He started singing in public at Eton College—a British boarding school where he was classmates with Prince William—as a choirboy. Now as student rebel Marius Pontmercy in the new film adaptation of the classic musical Les Misérables, Eddie Redmayne is hitting his notes alongside Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Amanda Seyfried. “During rehearsal, these two titans with brilliant voices, Hugh and Russell, are singing,” the 30-year-old told us. “And it’s like a shiver on the back of your neck.” Funny—that’s just how we feel whenever we see this Brit on the big screen. Scroll down to read more of his exclusive interview with InStyle.

Did you feel like a pip-squeak next to Hugh and Russell?
“They’re both superhuman men in real life. And Jean Valjean, Hugh’s character, is massive—he lifts carts! Russell is Javert, a policeman who has a vendetta against Jean Valjean. In some ways the thread through the movie is, Who would win in a fight? And I love the idea of, Who do you cast against Wolverine? Gladiator! [Laughs.]“

What was it like singing live on set every day?
“Exciting—because you had no restrictions. You could change the tempo of a song instead of lip-syncing over what you recorded three months earlier. But we shot six days a week from 5 in the morning until 11 at night. The fear was you’d turn up one day to do your big number and have no voice. The poor crew constantly had to find humidifiers and make tea with honey and lemon for us. We were ridiculous.”

What did you think of making the classic character Marius your own?
“He’s always busy singing, ‘Oh, my love, my love!’ to Cosette [Amanda Seyfried, above]. For the film, we had to make him stronger, so the audience isn’t going, ‘Oh, shut up and do something rather than just sing about that girl!’”

Are you still indulging your musical side?
“As a kid, my dream was to have a baby grand piano. I just bought a big black Yamaha that’s practically double the size of my apartment. I often get insomnia and like to bash out a few chords in the middle of the night to release tension. I wish I could play Beethoven, but I’m not good enough. I do a lot of Chopin instead.”

Back in your Eton days, you were a classmate of Prince William’s. Any good Wills stories?
“He was lovely, but I haven’t seen him since then. There was definitely no wedding invitation! We did play rugby together. The thing I remember is that his bodyguards would drive up to the rugby fields, which were a long, long way away. There was always a scrum to see who could get a lift back with Will.”

Plus, see stars who got their starts on Broadway!

Stars on Broadway!

MORE:
Watch Eponine Sing in Les Miserables!
Hugh Jackman on Anne’s Haircut
Amanda Seyfried’s Hidden Musical Talent

This article first appeared in InStyle’s December 2012 issue.

— Brantley Bardin