By Hillary Busis
Updated January 10, 2013 at 07:16 PM EST
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Les Miserables

  • Movie

Anne Hathaway’s Best Supporting Actress nomination seemed a foregone conclusion — and most Oscar pundits agree that the award itself is hers to lose. But there was a time when Hathaway’s performance wasn’t such a sure thing.

Claude-Michele Schönberg’s Les Mis has been performed countless times since its premiere in the ’80s — and the part of virtuous Fantine, a factory worker whose fall from grace leads to one of the show’s most emotional moments, had been played by some of the theater world’s biggest names, including powerhouses Patti LuPone, Randy Graff, and Lea Salonga.

So how did Hathaway manage to put her own stamp on such an iconic role? “I was really lucky to get to sing a great song, period. But I was also lucky to be the first person to sing it on film,” the actress told EW this morning. She also noted that director Tom Hooper and his team placed “I Dreamed a Dream” later in the film than it appears in the stage show, “so I got to sing it from a more raw place than anyone had ever gotten to sing it before.”

Getting to that raw place, of course, wasn’t easy. “It was about sinking further and further down — so it was a fall, and it felt like that,” Hathaway explains. “It wasn’t one of those situations where you could say, ‘Oh wow, crushed it!’ So I never felt that satisfaction when you can walk away from a scene knowing that you gave it your best. Now I appreciate that I gave it everything that I had, but at the time it was too close and too painful.”

But luckily, Hooper knew just what to say to soothe Hathaway’s anxiety. “He could see how nervous I was before, and he came up to me and said, ‘It’s not an iconic song. It’s something this woman is feeling and making sense of, and it’s a howl,” she remembers. “I felt released from the weight of responsibility of everyone’s love and experience with the song, and I felt very supported that I was in a safe place to try something new.”

Perhaps she’ll get to try something new again on Feb. 24 — if the Academy is as moved by Hathaway’s Fantines as audiences have been.

(Reporting by Karen Valby)

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Les Miserables

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