to protect little Gavroche (played by Daniel Huttlestone) from harm.)

Fra took a moment away from his busy schedule to dish about what it took to transition from the stage to the screen, a deleted scene that would have drawn even more tears from the audience, how the boys of the barricade earned their nicknames and much more…

SDD: I know you have an extensive history with Les Mis. Was the film something you wanted to get involved with right away or were you apprehensive?

FF: I was aware that a movie was in the pipeline from a long time ago but it was nothing I thought too much about as it simply never occurred to me that I would be in for a chance of becoming involved. Then, when it was confirmed and press releases had informed us of when shooting was due to begin, I was in the stage show in the West End so I definitely didn’t believe I’d be involved – as I was contracted with the show for a year. However, luckily Cameron Mackintosh gave us all the opportunity to audition for the movie. When I was cast, I wasn’t sure in what capacity I would be involved. I was eventually told that I was to play Courfeyrac – amazing moment.

SDD: Was it difficult to leave the stage production for the film? 

FF: It wasn’t difficult, no! I had been doing the stage show for a good eight months so to approach the story in a completely different way, and particularly with a different character, was very much an enticing thing. Myself and Hadley joked about it being difficult to go back to the stage show after the film though! How the Queens [Theatre] would look like a village hall production in comparison – we were joking of course! Ha!

SDD: How did singing live for the film differ from singing live for theatre?

FF: I guess it did in a way. Similarly to not having to project our emotions to the back of a theatre, we didn’t have to project our voices. In many ways, we had to “unlearn” what we, as stage actors, had trained to do. It was very interesting being able to sing so very softly. Also the vocal style Tom [Hooper] wanted was non-theatrical – it was a lot closer to speech.

SDD: When did you realize your passion for theatre?

FF: From a very early age. My dad is a bit of a legend in the local amateur dramatic circuit at home (he can’t sing a note, by the way – but is a brilliant actor.) He took me and my sisters to plays at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, almost every month so theatre was something I always had an affinity with. A significant moment was when my sister played Mickey in her school’s production of Willy Russell’s ‘Blood Brothers’ (she went to a girls’ school, clearly.) I went into the rehearsal room at the age of about 7 to tell her that my ma and me were here to take her home, and saw the last scene being rehearsed – I was completely enchanted. I subsequently watched every single one of their 12-show run!

SDD: To date, you have played four roles in Les Mis. Do you have a favorite or is there a character you haven’t played that you would like to?

FF: I loved playing Marius in the West End. Interestingly, I find his character a tad 2-dimensional in the stage production, simply because the show is conceived in operatic form essentially. The way Marius is written into the story, as a hopeless juvenile romantic, works for the purpose of telling this story. However, I wanted to work against that stereotype and try and bring some depth to the character. I think Eddie [Redmayne] and Tom [Hooper] have worked brilliantly together to bring more depth to Marius in the movie.

SDD: Did it help ease any nerves having other friends [including West End performers Killian Donnelly, Alistair Brammer, etc.] on the film set?

FF: Big time. We had such a good time. Let’s face it – Les Mis is anything but cheery – so having fun off-stage and off-screen is essential. Alistair and Killdog are hilarious. I met some awesome lads on set as well. George [Blagden] and Hugh Skinner are legends!

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Fra Fee with Alistair Brammer, Golden Globe winner Hugh Jackman and Killian Donnelly

 

SDD: I have to ask about the “Dog” nicknames [Killdog, Fradog, Blagdog, etc.] because I know you started it but it has stuck with your fans as well.

FF: It’s so sad, isn’t it? The whole dog suffix started when I was at school. Me and my geeky friends called each other ‘dawg’ (or ‘dog’ – spelling at one’s own discretion) initially as a joke, but it sort of just stuck. And so everyone in my adult-life has unfortunately been subjected to the same treatment… Dog.

SDD: Aaron Tveit named you as one of the cast members he would most like to sing a karaoke duet with. What song would you choose for the two of you?

FF: I know! Love that! Umm… I wouldn’t mind duetting something from ‘Next to Normal’ as I’m a bit of a crazy fan when it comes to that show…maybe I could be in the Invisible Girl to his Superboy? No, that’s way too sad and weird… Let’s just go for ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ – The Human League …Wait.

SDD: Who did you learn the most from during the filming? Were you star struck by anyone?

FF: Probably Eddie. He’s an awesome actor. Incredibly assured and assertive – he knows exactly what he wants to achieve and uses his sense and intellect to achieve it. I love his realism, subtly and he has a gorgeous voice… The bastard! Only joking – he’s brilliant. George Blagden is a bit of class as well. Loved watching him do his thing. The whole experience was a learning one though. Everyone seemed to bring something to the table that was beneficial for us all.

Fra Fee with Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Huttlestone.

Fra Fee with Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Huttlestone.

SDD: With your experience playing him on the West End, did you and Eddie have any talks about Marius?

FF: Yeah. Before Eddie watched the show, I chatted to him on the stage at the Queens and showed him around the set. We discussed the fact that Marius has the potential to be perceived as a bit of a wet blanket in the stage version of the story. He explained how Marius’ grandfather was going to be featured in the movie to give Marius that element of political fervour that is perhaps missing from the stage version. Initially in rehearsals for the movie, I remember Courfeyrac was going to be the one who grabs the flag from Enjolras in the ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ scene at General Lamarque’s funeral but it ended up being a perfect opportunity to show more of the political passion of Marius.

