By Kristi Casey Sanders

Les Misérables changed Robert Evan’s life. In 1989, the University of Georgia football player took a date to see the musical at The Fox Theatre. “I didn’t know what I was going to see, and it floored me emotionally,” Evan remembers. At that moment, the business major decided he needed to be on stage. Within a year, he was performing with Chris Manos’ Theater of the Stars and had earned his Actor’s Equity card. Three months after moving to New York in 1992, he made his Broadway debut — as one of Les Misérables‘ students on the barricade. He is excited to return to the Fox Theatre as Jean Valjean, the musical’s heroic lead.

Playing opposite Evan is Robert Hunt as Javert, the lawman who obsessively pursues and persecutes Valjean. “I’ve played all but three male roles in the show,” Hunt says. Javert is his favorite. “There’s a description of who Javert is in the book. This character was born in a prison, so he and Valjean really start in the same place. He’s kind of aloof and always is watching from the outside, only joining the action when he chooses to be part of the action; the ego is a big thing with Javert.”

Encore Atlanta: Both of you play iconic roles that have been interpreted by many other actors. What do you feel sets your Javert and Valjean apart from others’?

Robert Evan: I like to be as honest as I can. Not that other Valjeans haven’t been honest, but I try to live in the moment and be spontaneous. The role requires a lot of different emotions and a journey. In the beginning of the show, you’re going to see kind of a scary guy. Then, when he morphs into the person he wants to be, especially with Cosette, you see him as a loving father. He’s supposed to be one of the strongest guys in Europe. So I think [my] football physique helps a lot.

Robert Hunt: [Javert] is always seen as being so stern and not having human emotion, so the challenge is making him seem like a real person, and have people understand why he does what he does. I really feel like mine is different because I approach it from that human side. I like to create characters from the inside out. I think some people get caught in that fact he was in the military and is very rigid, and just play that. I know you can’t judge the character. You can’t think they’re bad or evil. It’s just that what they do may not line up with what’s [socially] acceptable.

What unique quality does your stage adversary bring to their part?

Evan: Rob will be my fifth Javert, and that’s not counting the understudies; if you count them, it’s probably 12. I’ve always gotten along very well with my Javerts. (The first Javert I played against became one of my best friends.) We have good chemistry together, and he’s a wonderful singer. Our voices are similar enough that it makes it interesting [when we duet]. And, Rob sees a lot of different colors. … [His Javert] is not just a one-dimensional caricature.

Hunt: I’ve played opposite maybe eight Valjeans. I think what Rob is doing wonderfully [is] trying to control the animal within, so there’s a lot of danger hanging on the scenes. It’s wonderful working with him and seeing him make these active choices that help urge the scene along. I find him a very generous, very smart actor and a great singer. We butt heads all through the show, and he’s a great sparring partner.

What is your favorite moment in the show?

Evan: There are a lot of great ones. I love the “Epilogue.” In the final moment, before Valjean dies, he sings this sweet little piece. You work so hard in the show, and it’s the end of the journey, and it affects the audience so powerfully. I also love “Bring it Home,” but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. It’s the audience’s favorite; they wait for it.

Hunt: That’s a hard question to answer, because my favorite moments have changed as I’ve changed as a person and an actor. The first time I was a Javert understudy and got to go onstage on Broadway — the feeling I had being in a starring role on Broadway, feeling the [intro] music under my feet and feeling the audience out there … I still think about that a lot. But, I think my favorite moments right now are the singing confrontation between the two of us, and working my way through the suicide at the end, because it’s always a challenge. And, it’s written so well, and the words are so juicy. It’s so exciting. But we’ll see — when I get to Atlanta, I may love something else.

Les Misérables plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre Sept. 19-28.