Last year’s best actor, Redmayne, takes on another transforming role, playing the first person ever to undergo a sex-change operation in a film that took 10 years (and as many false starts) to get to the screen.
Eddie Redmayne was about to shoot the climactic battle sequence in Les Miserables — the part where the French Army fires cannonballs into the barricades to scatter the student revolutionaries — when director Tom Hooper calmly strolled across the battlefield and handed the young actor a large unmarked envelope.
“I think he said something simple like, ‘Read it,'” recalls Redmayne, 33, recalls of that day in 2011. “Tom has a very gentle manner.”
The pages inside — the screenplay for The Danish Girl — had been circulating among filmmakers and actors in just this fashion for the better part of a decade. At moments over the years, there were even hopes that the film actually might get made — at one point, Nicole Kidman was signed for the lead — but something always went wrong. Financing fell through. Or talent dropped out. Or somebody got cold feet. “It was the subject matter,” says Lucinda Coxon, who wrote the script in the envelope. “It was considered commercial poison.”
Times change. And it’s hard to imagine a more hospitable moment than right now for a commercially viable movie based on the life of Lili Elbe, a Danish painter in the 1920s who — with the help of a supportive wife (played by Ex Machina and Man From U.N.C.L.E. newcomer Alicia Vikander) — became the first person in history to undergo a male-to-female sex- change operation. Far from poison, the subject matter has reunited an award-winning director (before Les Miserables, Hooper won an Oscar for The King’s Speech) and an award-winning actor (after Les Miserables, Redmayne won one for The Theory of Everything) to finally bring to the screen the story of a transgender icon predating Caitlyn Jenner by nearly 100 years.