Jackman plays the musical's long-suffering protagonist Jean Valjean in the film

By Christian Blauvelt
June 29, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Down Under’s favorite son sees your expectations for the big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables (out Dec. 14), and raises them. ”It’s rare you feel while making a film that it will be a cornerstone of your career — what you’re remembered for,” Hugh Jackman, 43, who plays the musical’s long-suffering protagonist Jean Valjean, told EW at Tropfest, a short-film festival he hosted in New York just hours after finishing up filming. ”Making Les Miz is the most rewarding experience in film I’ve ever had.” The movie — directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and costarring Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Sacha Baron Cohen — is almost entirely sung. ”We figured once you start singing, once the audience accepts it, it’s better to just go with that,” said Jackman, adding that the performers are really crooning on camera (without a prerecorded backing track). ”You always had to be on, because what you sang might be in the film.” And while it’s faithful to the beloved ’80s musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, it adds more color from Victor Hugo‘s original 1862 novel. ”Tom’s tweaked the plot of the musical a bit,” the Tony winner explained. ”He’s made it very epic, diving obsessively into period detail.” So how is Jackman feeling now that the production is finally over? Tired, mostly. ”I’ve been constantly putting in eye drops to keep me refreshed,” he said. ”It’s not working.”