The Golden Globe-nominated star of The Good Nurse talks playing one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
Eddie Redmayne is the sort of actor whose talent across stage and film precedes him. Having won Academy, BAFTA, Tony, and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards for dramatic roles like Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Shakespeare’s Richard II, he also has a certain cross-generational appeal for his leading role as wizard Newt Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts series. Redmayne has now put his natural charisma and deep sense of performance to work for a darker role in Netflix’s The Good Nurse. His portrayal of the real life serial killer Charles Cullen who murdered dozens, if not hundreds, of patients earned the British star a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Below, Redmayne discusses preparing for the grim role and his attempts at being a cool dad.
In The Good Nurse, you play Charles Cullen, a nurse who may have killed as many as 400 people, making him the most prolific serial killer in American history. Are you a fan of true crime dramas?
I’m not. I know the world is obsessed with true crime, but I have a slightly moral opinion of fetishizing killers. Our film is not just about this monster—it’s about the hero who stopped him. And she stopped him by using compassion and empathy rather than through violence. That felt like an important message.
No one knows exactly why Charles Cullen killed all those people. Was that frustrating for you?
He never expressed why, and when I read the script, I was like, “Why?!” It’s a human instinct to need to know why, so we can look at the murderer and go, “Well, he had this happen to him, and I’m nothing like that, so it would never happen to me.”
You’re so likable as a performer and as a person. Was it hard to take on the mantle of a sociopathic serial killer and live with that every day?
One of the things that I found intriguing about it was that, speaking to the real Amy Loughren, who Jessica Chastain plays, Charles Cullen was a kind, generous, open-hearted, brilliant nurse who saved her life. And then there was this other person who was a monster. There were various reasons he was able to get away with this for as many years as he did, but one of them was that he was kind and gentle and self-deprecating and, at times, sort of invisible. So it was interesting to try and find this empathetic man, and then the other version of him, who was weaponizing that empathy.
You went to nursing school to prepare for the role.
Jessica and I went to nursing school for two weeks, which I found hilarious. The older you get the more you romanticize education. You go, ‘Well, maybe I want to go back to university. Maybe that would be a wonderful thing to do.’ And then you do go back, as we did, and quite promptly, you turn into the 15-year-old version of yourself. I was leaning back in the classroom. I couldn’t really concentrate. It was all science, and none of that made any sense to me. When I was practicing with needles, I succeeded in injecting my finger. It was a disaster.
Early in your career, what was your first love scene?
It was in a film called Savage Grace. It was based on a true story. The character I played was gay, and his mum, played by Julianne Moore, tried to sleep with him. There ended up being a ménage à trois with another man, played by Hugh Dancy. It was definitely one of the more surreal experiences of my life. And it turns from incest to violence. My early work! [Laughs] Before I found tweeds and period dramas.
You have two young children. Have they seen the Fantastic Beasts films?
No, they haven’t. They’ve seen a bit of the trailer. They both asked, “Daddy, are you a wizard?” Which is tricky because one of the perks of the job is that you get to do these cool things and be an interesting dad. You want to say yes, but you also don’t want to lie to your children, so in the moment, I said, “Sort of.” [Source]