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Eddie Redmayne’s acclaimed performance as a transgender pioneer has put him in the running for a second consecutive Oscar… and with a starring role in the new Harry Potter spin-off, and a baby on the way, the actor is having a golden moment
Eddie Redmayne has a reputation for being one of the nicest actors in the business. Alicia Vikander, his co-star in The Danish Girl, has said he is ‘the most sweet, gentle human being ever’; Tom Hooper, the film’s director, thinks Redmayne is ‘Hugh Jackman-level nice’.
I have interviewed him once before and, charmingly, he remembers this, but he doesn’t recall quite when it was. I tell him it was in 2009, he was on stage at the Donmar Warehouse opposite Alfred Molina in the sensational two-hander about Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals, and he jumps out of his seat. ‘Red. Awww, I loved Red,’ he says. ‘2009! It feels like only yesterday. Doesn’t it feel like yesterday?’
This is probably because he has been rather busy in the intervening years. He won an Olivier for his performance in Red. It transferred to Broadway and he won a Tony. In 2011 he starred with Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, based on the true story of Colin Clark, a young production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl who struck up an unlikely friendship with Marilyn Monroe. The same year Redmayne was back on stage at the Donmar as Richard II, for which he won Best Shakespearean Performance at the Critics’ Circle Awards.
He talks of all-night shoots, leaving Leavesden studios, in Hertfordshire, in the morning for the airport, hopping aboard a jet to LA, walking the red carpet, returning to the airport, reboarding the same plane and going straight back to Leavesden for another all-nighter. It’s a suspended version of reality, made more surreal by his time spent wielding a wand in the wizarding world.
When we sit down to discuss Wallpaper’s Design Awards – and Redmayne’s votes in our 11 Judges’ Awards categories – over a burger in London’s Soho, I begin by asking how he remains sane when so much of his time at the moment belongs to other people. He’s quick to acknowledge his luck: ‘For all of the mad hours, the travel and the tiredness, I remind myself constantly how fortunate I am to be working at this level,’ he says. ‘I put my all into it because I love it, and I’m a firm believer that the effort and time you put into something is rewarded by what you get out of it.’
However, Redmayne talks about his increasing appreciation of the moments when he can slow down. ‘I find life noisy,’ he says. ‘With the benefits of being more connected comes the danger of being sucked into a world of more noise, where we are constantly switched on. Living in the moment feels more difficult than ever, and more valuable.’
We talk about what design means in his life. He is cultured and thoughtful. He speaks of growing up in London in the early 1990s near the UK’s first Muji store and being fascinated by the compelling simplicity of the brand’s everyday objects. ‘I spent an unhealthy amount of money on stationery as a teenager,’ he says. ‘Today, I suppose I see good design as not being just about beautiful things, but about things that work; things that work well for me and how I live. Good design, in my opinion, is something that makes life easier, that reduces friction and brings pleasure at the same time.’
This Sunday a selected group of 7 Eddie Redmayne fan-bloggers had the opportunity to speak with Eddie in a conference call, and they talked not only about his experiences with shooting The Danish Girl, but also about theatre, possible future projects, his love for art and painting. All the question asked were very thoughtful and Eddie gave the most insightful if a bit rambly at times answers. Make sure you read all to the end as Eddie has a message for all his fans.
A big thank you to Eddie, his agents and @bespokeredmayne who organised this event. Sadly, BespokeRedmayne fell ill on the day of the interview and couldn’t attend. We wish her a very speedy recovery. She surely was in our thoughts throughout the interview.
And another big thank you to the other involved bloggers, you guys were amazing!
F: You said when you finished shooting The Theory of Everything that the character of Stephen Hawking stayed with you for a very long time. Did you experience something similar after you finished shooting The Danish Girl?
ER: You know I always, I sort of am not a method actor, so I always tend to think that I’m quite good at getting out of character and leaving the work at work rather than taking it home. But I think sometimes character traits or physical elements stay within me a wee bit, and it’s normally Hannah that points these out. So, I’m not sure after The Danish Girl, I found probably something in my hand movements, there’s sort of elements of that, but I always think that all of those characteristics are gone. But occasionally Hannah will find them out.
Long before Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” became a hit, or Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, Lili Elbe made her transition.
Elbe had previously been Einar Wegener, a popular artist in Copenhagen in the 1920s. One day his wife, Gerda Wegener, also a painter, asked him to don woman’s heels and stockings to fill in for a client who had missed her portrait sitting. It was a case of the clothes making the woman; Einar recognized that his true gender was female, and Lili was born. In 1930 she would be among the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Portraying the tricky role of Einar/Lili in Tom Hooper’s adaptation of David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel “The Danish Girl,” a fictionalized account of the story, Tom Hooper cast Eddie Redmayne, whom he had directed previously in “Les Misérables” (2012).
Redmayne received an Academy Award earlier this year for his demanding lead performance in “The Theory of Everything” as the scientific genius Stephen Hawking, who suffered from motor neuron disease. In “Danish Girl,” which opens here Dec. 11, his character undergoes both a physical transformation and profound psychological introspection.
On the phone from London in October, Redmayne discussed the challenges and satisfactions of playing Lili.
