Star of Bristol Hippodrome's Oliver! and smash hit film Les Miserables is heading for the Oscars
After wowing audiences on the Bristol stage in Oliver! Samantha Barks is heading for the Oscars thanks to her performance in smash film Les Miserables. She tells Natalie Banyard about her whirlwind past 12 months.
CURLED up on a sofa backstage at the Bristol Hippodrome, Samantha Barks is an excitable bundle of energy – and she has a lot to be excited about.
A year ago Samantha, who has been thrilling Hippodrome audiences with her moving portrayal of Nancy in Oliver!, was a relative unknown.
Today, the 22-year-old actress is experiencing a meteoric rise to fame and has a Hollywood career within her grasp.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Back in 2008, Samantha lost out to Jodie Pringer in the BBC's I'd Do Anything, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh's search for a girl to play Nancy in the new production of Oliver!.
While she may not have won the battle, she has certainly won the war. As well as making a name for herself as a leading lady on stage, last year Sam beat off competition from lauded Hollywood actresses to land the part of Eponine in the blockbuster film of Les Miserables, and has now been honoured with an invitation to perform at the Oscars.
"It has been a whirlwind and I'm enjoying the ride," Sam smiles.
"It's been mad – but I'm loving every second."
Samantha wasn't able to join in the film's triumph at the Golden Globes and BAFTAS because she has been performing in Bristol, but the young actress has been given permission by Cameron Macintosh to leave the tour a few days early so she can dazzle at the prestigious Los Angeles award ceremony.
Samantha says she can't quite believe her luck, but will miss playing Nancy – a role she has come to love.
"I did the search for a Nancy TV show when I was 17 and now I have come full circle, playing Nancy at 22.
"So Nancy has been a big part of my life for a long time, and I really do love and feel for the character.
"Thanks to the combination of Charles Dickens' writing and Lionel Bart's music, she's a phenomenal character with phenomenal songs which are pulled from such a poignant place. It's heart-wrenching to watch her rise then fall.
"She's so full of life and brings joy into other people's lives.
"She's a maternal figure to the young boys and she brightens the spirits of the people in the pub where she works, so to see how she's treated behind closed doors is horrible."
Fresh from its record-breaking run in the West End, Cameron Macintosh's sensational production of Oliver! launched a national tour last year and will come to an end here in Bristol on February 24.
Playing to standing ovations and receiving rave reviews, Oliver! features all the best-loved characters and favourite songs including Consider Yourself, Food Glorious Food, Oom-Pah-Pah and I'd Do Anything.
It's also one of the largest productions on tour today, with a cast of 54, orchestra of 16 and a technical team of 53 who bring the show to life eight times a week.
"It's huge for a touring show," says Samantha. "So many kids, so many costumes... it feels really exciting to be part of such a big production.
"You wouldn't believe how much work goes into a show like this both on and off the stage. But it's more than worth it to see the audience reaction – they appreciate that this is a quality production.
"I've enjoyed doing the show so much and we've been lucky enough to have had lovely audiences here in Bristol for our final dates.
"They've been really responsive, warm and generous in their applause."
If Nancy was the role that brought Samantha to prominence, Eponine has the potential to change her life.
Samantha won the role of Eponine, the tragic victim of unrequited love, in the West End production of Les Miserables in 2010. She made such an impression that she was invited to perform at the show's 25th anniversary concert in front of 20,000 fans at the O2 arena.
But nothing would prepare her for the moment in January last year when Cameron Mackintosh surprised her on stage during the curtain call of Oliver! to tell her she would be playing Eponine in the movie, beating off competition from Hollywood names rumoured to include Scarlett Johansson, Taylor Swift and Lea Michele.
"I was in shock when Cameron suddenly appeared on stage to announce that I'd be playing Eponine," exclaims Samantha.
"I had been auditioning for 15-odd weeks, which was gruelling, so to find out I had got the part – and to find out in such a dramatic and surprising way – was mad.
"They captured it on video and you can see me trying to work out what's going on. I thought 'is this some kind of joke?, because if it is, it's cruel!' Thankfully it wasn't a joke and was actually a life-changing moment."
Samantha joined an all-star cast including Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to bring the epic tale of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption to the big screen in spectacular style. And the virtual unknown, who had never been on a move set before, more than holds her own, blowing audiences away with her emotional turn as Eponine and her full-throated rendition of the show's big love ballad, On My Own.
Samantha admits that while Les Miserables was a tremendous, career-defining opportunity, it was a daunting one too.
First there's the worry of living up to the expectations of audiences who are so passionate about the stage show. Then there's the prospect of walking on set to join some of the most famous faces in Hollywood.
Samantha says: "People get very attached to shows in musical theatre, so there's always the worry that you won't meet the fans' expectations.
"There is pressure there because these are iconic roles within an iconic piece. But you have to set that aside while you're filming because you can't do it how you think other people want you to do it – that would just drive you crazy.
"As a performer, you have to play the truth.
"I did lots of research and looked further into the novel to find out how Eponine ended up at this dark place.
"I wanted to honour this girl who I care so passionately about.
"The director Tom Hooper [who won an Oscar for The King's Speech] was fantastic in the way he allowed us to put our own stamp on our characters and asked our opinion.
"He gave us great freedom, while also being a fantastic guiding hand."
Samantha, who is even tipped to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, admits that she occasionally has to pinch herself. This is more than a dream come true for the girl from the Isle of Man who used to sing On My Own into a hairbrush as a child.
"I could never have dreamed this," she smiles. "To play Eponine, to sing On My Own, to star in a film with Hugh Jackman. When I first met Hugh, I was really nervous, but he and the other cast members, like Russell and Annie, were great to work with and I got to learn so much from them. Watching how Hugh approaches a role like Jean Valjean is phenomenal. This incredible ex-convict emerges from him.
"I look to Hugh for inspiration on my career because he has done it all so well. The ideal would be for me to build a balanced and varied career like his, and if I'm lucky enough to achieve that I'll work my hardest."