BERKELEY, CALIF.: Samantha Barks, a Manx actor known stateside for playing Eponine in the big-screen Les Misérables, has come to the U.S. to play the title role in Amélie, a stage adaptation of the 2001 Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. She’ll shed her English accent and adopt an American one to play a mischievous French girl with a penchant for helping strangers.
“I wasn’t a naughty child, but I was certainly imaginative like she is,” Barks says of her own childhood growing up on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, 631 miles northwest of Paris, where the story takes place. “We’ve all got a mischievous side of us as a kid, and I think that sometimes we lose that as we get older because you have to take life a bit seriously. But I think what’s great is that she sort of never loses that inner child.”
With a book by Craig Lucas, music by Daniel Messé, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Messé, the musical, directed by Pam MacKinnon, is running at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through Oct. 4. The film’s score, by Yann Tiersen, was among its defining charms; for his part, Messé has created a folksy sound for this ensemble piece that Barks says is “exactly how I would imagine the music for this Parisian town and this beautiful, quirky story.”
While Barks is thrilled to be performing in her first full production stateside (she previously appeared as Velma Kelly in Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl), she can’t wait to spend time in Northern California. “As a child, I wanted to live in San Francisco,” she says, adding that her first stop will be Café Gratitude in Berkeley, for its vegetarian dining options. “San Francisco would have been somewhere I would have gone on a big trip for a holiday, but now it turns out I’m working there, so I feel very lucky.”
The story tells of a young woman, kept apart from society due to a misdiagnosed heart defect, who invents ways to serve the people where she works at Café des Deux Moulins in Paris’s Montmartre district. Barks boasts that she has own flair for helping her friends and family.
“I’m a bit of a cupid!” she says with a laugh. “I set my sister up with one of my best friends, and they’re now engaged. And I set my oldest friend from high school up with another one of my friends, and they’re now engaged. Cupid on the go!”