An English actor with multiple awards to his name, including an Oscar for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne is an animated, passionate, visceral performer. A fan of striking characters such as a pioneering transgender woman in The Danish Girl, he has just finished six months on stage for an avant-garde revival of the play Cabaret, while playing the role of Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts, the prequel to Harry Potter.
Leading the interview is one of the actor’s biggest fans: Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior Homme and Fendi’s women’s collections. Eddie Redmayne tells us about his passion for art and his process for getting into character, as well as his latest role in The Good Nurse, a film based on the true story of a serial killer nurse. This against-type role is complemented by his brilliant screen partner Jessica Chastain. The Good Nurse, directed by Tobias Lindholm, hits Netflix today Wednesday 26th October.
YOU STUDIED ART HISTORY AT CAMBRIDGE. WHAT WAS IT THAT LED YOU INTO ACTING?
I had been acting since I was seven or eight years old at school and it was a place where I had always found an amazing release. Theatre was somewhere where I instantly felt comfortable. I loved that you would meet all sorts of people. Even at the school level, you’re doing plays with people of different ages and breaking down the traditional hierarchies in some ways. I loved doing it through school and into university, but my other passion was the history of art, so I had to make the decision as to whether to go to drama school or whether to pursue art history.
I was lucky enough to get into Cambridge, and I knew they had a great reputation for theatre there, so I decided to study history of art as a major, whilst trying to continue to explore acting at the same time. Art has become quite important to me within the process of acting and in a personal sense when I travel. And travel is one of the great upsides of the job I do, since I’m always taken to extraordinary cities and places for work, and I’m able to visit the galleries whilst I’m there, which I find constantly feeds me.
At the same time, I try to use art when I’m trying to work out who a character is. So in addition to all the factual research, I will often go to see how other artists, writers or painters have interpreted those people or people of that era in order to glean another way in, as it were.
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“The Good Nurse” tells the true story of Charles Cullen, a seemingly empathetic New Jersey nurse who was later revealed to be a serial killer. But instead of a tawdry potboiler, this adaptation of Charles Graeber’s 2013 true-crime book is a fragile drama about the friendship between Charlie and one of his co-workers, a lonely, ailing single mother named Amy Loughren, who thought she’d found in this kindly stranger a support system and a confidant.
Amy befriends the new hire, in part, because she recognizes in Charlie the same warm, nurturing manner she herself exudes around her patients. But like the viewer, Amy is seeing only one aspect of this sweet, soft-spoken man: She’s not aware he’s secretly injecting lethal drugs into saline bags, resulting in a series of mysterious deaths at the hospital.
The film had been in development for several years, and for that entire time its two stars were determined to stay on the project. No matter how dark the material — and no matter how hard it was to align their schedules — Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain wouldn’t let “The Good Nurse” go.
“I don’t know that in Hollywood that a movie’s been around for six years and all the main players stayed on and no one got replaced or abandoned ship,” Chastain says proudly.
The two actors are relaxing in a suite at the London West Hollywood, reflecting on the effort it took to bring the movie to fruition. From the start, they agreed they wouldn’t do it without each other — or “A Hijacking” director Tobias Lindholm, knowing he’d insist on utter authenticity for this portrait of working-class life and America’s dysfunctional healthcare system. (He even made his stars attend nursing school.)
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After three outings in the Potterverse, the Oscar-winning actor – and one of Hollywood’s nicest guys – is ready for his villain phase
Last summer, after he had wrapped his latest movie, The Good Nurse, and just before he began rehearsals for his Olivier-winning West End revival of Cabaret, Eddie Redmayne went back to school. Not university, or some kind of brush-up-on-the-classics adult education class, but rather, a very specific and very renowned academic institute – the École Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. Or, as it is more colloquially known, clown school.
For two weeks, in a converted 19th-century gymnasium in Paris, Redmayne took a course in the Theatre of the Absurd, where he spent his time, as he puts it, “improvising and playing.” But clown school is no funny business. The course was demanding, and his instructors, who’d studied with the legendary Lecoq themselves, were brutally honest, even withering. “There was none of this kiddie glove stuff,” Redmayne tells me as he does his impression of them. “Non, je ne marche pas!” he says, menacingly wagging a finger in front of his nose. No, I’m not buying it.
Redmayne’s classmates ranged in age from 18 to 60, all professional performers of some stripe or other. But Redmayne was the only one there who had won an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was the only one who had starred in a billion-dollar-grossing movie franchise. And yet, he felt like a complete amateur. That was the whole point. He wanted to start over, in a way, to expose himself, to really try and shed any of the actorly tics or patterns that had accrued over his 20-year career. “It was everything I needed,” he says of Lecoq. “To remind myself that you need to keep learning.”
