Interview: David Oyelowo Star of BBC One drama Les Misérables

Adapted by the award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies, Les Misérables maps the story of Jean Valjean and his nemesis, police officer and former prison guard Javert, who is determined to bring him to justice. Meanwhile Fantine, a working-class woman abandoned by her rich lover, is driven to increasingly desperate measures to provide for her young daughter. Powerful performances by the crème de la crème of British actoring with David Oyelowo at the helm the cast includes the recent Oscar winner Olivia Coleman. Oyelowo plays to his strengths creating a very intense and gripping drama.

The distinguished cast are Dominic West as Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo as Javert and Lily Collins as Fantine. The cast also includes Adeel Akhtar and Olivia Coleman as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Ellie Bamber as Cosette, Josh O’Connor as Marius and Erin Kellyman as Eponine. The Les Misérables DVD and Blu-ray will be available in stores from today 25th February 2019.

Alt Africa caught up with the versatile and talented David Oyelowo to talk Les Misérables.

AA: So, can you tell us a bit about Javert’s motivation and his obsession with Jean Valjean?

Well, that’s a good question because it’s a question I asked myself when I was first approached about doing the show because all I really knew of Javert was the musical and in many ways, you knew Javert was obsessed with Jean Valjean in some way, getting him and imprisoning him or just basically pursuing him. But what I went on to find out once I read Andy’s adapted script and of course, then the book is he’s really chasing himself. Javert was born in prison to criminal parents and hated the fact that that this was the case. He hated the fact that his parents made the choices they did. And in many ways Jean Valjean represents the part of himself he hates. And so, he fastidiously pursues this guy because he sees himself in Jean Valjean and in many ways by the time, he realizes that Valjean is a very different kind of character, a very different kind of person, a person that can entertain redemption for himself and love towards others. Someone who’s not easily painted into the criminal box, once Jevart realizes that to define Valjean is not so easy he kind of realizes the person he’s been chasing all this time is himself. Which is why he ends up, I mean it’s not a spoiler he ends up taking his own life because he realizes that he is the person who he has been trying to destroy this whole time himself.

AA: You and Dominic West both your characters bring a level of intensity to the screen so what was it like working on those roles and then being together off set?

David: You know I mean you know, Dominic is a great guy. Really wonderful person to be around but because of the nature of the roles we are playing I find myself needing to not hang out with him as much as I would like to. That intensity you talk about is very much on the page with their relationship. And you know I like to try and make everything feel as real as possible for myself because I believe that it feels real me and hopefully it will show real for the audience. So yes, there was not too much jollying between takes. You know now that we’ve finished with Cheryl and we get to do a bunch of press together we’re having a lot more fun now than we really did with each other when we were shooting. So yeah, I felt it was important that we try to maintain the dynamic between us so that we can do both do the characters justice.

AA: So, what did you like or dislike about Javert as a character?

David: Well what I like about the character is that he’s wonderfully complicated. He’s a character about who I think historically because he’s a famous character you have many opinions about him and preconceived ideas about him. But what was really offered to me by way of an opportunity was the possibility of trying to bring more context and more color to the character you know. I personally as a human being what I love about Javert is his intolerant and his judgment towards other people. You know he is very very black and white. And that’s why I just love about Jean Valjean’s trajectory in the story was the fact that he is more human in a sense and I like to think he is more like us. As human beings we have all sinned and fallen short. But we are all worthy of grace of grace and redemption?

AA: So, what makes you say yes to a script?

David:  The fact that it scared me. You know I always am looking for opportunities to scare myself. I’m always looking for roles that I am not entirely sure I’m not going to be able to play because I do think that’s how you grow as an actor. If continually put yourself in uncomfortable positions, situations. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to bring the level of complexity to the character that I felt Victor Hugo managed to do in the book. The writing I think Andy Davies’s adapted script is truly brilliant. And talking to Tom, the director about his vision for the piece felt very ambitious very epic and he really wanted to drill down into this cat and mouse dynamic between Valjean and Javert and that was something I was fascinated by.

AA: If you had been approached to do the musical would you have said yes?

David: I don’t think I would have said yes especially considering how recently we have you know had a very good rendition of the musical cinematically. I don’t think we need to two televisual or cinematic versions in such close succession.  What I loved about this was that it wasn’t the musical. It was six hours rather than two hours it was a far more faithful adaptation of the book than the musical can be because a musical is a very different beast. So, you know I knew we would be doing something slightly different than what had been seen recently and that was the reason to jump on board.

AA: You have played Selma, what other historical figures that you would like to play?

David: Yes. I’m gearing up to play Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer in a film. At the moment we in development on that, that is another person I have been fascinated by for many years, he has an incredibly interesting life in relation to him going up against the mob you know, in the 40’s and 50s in Harlem. As a black man who was the best at what he did and who did not see marginalization as something that could and should touch him. You know he’s just a really a fascinating guy.

AA: You have just finished working on Come Away tell us a bit about it?

David: Yes, Come Away is a reimagined story of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and reimagined as brother and sister and me and Angelina Jolie play their parents and then our family suffers a tragedy and it’s about how our kids use their imagination to try and claw their way out.

Fans of the BBC One drama Les Misérables can buy the star-studded adaption of Victor Hugo’s 19th century classic on DVD and Blu-ray, available on Amazon (RRP £20.42)

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