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The Oscar winner on learning from his mistakes, his latest role as a serial killer nurse – and why he’s not wearing a wedding ring
Drinking coffee in the restaurant of a central London hotel as jazz burbles away in the background, Eddie Redmayne is wearing faded blue jeans, a white sweatshirt and a scarf. No wedding band, though. Uh-oh. “‘Spotted without his ring!’” he says, mock-horrified. He misplaced it while shooting The Danish Girl eight years ago, which is only one of the reasons to lament that film. We’ll get to the others in good time.
He bought a replacement ring then lost that, too, so he gave up. On jewellery, that is, not marriage. “I am incredibly happily married so I’m afraid there’s no scoop there,” he says apologetically. The tone fits with his demeanour, which is that of a Saturday boy at John Lewis: posh, affable, sincerely regretful that he doesn’t have the item in your size. He just turned 41 but could pass for mid-20s. His tousled hair is rust-coloured, his skin frantic with freckles, his lips so plump they look like crimson jellies.
A scarf stays knotted around his neck throughout our morning together; he picked up a nasty cold on his recent trip to the Golden Globes in Los Angeles, where he was in the running for best supporting actor for playing the serial killer Charles Cullen in The Good Nurse. When the sneezes come today, he whips out a comically large red handkerchief peppered with white dots, like a magician preparing to make the crockery vanish.
In fact, his party trick is quite the opposite: he makes awards appear. He got the big three (Oscar, Bafta, Golden Globe) for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and an Olivier last year for his lizardly, mercurial Emcee in Cabaret, which also starred Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles. A soundtrack recording, taped during live performances for added wildness, has just been released. Redmayne’s approach to the character, he says, “is that he would shape-shift and emerge as this Aryan conductor who could drop his baton in one of the champagne bottles at the end, and then walk off into the night. Whatever else is going on, he’s fucking fine.”
“The Good Nurse” actor discusses preparing for his role as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, going to nursing school with Jessica Chastain, and his attempts at being a cool dad.
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?
Eddie Redmayne turned in one of the subtler but ultimately shocking serial killer portrayals, starring with Jessica Chastain in the Tobias Lindholm-directed Netflix drama The Good Nurse. In the movie based on actual events, Redmayne’s Charlie Cullen goes from a non-descript night nurse who becomes a lifesaving friend to co-worker Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), until she realized her pal might be killing patients who should be recovering. He would ultimately confess to killing about 40 people, and drew 18 executive life sentences, while the hospital administrators who quietly dismissed him even though they had their suspicions were not punished for the cover-up.
In Redmayne, this is the kind of versatility you might expect from an actor who’s won the Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe, BAFTA and two Laurence Oliver awards and in turns such as Cabaret onstage, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Here, Redmayne discusses the opinions he formed playing a serial killer who was not at all the cinematic Hannibal Lecter prototype, and which has put him squarely back in the awards conversation.
DEADLINE: We’ve seen many serial killer portrayals, but few as subtle as the one you turned in on The Good Nurse. What was your view of Charlie Cullen going into this when you played him?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: What Charlie did was monstrous and indefensible, but when you’re playing someone who’s done horrific things you have to try not to judge them in those terms. My view on him was massively colored by the real Amy Loughren, who I got to spend time with on Zoom before we started shooting. The thing that she really made a point of reaffirming was, this was two different human beings.
When she met her friend, he was this kind, gentle, compassionate, quite funny, self-deprecating man who saved her life. Later, she twice met a different human being, and something in his eyes made him an arrogant, unrecognizable human. Once was in the restaurant, in a diner, and then once was in the interrogation room. She believed it was a dissociative personality, and that was really interesting to me because that meant that it was about playing the truth of what that friendship was. More tricky was finding this other side, this furious, arrogant side to him. Both Amy and Charles Graeber, who wrote the book, and in Krysty’s script described this moment of one eye dislodging, as it were, going off in a different direction during conversation. That was very disconcerting.
But then, there was also this discussion of when he was in court and the judge was giving out a statement, and many of the families of the victims were there. Charlie started furiously repeating this mantra about the judge’s ineptitude, and he screamed it and screamed it and screamed it and screamed it in the court to the point he ended up being bound and gagged in court. That was an insight into this more violent side of him, which is sort of touched on.
That scene and the interrogation scene, Krysty had managed to whittle down some of the real dialogue from the documentation, and aligned it with this more violent outburst. As I discussed with Jessica and Krysty, so much of the script in the rehearsal period beforehand, we never touched on the diner scene or [the interrogation room] scene because we all believed that if we had done our work, right, if we had filled these characters with a truth, then these scenes would reveal themselves.
