Oscars 2013: Great Performances

Paola Kudacki for TIME Hugh Jackman
Performance: Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (Oscar nomination, Best Actor)
“One of Victor Hugo’s main themes is how harsh and wasteful the jail system was,” says Jackman, whose Jean Valjean served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. “The goal wasn’t to turn you out rehabilitated. The goal was to turn you out as an animal.”

Anne Hathaway
Performance: Fantine in Les Misérables (Oscar nomination, Best Supporting Actress)
“As a woman born in 1982, I take for granted so many freedoms that Fantine wouldn’t even dream of,” says Hathaway, who did voluminous research on everything from 19th century French law to modern-day sex slavery to play a doomed prostitute.

For this year's Great Performances portfolio, TIME asked fashion photographer Paola Kudacki to take portraits of 11 actors, all of whom have been recognized for their portrayals of either real people or historical characters in some of 2012's best films.

For this year’s Great Performances portfolio, TIME asked fashion photographer Paola Kudacki to take portraits of 11 actors, all of whom appeared in 2012 films that captured key moments in history, and several of whom portrayed real-life people.

“It’s always interesting to meet actors who are completely different than the characters they play,” Kudacki told TIME. A guiding philosophy in her portrait work is to show a side of each actor as he or she truly is. The goal is to find “the moment of ultimate intimacy,” she says. “It’s about making each of your subjects comfortable. You have to become their confidante, instantly, to get them to relax in front of the camera.”

While conversations between photographer and subject are important to create a rapport, Kudacki also made up fictional characters and situations for each participant to play during the shoot. “For actors, used to playing a specific role, I hoped this would help them relax,” she said. In making the roles their own, the actors might also reveal something about themselves. “Like the first time I developed my own film,” she says, “capturing these characters in camera is like turning fantasy into reality.”

See a Video Compilation of Highlights from TIME’s Great Performances

Paola Kudacki is a photographer based in New York. She previously photographed Kathryn Bigelow for the cover of TIME.

Wardrobe by Heathermary Jackson.

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