There are many memorable songs in Les Misérables, but perhaps none are as beloved as “I Dreamed a Dream,” which is sung by Fantine. Over the last few decades it has been recorded by everyone from Neil Diamond to Aretha Franklin, and turned middle-aged Scottish singer Susan Boyle into a household name with a single television performance. So it’s hard to blame Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine in the film adaptation, for feeling nervous when she had to perform “I Dreamed a Dream” for the film — especially since all of the vocals for the movie were recorded live with only a piano accompaniment coming through her earpiece.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Hathaway reveals, “It came right after I cut off my hair so it was a little bit of an intense one-two punch. It wasn’t my favorite scene to shoot just because there was so much pressure of expectation. I had gone to Tom [Hooper, director] and said I was starting to feel nervous about a week before. He said: ‘Listen. It’s not an iconic song. You mustn’t think about it like that. It’s this woman’s howl. It’s her processing what’s just happened to her.’ So I felt very protected; I knew what I wanted to do. But all of a sudden the stakes were raised because there was a camera there and it was going to be forever. I couldn’t stop thinking about how if I messed it up how exposed I would feel. So I did the first take and I was so angry with myself because it wasn’t good enough. I had really wanted to come out of the gate and just nail it. I dug in a little deeper and we did the second take and it wasn’t there and I just thought, ‘Oh, God.’ I started the third take and I just said, ‘No, no. Stop. I’m sorry. The balance, it’s off.’ And that’s when I took the earpieces and stuck them in my ears. I closed my eyes and I remember thinking, ‘Hathaway, if you do not do this in this moment, you have no right to call yourself an actor. Put aside all that bullshit and just do your job.’ I opened my eyes and I’m like (snaps figures): ‘Let’s go.’ And I did it. That was the one that I let rip and that was the one that was in the piece.”