SDD: I loved reading that the barricade was built within ten minutes and the cameramen were dressed in period costumes to blend in and capture those amazing shots. What was your favorite day of filming and alternately what was most challenging to you about the film?

FF: Favourite day? Definitely building the barricade! We were buzzing after that! To be given free reign of a completely realistic, life-like Parisian street and being told we were actually allowed to destroy it! It was like a kid’s dream come true! The most challenging was probably towards the end of the barricade scene – emotions were high and characters were dying left, right and centre – to be living that constantly was a bit trying. But amazing as well!

SDD: Fans are going wild about deleted footage being released. Were there any scenes you wish had been kept in the final cut?

FF: Unfortunately, yes there are a few moments…Courfeyrac and Gavroche [played by Daniel Huttlestone] had some more lovely moments which helped build up their friendship. One was a gorgeous scene when Gavroche comes back to the barricade just before the final attack. Courfeyrac had thought he was safe as Marius had just sent him off on his letter-mission. He sits cleaning a pistol on a step when Gavroche appears beside him. “Gavroche – what are you doing?” he says.  Aware that Gavroche quite simply won’t keep away from the action, he reluctantly hands him another pistol before dejectedly continuing on with his cleaning. Gavroche then moves around and sits beside Courfeyrac, who after a moment then hands the boy a spare piece of cloth. Gavroche mimics Courfeyrac and starts to clean his pistol…IT WOULD BREAK YOUR HEART I TELL YE!

SDD: Les Mis is definitely the hottest topic right now. Did you expect this much of a response from fans? What has surprised you most since this experience?

FF: I guess when we were shooting the movie and began to become aware that we were involved with something quite special, we knew the impact would be huge – and of course, Les Mis is beloved by so many – regardless of whether or not the film was actually any good, it would still garner a serious amount of interest! What’s amazing though is that the fans of the show, who are so very fond of the show and protective of it, have seemed to really embrace the movie and applauded Tom [Hooper] for bringing his own interpretation to it.

fra fee javert

Fra Fee as Courfeyrac, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert and George Blagden as Grantaire.

 

SDD: You seem to be very busy on Twitter answering questions and replying to comments. How have you been dealing with the recent attention from fangirls/fanboys?  

FF: Twitter makes me laugh. And the attention from new US Les Mis fans is very lovely and very flattering – and you’re all brilliant. To those that use a public social media site to insult or criticise, let’s just remember a simple rule that myself and Alistair Brammer like to abide by “be nice!” That’s it really!

SDD: You have done almost everything from opera to writing and performing original music to being on London’s premier stage to being in one of the most epic films ever created. What do you enjoy doing most and is there anything you haven’t done that you would like to try? Should we ever expect to see you on Broadway?

FF: I enjoy it all to be honest! I loved the Les Mis movie experience and it’s something I’d certainly like to do more of [screen work.] Hopefully the opportunity will arise to do more. Something I haven’t done already..? Certainly is! I’d love to originate a role in a new musical, I’d love to do a few plays, I’d love to do television! Lots! And yes, New York is my favourite place on earth, Broadway would be a dream. You never know!

SDD: Your next exciting venture is performing Follies at the Toulon Opera [the second-largest opera house in France].  How did you get involved with that project and what are you most looking forward to about it?

FF: I was asked to do Follies by a well-known conductor. I’m excited as it’s a Sondheim show and an amazing one at that. I’ve never done it either so it’ll be nice to do something new. I’m excited as it’s in an opera house with a big orchestra. And I’m a fan of the croissant…so that works out well!

SDD: How do you transition from such an epic piece like Les Mis to performing in the opera house?  

FF: It should be quite easy I imagine. Les Mis is quite operatic, certainly in scope and story, as well as being musically sung-through. So hopefully it won’t be too much of an adjustment. My background is opera as well! It’ll be great to get back on an operatic stage!

SDD: When you aren’t working, what do you like to do with your free time?

FF: You’ll mostly find me sat in a nice coffee shop somewhere reading or in a pub drinking beer and having “the craic”!

SDD: Do you have any hidden or unusual talents or interests that most people don’t know about?

FF: Umm…I can wiggle my ears… and play the melodica.

SDD: If you were no longer able to perform, what job would you most want to have?

FF: I would definitely be a choral conductor!

SDD: You’re a music teacher as well, right? 

FF: Yes, I do as much teaching as I can in my spare time. I did a music degree before pursuing musical theatre so it’s great to sit behind a piano and either coach a singer or a group of singers. As I said, if I wasn’t an actor I probably would have been a choral conductor so teaching on the side gives me that musical satisfaction!

SDD: Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

FF: Who knows? I’ll just see where it takes me!

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald
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4 Responses

  1. Man, if I could get vocal lessons from Fra! These interviews are very endearing.

  2. Awesome interview, StarDog! You are brilliant! Of course, lots of us knew that before the movie came out! You certainly are loved here in the U.S., Fra! xxx

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