We’re sitting in a hotel suite in Toronto, a couple of days after his 4-year-old son, Luke, has just started school himself for the first time back home in London. Redmayne’s an attentive and proud parent – he wouldn’t have missed Luke’s first day for anything – but he nevertheless had to fly out shortly after for the global premiere of The Good Nurse at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Redmayne’s family (which also includes his wife Hannah Bagshawe, a publicist, and their six-year-old daughter, Iris) had in fact lived with him in New York while he shot the film, but there was no way he was taking the kids out of school for the festival. “I didn’t think it was ideal for us all to up and leave on day two,” he says, smiling broadly.
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Eddie Redmayne’s children aren’t that impressed by his acting career. So he was caught off guard when his six-year-old daughter asked him if he was a wizard. Though she has never seen any of the “Fantastic Beasts” movies, in which Redmayne stars as Ministry of Magic employee Newt Scamander, she had just caught a bit of a trailer.
Redmayne tells Variety‘s Awards Circuit Podcast that he wasn’t sure how to respond. “That’s one of those moments in life where, partly you want to be the cool dad and go, ‘Yeah, I’m a wizard!’ and the other part of you doesn’t want to lie to your children and set them off in the wrong direction,” Redmayne recalls.
The Oscar winner then tried to showcase his sorcery skills. “I got out a coin and did a slightly shoddy magic trick to make the coin disappear and she was like, ‘Okay that’s good. But in that trailer I saw, you managed to make a building disappear.’ So I think she’s seen through my lack of wizarding prowess.”
On this edition of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit podcast, Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) talks about his new role in “The Good Nurse,” which has put him in the Oscar conversation for best supporting actor. He also discusses his time in “Fantastic Beasts” and what’s coming next. Listen below!
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For his latest role the Fantastic Beasts actor relished the chance to ditch the tweed suits and play against type as an American serial killer, he tells Kevin Maher
Six years ago, Eddie Redmayne put the word out. The Oscar-winning star of The Theory of Everything, who was already shooting the first instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, let it be known that he wanted a change. Yes, he had become famous for a certain kind of moral rectitude in lavish period dramas that included Birdsong, The Other Boleyn Girl and Les Misérables (his tearful rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from that film has been viewed 7.4 million times on YouTube), but enough was enough. “It was me actively saying that I’m looking for something different. Something not British. Something, ideally, where it’s not me wearing a tweed suit.”
It has taken a while, during which time he has bashed out two more Fantastic Beasts and enjoyed a last dip in the period trough (The Aeronauts), but Redmayne’s desires have finally been met. In The Good Nurse all bets are off. The 40-year-old is in full reinvention mode as the prolific American serial killer Charles Cullen, a former nurse who during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s is said to have murdered as many as 400 patients. Redmayne stars opposite Jessica Chastain, playing Amy Loughren, the co-worker who helped to bring Cullen to justice. And although Redmayne insists today that the film tilts towards Loughren’s “hero’s journey”, the sexy marketing sell is clearly “Newt Scamander does Hannibal Lecter”.
And he does it well. His Cullen is top-tier Redmayne, a mass of creepy physical touches (a blinkless smile, an off-kilter stare) and conflicted gestures perfected over three months of deep-diving research. “I found as much footage of Charlie as I could and I learnt the accent, I learnt the movement, and then I even went to nurse school, where I found out that I’m a f***ing useless nurse!” he says, chuckling at his inadequacies. Redmayne does this a lot. Good-natured self-deprecation. He is sipping decaf coffee in a swanky London hotel suite and wearing a crisp red and white “western-style” shirt that suggests a friendly yet slightly fragile cowboy. He peppers his conversation with asides about being not very good.
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Attending the Zurich Film Festival for the screening of his latest film, “The Good Nurse,” Eddie Redmayne spoke about his desire to work with director Tobias Lindholm, the joy of watching Jessie Buckley’s performance in “Cabaret” and the disappointment of missing out on “Games of Thrones.”
“The Good Nurse,” which Variety’s Tomris Laffly describes as “soulful” and “devastating,” tells the true story of nurse Charles Cullen, who confessed to murdering at least 29 patients but who may have in fact murdered as many as 400 people, and fellow nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), who helped solve the case. It’s based on the book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder,” by Charles Graeber.
“I was sent the script and I knew nothing about the film,” Redmayne said, taking part in a Zurich Film Festival master class. “The story unraveled in front of my eyes and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about this story. I also thought it was extraordinary because the piece felt impossible to pigeonhole.”
It’s a story about a “real-life superhero,” a woman who manages to accomplish things that the system is unable to do, he explained. “We’re so used to violence being used to attack violence, whereas in this film, it’s about empathy and compassion being used to stop this man from doing these horrific things.”
