Valjean vs. Valjean: Ramin Karimloo excited to meet Hugh Jackman at Tonys

Victoria Ahearn / The Canadian Press
April 29, 2014 12:42 PM

Ramin Karimloo, who plays "Jean Valjean" in a new production of the musical "Les Miserables," performs "Bring Him Home" at a media event in Toronto on September 16, 2013. Ontario-raised "Les Miserables" star Ramin Karimloo says he hopes to get workout tips from another beloved and brawny Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman - at the upcoming Tony Awards. Karimloo received a nomination for best actor in a leading role in a musical for playing Valjean, a character he also portrayed to rapturous reviews in a recent Toronto production. Jackman, who starred as Valjean in the Oscar-nominated "Les Mis" film, is slated to host the Tonys on June 8 at Radio City Music Hall. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - Ontario-raised "Les Miserables" star Ramin Karimloo says he hopes to get workout tips from another beloved and brawny Jean Valjean — Hugh Jackman — at the upcoming Tony Awards.

On Tuesday, Karimloo received a nomination for best actor in a leading role in a musical for playing Valjean, a character he also portrayed to rapturous reviews in a recent Toronto production. Jackman, who starred as Valjean in the Oscar-nominated "Les Mis" film, is slated to host the Tonys on June 8 at Radio City Music Hall.

Karimloo says the two met briefly at last year's Academy Awards, when the film star was nominated for an Oscar for playing Valjean and Karimloo sang behind him onstage with a chorus during a "Les Mis" performance.

"I was there when he was nominated for the Oscar, so how nice of him to show up for my nomination," Karimloo said with a laugh in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

"We got a chance to speak at the Oscars for like 10 minutes and he's a gracious man. Getting a glimpse of him for 10 minutes, you could tell why he was Valjean. He's got such grace and is such a sweet, sweet man.

"So if I get to see him again and actually talk to him, I'm going to ask him about his deadlift," he added with a laugh, referring to a weight training exercise both Jackman and Karimloo have used to bulk up for Vajlean.

"And then I'm looking forward to seeing him host, because he's so entertaining."

Karimloo — who was born in Tehran but grew up in Peterborough, Ont., and Richmond Hill, Ont., — has earned raves from audiences and critics alike for playing Valjean on the Great White Way.

But awards aren't top of mind, he said, noting he prefers to focus on the work.

Hence when the Tony nominations came out Tuesday morning, he was asleep and didn't know of his nod until he got a text from a friend.

"It's amazing, but I don't want to take my eye off what I'm supposed to be doing, and it doesn't change what we're supposed to be doing every night in telling the story," Karimloo said minutes before he was to appear on Katie Couric's daytime talk show.

"So I don't want to get caught up in it. It doesn't say you don't want it at the same time, but it's sort of like one of those things you have no control over.

"So it's awesome, and now I get to just enjoy the ride."

The 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Schonberg's "Les Mis" marks Karimloo's Broadway debut after a triumphant career in London's West End, where he rose to fame as the masked misfit in "The Phantom of the Opera" and its sequel, "Love Never Dies."

The 35-year-old, who was handpicked by producer Cameron Mackintosh to play Valjean, has put on 20 pounds of muscle and maintained a rigorous workout schedule and ripped physique for the part.

The father of two young boys has also had to make another big sacrifice for the role: Living away from his London family.

He said he hopes the Tony "sort of justifies some of those hardships, especially the personal ones."

"Hopefully it's a bigger Band-Aid on the loneliness of being away from the kids," added Karimloo, who is also a solo recording artist in a genre he's coined Broadgrass and recently released the EP "The Road to Find Out: East."

"They may not understand now, because they're too young to even understand what a Tony is, but hopefully when they're teenagers and this is just a small blip on our lifeline together, they'll be like, 'It was worth it, dad.'"

Karimloo said he's hoping to bring his sons to the Tonys, where he expects he'll be gushing like "a fan, seeing all these amazing actors and Hugh Jackman and all that."

"I just feel very lucky for, in a short space of time, what I feel like is making a bit of a splash. ... This will be my last time playing Valjean, and for it to be a Broadway debut, I've been welcomed so graciously — beyond what I could've ever expected.

"I try not to have expectations ... and now with this Tony nomination, well these are the bonus rounds."

Karimloo's Tony competition includes Neil Patrick Harris for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"; Andy Karl for "Rocky"; Jefferson Mays for "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"; and Bryce Pinkham for "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder."

Another Ontarian is nominated for a Tony this year — Hamilton's Nick Cordero for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical for "Bullets Over Broadway."

Karimloo said he saw Cordero in the show and thought "he was something special."

And he's hoping to celebrate their Tony nods in a very Canadian way.

"I'd like to definitely take him out for a beer, or poutine," he said with a laugh.


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