Q. It must be an acting workout to go directly from Stephen Hawking to Lili Elbe.
A. As an actor, your dream is to portray interesting people, and I certainly thought after the last year I had my quota with playing Stephen. And when this film came together — I had actually been attached myself to the film for three or four years — when the financing came together, it really felt like a privilege. Our dream as actors is to get to play interesting people. So one doesn’t think of it in terms of difficulty. It’s a joyous thing to do.
Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, returns to the screen this week with another transformational performance in The Danish Girl. Directed by Tom Hooper, the film tells the story of artist and transgender pioneer Lili Elbe — the first known recipient of gender confirmation surgery — and wife Gerda Wegener (Redmayne and Alicia Vikander).
During a video interview at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, Redmayne, Hooper, and Vikander spoke to EW about what drew them to Lili and Gerda’s story, and how they tried to tell it.
Eddie Redmayne rattles off statistics about the transgender community: “In 31 states, you can still be fired for being transgender,” he says by phone from London. “The suicide rate within the community is incredibly high at 41%. The violence to trans women of color is confounding.”
Just three years ago, he knew none of this. Even while reading the script for “The Danish Girl,” the film opening Friday that chronicles the gender transition of artist Lili Elbe, Redmayne wasn’t fully aware of the historical or the present-day struggles of transgender people. He did, however, recognize the importance of Lili’s story and its need for the big-screen treatment.
This was before the world knew of Caitlyn Jenner and before Laverne Cox rose to critical acclaim on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Journalist Janet Mock had not yet released her memoir “Redefining Realness,” and though Chaz Bono’s “Becoming Chaz” had aired in 2011, many were still ignorant about the transgender community.
“When you’re playing someone like Lili, who was and is an icon, it comes with great responsibility,” said Redmayne, 33. “I felt extraordinarily privileged to tell her story, but the whole thing was a huge learning experience for me.”
Redmayne began preparation shortly after filming “Les Misérables,” long before director Tom Hooper got the greenlight for “The Danish Girl.” Transgender producer Lana Wachowski, who with brother Andy directed Redmayne in “Jupiter Ascending,” was one of the first people the actor spoke with. Wachowski knew the relatively obscure story of Lili, born Einar Wegener, and spouse, Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander), who also was a painter. Just as important, the producer knew the arts world of the late 1920s in which the couple painted.
“She knew so much about them,” Redmayne said. “Lana gently pointed me to where I should begin my education.”
“Pretty well-endowed,” Eddie Redmayne says emphatically, sliding his iPhone across the tabletop. It’s late morning at Colbert, a café-bistro in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, and, latte orders placed, it seems we’ve reached the dick-pic-sharing portion of the conversation. He points down at his screen, and there it is in all its glory: the chiseled, shimmering torso—of his Oscar statuette. And it’s wearing tighty-whities. The mini briefs were a gift from Jimmy Kimmel given to Redmayne in February after he won Best Actor for his portrayal of the ALS-afflicted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. “The Velcro is coming off,” Redmayne says, laughing. “So, occasionally, he’s buck-naked.”
Redmayne, like his little gold man, prefers modesty—he’s bashful about discussing his well-heeled upbringing in London, his education at Eton (where Prince William was a classmate) and then Cambridge, where, as an undergrad, he landed his first big break in a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, opposite the theater legend Mark Rylance. But nowhere was his almost-pathological humility more apparent than during his Oscar-acceptance speech, when he practically begged the Academy’s forgiveness for his short yet amazingly ascendant career arc: “I’m fully aware that I am a lucky, lucky man.”
He’s also kind of fucked. Redmayne, who turns 34 in January, realizes this too, which is why his typically British stiff upper lip is quivering a bit today. The source of his agita: The Danish Girl, the ripely timed story of Lili Elbe, born Einar Wegener, the first person to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, in Dresden, Germany, in 1931—and a role that brings with it more potential pitfalls than Redmayne can count. “You don’t want to let people down,” he explains, nervously fidgeting with a sugar dispenser. “And you know you will—you can’t please everyone.”
Since the first images of a lithe, ruby-lipped, bewigged Redmayne surfaced online in February, The Danish Girl has produced buzz and scrutiny in equal measure. After all, the difference between a subtle, nuanced portrayal of an iconic transgender pioneer and Mrs. Doubtfire–esque bad drag can be as thin as a pair of panty hose. And Redmayne—unlike Caitlyn Jenner or Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox—is cisgender, leading some to accuse the filmmakers of having wasted the rare opportunity to cast a transgender actor. Redmayne can offer only so much to counter that criticism, but the responsibility he feels to the community weighs heavily on him. As one transgender friend told him during his research, the decision to transition boils down to a willingness to “give anything and everything to live a life authentic.”
Eddie Redmayne sure knows how to pick his movie roles.
Earlier this year the British actor won his first Academy Award for playing Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Early buzz now indicates he may get a second shot at the Oscar, this time for playing an artist in “The Danish Girl” who was one of the first known people to undergo transgender surgery.
“Lili was born Einar Wegener. She was an artist, and she was living in a time in which there were no examples or even vocabulary with which she could understand what it was that she was going through,” Redmayne told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Thursday about his starring role.
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