Redmayne was also keen to work with Lindholm. “I had seen his films and was a massive admirer of his work. And I was desperately looking to be in a film with someone with a vision … and that’s a rare thing. Tobias has a vision.”
“I went in with very high expectations, and the making of it, working with Jessica, working with Tobias, working with Krysty [Wilson-Cairns], our writer, and Scott [Franklin], our producer, superseded all of those expectations and actually reinvigorated something in me about what the process of filmmaking should be.”
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In a wide-ranging sitdown in Toronto, the Oscar winner goes deep on his process, his tensely brilliant turn in The Good Nurse, and changing his priorities going forward.
Eddie Redmayne came into The Good Nurse, his first non-franchise film since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, knowing that he needed to pull off a tricky role: Charlie Cullen, the real-life serial killer whose reputation as a compassionate nurse belied a sociopathic, murderous habit of killing dozens, maybe hundreds of patients. In Tobias Lindholm’s deliberate Netflix thriller, which costars Jessica Chastain as Charlie’s close colleague-turned-adversary and premiered Sunday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, Redmayne is disarmingly sweet and affecting in his loneliness—and then, in a corker of a final scene, completely frightening.
It’s another transformation for an actor who’s made a habit of them—winning Oscars (The Theory of Everything) and Olivier Awards (Cabaret) for comprehensive inside-out work. Redmayne has balanced these rich kinds of roles, of late, with the Fantastic Beasts franchise, the third film of which was released earlier this year. As he comes off what he describes as a career-best experience in The Good Nurse, with another performance likely to court some awards attention, the 40-year-old actor knows he has some options and has come to a new kind of conclusion for himself. As he tells me in a wide-ranging interview from his Toronto hotel: He’s finished compromising.
Vanity Fair: It’s safe to say you’re associated with relatively heroic roles. Certainly not ones that are this dark. Did The Good Nurse appeal in that way, or feel like going to a darker place than you typically do?
Eddie Redmayne: The truth is, you do a load of work before anyone sees any of the work you’ve done. So I did all these films for years: I did a film called Savage Grace with Julianne Moore, in which I played a guy called Anthony Bacon who killed his mother. I did a film called Hick that has 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, in which I played a Texan meth addict pedophile.
[Laughs] So I’ve done all these films, no one’s seen them—in some cases, fortunately. But then of course you do a film that you become known for and then that’s the world. Without you knowing it, that’s the trajectory you get taken on for a while. The truth is I hadn’t been looking for something specific—every script, I just react to what is presented in front of me. But I do like the idea that a lot of the characters I played have empathy as something inherent to them. What I found intriguing about Good Nurse is this was someone who seemingly had empathy and then weaponized that empathy in a way that was terrifying.
When I spoke to the real Amy [Loughren, a coworker of Cullen’s who acted as an informant to law enforcement, played in the film by Chastain] she said this is two different people—“I only met the murderer Charlie Cullen once.”
We’d talk endlessly about his humanity and his kindness and his gentleness and his self-deprecating humor. How he would slag off his own sort of existence. Having someone tell you that—like, the audience should never think, “How did Amy not sense this?”
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The actor has dreamt for years of bringing the Kit Kat Club to the stage — he talks latex, tights and first night nerves with co-star Jessie Buckley
Eddie Redmayne has a dilemma. His children, aged three and five, are desperate to come and see him on stage in a new production of Cabaret. He has been playing the music nonstop at home and they’ve even learnt the moves to the song Money Makes the World Go Round. “They enjoyed Frozen, so they think it’s going to be like that,” he says, chuckling “Their favourite number is Don’t Tell Mama, but they have no idea what it’s about.” The jaunty tunes belie the fact Cabaret is probably one of the darkest musicals ever written. Set in Weimar Germany as the Nazis begin their ascent to power, there’s violence, antisemitism and the leading lady, Sally Bowles —who can’t tell her Mama she’s appearing on stage in her underwear — has an abortion. It’s not one for the kids.
It’s 11 years since Redmayne last appeared on stage. But it isn’t the first time the Oscar-winning actor has played the role of the androgynous ringmaster in Cabaret. Aged 17 he was cast as the Emcee in a school production at Eton that was later taken to the Edinburgh Fringe. He remembers “running up the Royal Mile in latex and tights handing out leaflets for the show”. It was in a brand-new venue, the Underbelly, set up by two fellow Old Etonians, Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood. Back then it consisted of a few cramped, damp, beer-stained performance spaces frequented by aspiring comics and student musicals. Now the Underbelly is a successful production company that hosts festivals in London and Edinburgh. Redmayne’s early performance must have made an impression on the two producers because many years later they contacted him to see if he fancied doing Cabaret again. The answer was yes.
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