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 then played Stephen Wraysford, the protagonist in the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, and Marius in Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Misérables. He got married at the end of 2014 – ‘The most wonderful thing I’ve done’ – and last February, of course, he won an Oscar – ‘That was extraordinary’ – for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Things have not calmed down. When I meet him he is three months into filming JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the spin-off from the Harry Potter stable, inspired by the book of the same name that appears in the Potter novels about the magizoologist Newt Scamander. Inhabiting this wizarding world has meant long days and many shoots with 5am finishes at Leavesden studios in Watford. At the same time he is promoting The Danish Girl, in which he plays the transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, with Vikander as his wife, the artist Gerda Wegener. Redmayne was nominated for a Bafta, and is up for another Oscar.
‘Going to the Oscars is always the most sensory overload and a huge amount of fun,’ says Redmayne. ‘I feel excited just to be invited to the party, frankly.’ He thinks Leonardo DiCaprio is ‘definitely going to win and should’ – and recalls an audition he had with DiCaprio early in his career. ‘One of my first ever auditions for an American film [The Good Shepherd] was with Leonardo DiCaprio,’ he says. ‘We had about 15 minutes and it was pretty inspiring. In the end Matt Damon played his part. So for me to be considered in the group of nominees, with Damon, DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender and Bryan Cranston… it feels amazing.’
He says he is having a lot of fun on Fantastic Beasts. Directed by David Yates (who made the final four Harry Potter films), the cast includes Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell. The film is set 70 years before the Harry Potter story begins, in New York, where Newt Scamander is attending the Magical Congress of the United States of America, following his world travels to find magical creatures.
‘What has been so great about this one is seeing a bigger budget being used,’ he says. ‘Every single head of department on this film is at the top of their game so they use that to the most extraordinary effect. The other day I was looking down at a set they have built, New York streets in the 1920s, and as far as your eye can see are cars, smoke machines, extras… It feels like going back to, and maybe we romanticise it, but a golden age of Hollywood with this huge scale of things.’
Among all this he recently announced his role as a global ambassador for Omega. It is a company he has long known about because his father has always worn an Omega watch (‘my dad is my style icon’) so it felt serendipitous when he was approached to represent the brand.
In typical Redmayne fashion, he enthuses as much about this role as any of his stage or screen parts. ‘I am fascinated by Omega’s history,’ he says. ‘Particularly the First World War stuff, when they made watches for the flying corps, and the Nasa side of it.’ Buzz Aldrin wore Omega’s Speedmaster (aka Moonwatch) when he stepped on to the lunar surface in 1969. It remains one of only a handful of watches sanctioned by Nasa for space flight.
At 34, Redmayne is, it hardly need be said, a very good-looking man. GQ’s Best-Dressed Man of 2016 is today wearing a teal-green Gucci jumper, slim-legged trousers and Veja trainers. He looks wholesome, too – there is not a trace of tiredness on his face despite the late nights on a film set and day trips across the Atlantic to promote The Danish Girl. He says he doesn’t subscribe to a particularly wholesome way of living (‘nothing makes me more happy than being in Pizza Express. Those pizzas are unrivalled’).
So he has inherited good genes. But what interests him is where he got his acting ability. ‘Everyone else in my family does proper jobs,’ he says. His father works in the City, his mother is now retired but ran a relocation business. He is the second youngest of five (two brothers, one half-brother, one half-sister) and the other siblings are variously City workers, a chartered surveyor and the CEO of HarperCollins UK.
He grew up in London and the family frequented the theatre. He had acting lessons as a child, and then an inspiring drama teacher, Simon Dormandy, took him under his wing at Eton. Redmayne says he still on occasion turns to Dormandy for advice. He appeared, aged 12, in Sam Mendes’s West End production of Oliver! as a workhouse boy, and still remembers every move in the dance he performed (he even re-enacted it on The Graham Norton Show in 2014).
Redmayne went to Cambridge University to read history of art so he would have a degree to fall back on, he says, but after graduating he landed the part of Viola in Mark Rylance’s all-male production of Twelfth Night in 2002, and after that he secured an agent.
The upward trajectory of his early career was steep – he was in films with Julianne Moore (Savage Grace), Angelina Jolie (The Good Shepherd), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson (The Other Boleyn Girl) – but even now, as an Academy Award winner, and second-time nominee, Redmayne admits he has a recurring feeling of having ‘blagged’ his way into the profession.
