The Prison Guard Turned Police Inspector Who Will Hunt Down Valjean
Javert from the French novel Les Miserables is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating characters of classic literature. This man of law, who has tasked himself with recapturing ex-convict Jean Valjean, has been played by some of the greatest actors of our time. Russell Crowe is the latest to portray Javert on the big screen. Previous Javert actors include Geoffrey Rush and John Malkovich. On stage in the musical Les Miserables, Javert's impressive boots have been filled by men of equally impressive voice, leaving audiences awe-struck by Javert's beautiful solo Stars. Find out more about Javert actors through the years and explore the complex character of the man who wouldn't let Valjean rest.
Who Was Inspector Javert?
A Product of his Time
Javert is a fascinating character. At first he can seem one-dimensional and it would be easy to label him as the villain of the story. Look deeper and you see that this is not true.
Javert (we never know his first name) had humble beginnings. He was born to a prisoner, a woman who was a fortune-teller. His father was a convict working as forced labor, just like Jean Valjean. According to Hugo, Javert saw only two paths open to him, and both meant he would be hated. One was to be on the wrong side of the law, a criminal like his parents. The other was to uphold the law and be a prison guard. As we know, he chose the second path.
He was still a young man, 6 years younger than Valjean, when he was prison guard at Toulon (a famous military port where criminals were sent in large numbers as galley slaves). His devotion to duty led to success in his career and he became a police inspector in Montreuil-sur-Mer where fate brought him back in contact with the now disguised and successful Valjean.
In the novel, Javert successfully arrests Valjean and sends him back to Toulon as a life convict (Valjean makes his escape only later) and is promoted to a position in Paris. Here, in both the novel and the musical, he again spies Valjean and is determined to finally bring the fugitive to justice.
We know little about Javert as a man, beyond his appearance. Hugo compares him to a wolf in looks and character. He is always pictured in a long coat and top hat, and carried a cudgel (stout stick used as a weapon).
Is Javert Evil?
If Valjean is Good, Javert Must be Bad, Right?
Javert is an anti-hero, but not a villain in the sense of an evil-doer.
Javert is not evil, in fact he fights evil, but he is without mercy and this makes him a dangerous man to be up against. Valjean accuses him of murdering Fantine, although Javert does not lay a finger on her, because his lack of pity brings on more distress than the dangerously-ill woman can bear.
As Hugo explains, Javert's values are all good, but it is the extremes to which he takes them that makes them harmful. He is rigid in his beliefs. Justice to him means Valjean must be punished. Listen to Javert in the musical version of Les Miserables sing "safe behind bars" in the song Stars and you will better understand what motivates him. He cannot believe that a former convict can become a good man. Instead he believes that society will be protected and the natural order of things will be restored only if Valjean is imprisoned.
Like Valjean, he worships the God of Christianity but his version of God is vengeful while that of Valjean is merciful. Javert believes he best serves God by doing his duty, and he does his duty to the letter of the law and expects others to do so too. He is severe with others but equally severe with himself and ultimately it is himself that he punishes for failing in his duty.
Roger Allam and Terrence Mann
The Original Javert -- London Cast and Broadway Cast
It was actor Roger Allam who first brought Javert to English-speaking audiences, opening in London in the role. Allam is a respected actor of stage and screen who frequently appears in TV series. Some of his most notable roles include Nicholas Hardiment, the cheating husband and author who became infatuated with Gemma Atherton's Tamara Drewe in the movie of the same name, plus roles in The Queen with Helen Mirren and The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep. Allam co-starred with another Javert legend, Philip Quast, in a 2009 London production of La Cage aux Folles.
Terrence Mann was in the movie A Chorus Line prior to opening with the Broadway cast on Les Miserables. Mann has appeared in many Broadway productions since his role as Javert, including the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show. On screen he has been seen in various TV movies and series, including The Dresden Files and recently appeared in an episode of 30 Rock.
The Les Mis Original London Cast Recording - Roger Allam Sings Javert
The Greatest Stage Javert?
When Philip Quast joined the Les Miserables cast as Javert, an already magnificent role was taken to a whole new level. I admit I am biased, but many Les Miz fans agree that though there have been great performances by others as Javert, Quast is a very tough act to follow. He combines an amazing voice with powerful acting that brings Javert truly to life as the single-minded law enforcer.
Tall (6'2") and handsome, Quast has also achieved the unlikely feat of making countless audience members fall in love with a man who in the novel could never have been described as 'lovable'. The Australian, who was born in 1957, bears a strong resemblance to his fellow Australia resident Russell Crowe... who plays Javert in the movie musical.
He is an accomplished performer in musical theater and also has had frequent roles in TV mini-series. One of his most notable roles in theatre was Georges Seurat in the London production of Sunday in the Park with George, for which he won an Olivier Award. Quast has also starred in The Secret Garden (2002 London Cast), Evita (2006 London Cast) and South Pacific (2001 London Cast). Quast joined original Les Mis London Cast's Javert, Roger Allam, in La Cage aux Folles in London in 2009.
Philip Quast was chosen to perform as the Les Miserables' 'Dream Cast' Javert in the 10th Anniversary Dream Cast Concert of Les Miserables.
