BY CARY GINELL
The character of Inspector Javert in “Les Miserables” is, to me, one of the most fascinating and complex in all of musical theater. Because of this, it is difficult for an actor to to give such a stolid, single-minded character a sense of depth. In ARTS’ production of “Les Miserables,” which closes Sunday afternoon, Ben Deschaine does just that, with one of the most riveting, powerful performances ever seen on the Simi stage. With his booming voice, menacing countenance, meticulously waxed mustache, and threatening wooden baton, he makes a formidable foe for Valjean. To counter the brilliance of Geoffrey Going’s Jean Valjean is quite a feat, and when these two meet on stage, it is as if lightning bolts are striking all around them. Javert isn’t so much a villain as he is the antagonist of the show. His view of the world is black-and-white, and he administers the law accordingly. There are no gray areas. In the end, the conflicts within himself do him in, but how he gets to that point of unrelenting moral agony is one of the most compelling elements of the show. Javert’s religion is his job. It is interesting how nearly indistinguishable the words “law” and “lord” are when Deschaine sings them as the inspector. We talked with Deschaine about the intricacies of playing Javert.
VCOS: First – tell me about yourself. How long you’ve been in the theater, where did you study, and what you do as a “day job,” if it is not acting.
BEN: I started acting in the 7th grade , but I hadn’t actually been in a full theatre production of any show until 2003 at Moorpark College. After a few shows and a few acting classes, I joined a theater group outside of school and spent about six years performing a number of productions. As for my day job, I guess you can call me a carpenter or a handyman, I love fixing and just making things in general .
VCOS: Have you played Javert before?
BEN: This is a first for me, but from the first time I saw “Les Miserables” Javert was a role I dreamed of playing .
VCOS: To me, Javert is not only the linchpin of the entire show, but easily the most interesting character. When he dies, the rest of the show is really denouement. Do you see him as a hero or a villain?
BEN: I think most people would see him as a villain, I believe he sees himself to be a hero . As for me, I can’t say I see him as either, he’s more right in the middle .
VCOS: The secret to Javert’s life is revealed in “Confrontation,” when he and Jean Valjean are delivering simultaneous soliloquies. In Javert’s part, he sings, “I was born inside a jail/I was born with scum like you/I am from the gutter, too.” It’s interesting how these lines are sung simultaneously with Valjean’s so that you can’t hear them clearly unless you are really paying attention. Is Javert’s own background the cause for his obsession with Valjean?
BEN: I’d have to say yes!
VCOS: Do you think that Javert sees himself in Valjean? And that maybe his suicide was a result of his self-loathing? If he could not defeat Valjean, then he has to defeat himself by throwing himself into the Seine?
BEN: I think he was torn between what he had believed for so long about Valjean being a dangerous criminal and the acts of kindness he had displayed to those of misfortune. He could very well be a good man. If Javert let him go he would be going against the law. But on the other hand, if he again convicted him he would be wronging a decent man .
VCOS: Why does Javert become a policeman?
BEN: He had a deep hatred for the life and family in which he was born into and tried to bury his shame by putting away those who resembled his past .
VCOS: In the novel, Javert is an inspector, but in the musical, he seems to be more of a cop-on-the-beat, a lowlier position than a police inspector.
BEN: I still see him as an inspector. There is only so much that can be adapted from the novel to the stage.
VCOS: Is Javert good at his job? It seems like he keeps letting Valjean slip through his fingers. He fails to recognize him as the mayor, makes a false arrest, knowing that all he had to do was examine the prisoner he arrested for the “24601” tattoo, is exposed as a spy by a small boy, targets Fantine when it was she who was victimized, etc. As Valejan says, “You were always wrong.” How do you see Javert’s character in light of all this?
BEN: I think he was good at his job, but due to the lack of advancement in forensics he had to approach every crime scene or altercation based on the evidence and witness reports at hand. It’s unfortunate that Fantine is caught in a moment where she had been the victim , but given her actions, profession as a prostitute, and her sob story, which Javert describes as a plea he had heard every day for 20 years, he can’t bring himself to believe someone who lives a life of immorality. As for Valjean, if he hadn’t been the one who always got away, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell, would there?
VCOS: What’s the most difficult part of “becoming” this character?
BEN: I can’t say that I had any difficulties. I just try to play from the heart and let the role become me .
VCOS: Do you feel sorry for Javert? Have you grown to like him or at least respect him by playing him throughout this run?
BEN: Though I admire his determination, I do feel sorry for him. He felt so strongly in his beliefs and devoted his whole life to ridding the world of wrong, that he could not live with himself knowing that the life he had led could have been wrong in itself.
“Les Miserables” concludes its run at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Although this show is sold out, you can find show dates and times for future ARTS productions on our Calendar of Events.