“These random objects in front of me are my 10 essential items – caveated by the fact that not a single one of them is essential, but they’re just things I like,” says actor Eddie Redmayne as he lays out some of his favourite things for GQ. The Fantastic Beasts star counts Schweppes tonic water – the only one that makes the perfect vodka tonic – and Squares salt and vinegar crisps (“I feel that I know more about salt and vinegar crisps than I do about most things”), among his must-haves alongside more elevated items.
There’s the Omega Seamaster watch that he loves for its legacy and the Prada cardigan that he stole from a photoshoot and now takes on planes with him. “It’s multicoloured – I can’t tell quite how vibrant it is because of my colour blindness but it definitely makes me feel buoyant and happy when I wear it and it’s also like being given a gigantic hug,” he says. There’s the Cire Trudon candle, too, whose familiar smell – “When you light this candle you feel as though you’re in some Louis XIVth monastery and it transpires that that’s something I quite enjoy” — keeps him grounded when he’s travelling around.
Hello, I am adding some interviews with Eddie Redmayne.
Eddie Redmayne: ‘From an actor’s point of view, this is one of those dream roles.’ In the Netflix thriller, the Oscar winner plays an infamous caregiver implicated in the deaths of hundreds of hospital patients. Gold Derby editor Denton Davidson hosts this webchat.
Eddie Redmayne talks about working with Jessica Chastain, writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and director Tobias Lindholm on The Good Nurse.
In their Actors on Actors conversation Ana de Armas goes in depth on what it took for her aquire the infamous Marilyn Monroe voice in Netflix’s ‘Blonde.’ Eddie Redmayne compares his experiences in the Harry Potter world of ‘Fantastic Beasts’ to giving humanity to a serial killer like Charles Cullen in ‘The Good Nurse.’
Cuban star Ana de Armas made waves with her controversial take on Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about the late star. De Armas’ endlessly emotive performance makes an interesting contrast to London-born Eddie Redmayne, tightly controlled in “The Good Nurse,” as serial murderer Charles Cullen, whose crimes eventually raise the suspicions of the film’s title character, Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain). In conversation, de Armas and Redmayne rave about each other’s work — an especially meaningful compliment for de Armas, as Redmayne knows his Monroe: He starred opposite Michelle Williams in 2011’s “My Week With Marilyn.”
Ana De Armas: I’ve been a big admirer of yours for a long time. I remember going to the premiere of “The Danish Girl.”
Eddie Redmayne: Really?
De Armas: And the after-party. I was just blown away by your performance. So it’s pretty surreal to be here with you today.
Redmayne: I was astounded by your work in “Blonde.” It was one of those rare performances where you want to go and hold that person afterwards and check that they’re OK. Your range is insane, comparing “Blonde” to your other work.
De Armas: Look who’s talking.
Redmayne: Was this the first real person that you’ve played?
De Armas: This is the second, but a completely different approach. The first person I played was in this movie “Hands of Stone,” and I was playing Roberto Durán’s wife, who I was friends with. I spent Christmas with them in Panama. She was Panamanian, and Cubans are the same people, basically.
The Oscar winner reveals the struggle to understand his character even though the film never explains his devious nature.
In Tobias Lindholm’s Netflix drama The Good Nurse, Eddie Redmayne plays real-life serial killer Charlie Cullen, who at first seems like a sweet, docile hospital nurse until it’s revealed over the course of the film that he’s been stealthily killing perhaps hundreds of patients — for no apparent reason. Fellow Oscar winner Jessica Chastain stars as Cullen’s colleague Amy Loughren, who discovers Cullen’s crimes and fights a corrupt medical system to expose him.
Loughren’s fight served as the subject of Charles Graeber’s nonfiction book of the same name, which became the basis for the script by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (a best screenplay Oscar nominee for 1917). Loughren met with both Redmayne and Chastain prior to filming and even visited the set. After six years of production, with stops and starts as funding came and went, her story is finally out in the world. It debuted at No. 1 on Netflix’s English-language films list, reaching the top 10 most watched in 93 countries and garnering particular praise for Redmayne’s haunting performance.
THR spoke with the actor about preparing to take on such a daunting role, what it was like getting into the head of a killer, working alongside such a formidably talented co-star, and the experience of speaking with the real Loughren ahead of filming.
I understand the filmmaking was a six-year process. What was your first impression of the script, and what caused it to take so long?
I knew nothing about the story, which was the best way to go into this. As Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ script unfolded, what I found extraordinary about it was it didn’t seem to fit comfortably into any specific genre. I knew that Tobias [Lindholm] was directing it, and I’ve watched his work, particularly A Hijacking and A War, and was just so astonished by his vision of the world. And getting to spar alongside Jessica, who I think is one of the greats — that combination felt extraordinary. I was very quickly in, but then the studio let it go, and we were trying to reconfigure it somewhere else. Even though our schedules kept not matching, we remained passionate — I’m so thrilled that we did stay with it.
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