In 2011 he took on a double movie role as Saddam Hussein and Faoaz in the disturbing The Devil's Double.
Two Javerts: Philip Quast and Russell Crowe
I think legendary Javert, Australian actor Philip Quast (left) looks like the new on-screen Javert, actor Russell Crowe. I wondered if it was just me but then saw someone else remark on the resemblance. What do you think?
(Note: these images are screen captures from event videos (not movies) published on YouTube. Use here believed to be 'fair use' under US copyright law.)
Javert Perfection - Watch Him and Shiver!
I was fortunate enough to see Quast in the role when I saw Les Mis in London. For me, he is the definitive Javert.
Does it Get Any Better?
Quast is the 'Dream Cast' Javert - 10th Anniversary Les Miserables Concert
Quast Has Strong Competition!
Norm Lewis gave the role of Javert an amazing new interpretation, lending the character his rich vocal talents on the Broadway stage in 2006 and returning for the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables in 2010.
African-American Norm is another handsome Javert who has won the hearts of many Les Miserables fans with both his appearance and voice. It's fair to say that for those who have seen him perform live, it is Lewis rather than Quast who takes the title of the greatest Javert. Regardless, he is also said to be a genuinely warm and friendly guy who treats his fans with respect.
Norm is a respected actor who has worked extensively on and off-Broadway. Other notable roles have included Billy Flynn in Chicago, King Triton in Disney's The Little Mermaid (2008 Original Broadway Cast) and most recently Porgy in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, opposite Audra McDonald as Bess.
Another Sensational Voice - Listen to Norm Singing with Piano Accompaniment
Couldn't you just listen to Norm Lewis for hours? I know I could. All he needs is a piano and he can wrap you up in his voice and leave you spellbound. I also love the way he interacts with his audience, emotionally involving them in his performance.
Norm Lewis in the 25th Anniversary Concert
Javert Has A Certain Appeal for the Ladies...
There's something about Javert. Blame it on the long black coat and high boots. Or on the steely glare and the slicked back hair. Then again, when Javert is played by hunky men such as Philip Quast and Norm Lewis, what do you expect? Javert actors on stage today seem to be younger and easier on the eye than before. Take Hadley Fraser, for example. Or Jay Bryce who's been covering Javert in Hadley's absence.
Whatever it is, it would have taken Victor Hugo by surprise. Marius Pontmercy was always intended to be a teen idol, with Cosette and Eponine swooning over him. Enjolras was gorgeous right from the start (though not interested, it seems). But wolfish, married-to-the-job Javert? He'd as soon have locked up all the shameless hussies who dared look at him in such a saucy way!
Javert in the Movies
Film Versions of the Inspector
A list of Javert actors in the best-known film adaptations of Hugo's novel reads like a 'Who's Who' of acting talent, filled with Oscar winners and nominees. It's clear that when it comes to casting, Javert is equal to Valjean in importance. No surprise since these men must be light and shadow to one another.
Legendary Actor of Silver Screen
Charles Laughton is one of classic cinema's great names. With his distinctive appearance, Laughton was not a typical romantic hero figure but was instead frequently cast in historical character roles. He is perhaps best known as Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty and his Oscar-winning performance as Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII , not to forget Quasimodo in the film adaptation of Victor Hugo's other great novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
He played Inspector Javert in the Les Miserables film of 1935, opposite Frederic March as Valjean. He was in his mid-thirties at the time.
'Psycho' Actor Made a Chilling Javert
Another great name from movie history, Anthony Perkins is known for a range of roles spanning the 1950s through to his death in the early 1990s. He is however best known as Norman Bates in Psycho.
He was the Javert who in a 1978 TV movie of Les Miserables pursued Richard Jordan's Valjean. 6'2" Perkins was 46 years old at the time.
Tony Perkins was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Friendly Persuasion. Sadly, for such an acclaimed actor, Perkins is one of the few featured here not to have an Oscar win but was winner of a host of other awards including the Cannes Film Festival 'Best Actor' for Goodbye Again with Ingrid Bergman and Yves Montand.
See Geoffrey Rush as Javert in the 1998 Les Miserables Film
Australian Oscar Winner was an Intense Javert
Another perfect Javert actor was found in Geoffrey Rush. The Oscar-winning actor from Australia donned the Inspector's coat and hat for the all-star Les Miserables movie of 1998.
If Anthony Perkins' Javert had been chilling, that of Rush was intense, and Liam Neeson's Valjean stood little chance of escaping his scrutiny.
This magnificent actor first found success with his performance in Shine. Since then he has appeared in many popular and critically-acclaimed movies which include his magnificent performance as the speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King's Speech, the Marquis de Sade in Quills and Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Rush turned 47 in the year his 1998 Les Miserables movie was released. Rush is now in his early sixties. In 2012 he was named Australian of the Year. Congratulations!
Master of Sinister Roles Played Javert in the Year 2000
John Malkovich has also earned himself a place in the movie hall of fame. The actor is best known for his sinister and dangerous characters such as Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons and Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady.
