The British actress nails her turn as ''Les Miz'''s tragic heroine Éponine — a role she originally played on the London stage.

By Lindsey Bahr
Updated January 04, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

Samantha Barks is just 22, but she already knows a thing or two about going after what she wants. At 16, she left her small English town to pursue her dream of performing on the London stage. At 17, she was cast as Sally Bowles in a national tour of Cabaret. At 19, she landed the role of the doomed romantic Éponine in a West End production of Les Misérables. And then, in 2011, after a 15-week audition process, she reportedly beat out the likes of Taylor Swift and Lea Michele to play Éponine again — only this time, in Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of the beloved musical. ”I was on stage playing Nancy in Oliver! and Cameron Mackintosh [the legendary British stage producer who also worked on the Les Miz movie] walked out and announced that I got the part,” she says. ”It was the most unique way you could ever find out you got a role.”

Not to mention, a pretty cool way to kick off your movie career. Now Barks is winning raves for her turn as the impoverished young woman in unrequited love with Eddie Redmayne’s revolutionary, Marius. Though the actress was well acquainted with Éponine, she hoped to put a fresh spin on the character for the film, so before production began, she went back to the Victor Hugo novel on which the show and movie are based. ”I wanted to get more background on this girl,” she says. ”There are so many details that can be added when the camera is so close to you.”

Barks was understandably nervous to work alongside veteran actors like Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, but, she says, ”we were all there to help each other. I learned a lot from Hugh Jackman, just from watching the way he approaches a role.” The lesson took: Barks’ name is getting tossed around as a possible Best Supporting Actress Oscar contender — an honor she responds to with charming British humility. ”It’s exciting for the film to be received so positively.”

And where does she go from here? ”I would love to maintain a healthy balance between stage and film,” she says. ”But my ultimate dream is to be a Bond girl — a badass Bond girl.” Don’t underestimate her, Daniel Craig.

Les Miserables

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 167 minutes
  • Tom Hooper