Increasingly, he says, ‘I suffer from a more complex, persistent fear. It manifests itself in nerves, and on film the camera sees even the tiniest evidence of this. So you have to learn that when the director calls action, you don’t go to this place of tension but somehow you become free.’
He has been considering it a lot recently. ‘Why am I nervous? Why does it matter? If you screw up, you can try it again. I find in film acting that however many years you have done it for, you can feel totally relaxed and at ease with the people around you, absolutely wonderful, then roll camera and a little part of you goes, “Ugh”. It is learning how to manage that.’
He has admitted in the past to having a ‘rancid habit of Googling reviews’, which he said he should stop doing. But he hasn’t done so yet. ‘What you remember is the bad stuff that gets written,’ he says. ‘Because one remembers that, it galvanises you to keep working to prove to yourself that you are not those things.’ He cites an example. ‘Some people say Stephen Hawking was a technical performance. OK, well, playing it felt very emotional to me. So clearly something isn’t right. So you take that criticism and try to work harder.’
Likewise, he says of The Danish Girl, ‘It seems to divide people.’ This is a film he feels truly passionate about. He was handed the script unsolicited by Tom Hooper when he was working with him on Les Misérables in 2012. ‘The film had by then been 12 or 13 years in the planning,’ says Redmayne. ‘It had been with different directors, different actors, and after I read the script in my trailer I came running out and said I’d love to do it. At that point there was no guarantee it was ever going to get made.’
Hooper was told he wouldn’t easily find money for a film starring Eddie Redmayne, but he knew Redmayne was right for the role. (Anthony Lane wrote in his review for the New Yorker, ‘The Danish Girl would be unfeasible without Eddie Redmayne.’) ‘Only after The Theory of Everything came out did finance come together,’ Redmayne says. ‘When I first read that script it had a sucker-punch impact. I found it so moving,’ he continues. ‘I couldn’t believe I didn’t know the story of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener.’
A trans woman in Los Angeles helped him with a ballroom scene – the first time in the film Lili goes out in public. ‘She described to me how before she started transitioning she used to love Hallowe’en because that allowed her the freedom to dress up as a woman,’ Redmayne says. ‘She said she went to a bar one time and a guy began to hit on her. She described how she hid under her wig and she felt a mixture of utter exhilaration mixed with complete fear of him finding out. To find a contemporary reference, which to me felt valid, helped me enormously.’
I wonder what he did to prepare for the role of Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts. ‘Part of what I do, in relation to research is’ – he is laughing – ‘about exploiting the fact that you have one of the best jobs in the world. If you are given access to amazing astronomers to educate you when playing Stephen Hawking, why wouldn’t you meet them?
‘As I am playing a magizoologist I thought, why don’t I go and shack up at London Zoo for a bit,’ he continues. ‘I spent a few days there and then I went down to Damien Aspinall’s place, Port Lympne in Kent, and met the amazing handlers there. Some of them sleep with baby tigers when they’re born. What was important for me here was to see how people with such a close relationship with animals communicate with them, because Newt has that. Then it is just a lot of fun.’
His wife, Hannah Bagshawe, an antiques dealer, must have to get on board with his forensic level of research. ‘She is an absolute wonder,’ he says. ‘Because the work I do is all encompassing, when I am prepping for it she is a massive part of that.’ Bagshawe does the awards season with Redmayne – ‘it is so lovely to do it as a team,’ he says.
Bagshawe gave up working for a prestigious antiques dealer and set up on her own so that she could be more flexible and available to travel with Redmayne. ‘Working for her old boss, it used to complicate things if we had to go to LA for the day; it is wonderful she can now travel all the time.’
Redmayne must have directors queuing up to work with him, but he is not currently under contract to do another film or theatre production. ‘I am definitely going to take some time out,’ he admits after a silence. ‘Just a wee bit.’ How long is a wee bit? ‘That’s a very good question. I think Hannah would probably like to know the answer to that.’
A few weeks after our meeting it is reported that Bagshawe and Redmayne are expecting their first child, and they confirmed that to a journalist on the red carpet at the Golden Globes in January. Redmayne had told me he was planning ‘time for Hannah and me to go away and feed our energy stores a bit’. After I briefly caught up with him on the phone, he said he was ‘looking forward to the breather to take it all in.’ As to what’s about to hit him – ‘I’m not sure I have a clue’ – he now has until June to recharge and prepare for his role as a parent. No doubt he has already started. [Source]