Malkovich played Javert in the French-language TV film of Les Miserables in 2000, starring opposite Gerard Depardieu as Valjean. Malkovich lives in France with his French wife, and has appeared in other French-language and bilingual (French/English) movies, although most of his work is in English.
He had lent his versatile talents to everything from historical dramas such as the King (Charles VII) in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc to Disney's Secretariat and the zombie movie Warm Bodies (2013).
Another Antipodean Acting Talent in the Role of Inspector
Yet another Oscar-winner in the role of Javert, and another performer from 'Down Under' too, this New Zealander follows in the footsteps of Aussies Philip Quast and Geoffrey Rush! However, Russell Crowe is bound to put his own stamp on the Inspector.
One of show business' finest acting talent combined with a touch of the bad boy is a recipe for a memorable Javert. Not to mention a singing role at last for Crowe. He is not new to musicals, however, having performed the roles of Dr Frank-N-Furter, Dr Scott and Eddie in the Australian and New Zealand tours of The Rocky Horror Show in the late eighties.
Crowe's Oscar was earned in epic movie Gladiator. He was also nominated for his amazing performance in A Beautiful Mind and his movies Cinderella Man (Widescreen Edition) and The Insider also won him several awards.
Look out for him in 2014 in the title role of the Biblical tale Noah.
Russell Crowe Sings as Javert in Les Mis Movie
© 2012 Indigo Janson
Raise Your Hat to Javert! - Share Your Javert Thoughts and Stories Here
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on October 12, 2016:
I felt that Javert and Valjean were both good men, but with different world views. Javert didn't believe in forgiveness. That was what killed him. When Valjean experienced forgiveness from the priest, he embraced it. When Javert experienced it from Valjean, it was totally against his world view, which was everything to him. He killed himself so that his view could remain intact for himself. It's really sad.
Michael Nolan from Sarasota, FL on April 02, 2015:
I got to give my vote for Norm Lewis. What presense!
anonymous on August 24, 2013:
I thought Russell Crowe came from New Zealand, not Australia! He will never be as good a singer as Philip Quast!
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on September 30, 2012:
@SteveKaye: Yes they always seem to get very talented actor-singers for the Javert role.
SteveKaye on September 25, 2012:
Fascinating article. I especially enjoyed listening to the videos. The singing is very powerful.
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on September 17, 2012:
@anonymous: Just thinking I wish you had left your name so I could properly thank you for your recent comments on my Les MisÃ©rables pages. It's been a pleasure hearing from you.
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on September 17, 2012:
@anonymous: Thanks for such excellent contributions to this discussion! In fact I am totally in agreement with you on the above points. I haven't seen Hadley Fraser as Javert yet but have heard excellent things about him.
anonymous on September 16, 2012:
Philip Quast (1995) and Norm Lewis (2010) tie, in my book. I canât say either one is better than the other, because 1) it would be practically sacrilegious in the Les MisÃ©rables musical world, and 2) they are different in their interpretations, so itâs hard to compare them.
Hadley Fraser is another phenomenal Javert who deserves more creditâ he appeared in the 25th Anniversary as Grantaire, and will appear in the 2012 film as the National Guard Officer soloist in the barricade scenes (Fraser is on the wrong side of the barricade, if you ask me). I believe Fraser is one of the youngest Javerts ever in the role at 31, having left the show (temporarily, I hope) in 2012 to do the film of Les MisÃ©rables.
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on July 14, 2012:
@LoriBeninger: Thanks so much for your comment. Javert on the face of it seems such a straightforward character but I believe he was more complex than that. He had a very strong code of morals and he held himself to them. It was just a different code than the charitable and forgiving Valjean lived by.
LoriBeninger on July 05, 2012:
Fantastic and thorough lens! You have given us an incredible look at a man who could have been shrugged off, just as you say, as "the villain" (just as so many think of all police as villians). I'm impressed. Thank you.
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on April 02, 2012:
@oxfordian: I think it takes an actor of Crowe's quality to follow so many amazing talents, I haven't yet heard him sing either but am sure he will have the right voice for the role. As for Mr Lewis...take a beautiful voice and add plenty of charm and a heart-melting smile and you have a wonderful performer indeed.
oxfordian on April 01, 2012:
I had no idea Russell Crowe could sing! I'm really looking forward to hearing him. What a great lens ... another in a long line of great ones and such a terrific series. I think I'm in love with Norm Lewis!
Indigo Janson (author) from UK on March 24, 2012:
@Sylvestermouse: I would love to hear your son sing "Stars", I know he has a fine voice and it makes me smile to think of him taking on the persona of Javert even when tiny.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on March 24, 2012:
BRAVO!!! Magnificent! I never see Javert that I don't also see my son, who I was actually "carrying" the first time I saw Les Mes in New York. Javert is his favorite Les Mis character. As a very little fellow he used to stomp around our house quoting Javert's lines and singing "Stars". At the time, it made me wonder if I had an actor in the making :) Because my son was so enamored with Javert, I took a closer look at the character and found a man truly fighting his own internal war and a man to be greatly admired.
Why does it not surprise me to find that you too are fascinated by Javert? LOL