With Aardman Animation’s Early Man now playing in North American theaters, a few days ago I got on the phone with Eddie Redmayne to talk about voicing a character in the stop-motion film directed by Nick Park. During the exclusive interview he talked about how he got involved in the project, what people would be surprised to learn about the recording process, how things changed during production, his earliest memories of Aardman Animation, and so much more. In addition, he talked about his early work in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd and how that project changed in the editing room, how making Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald compared to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, when he starts shooting Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts with Felicity Jones and if they’re trying to be the British Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, why he recently took some time off from acting, and so much more.
If you’re not familiar with Early Man, the film takes place during the crossroads between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age and follows a young caveman named Dug (Eddie Redmayne) who gets whisked away to a Bronze Age city ruled by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). Dug then takes part in a soccer tournament where the future of his cavepeople is on the line. Maisie Williams plays a local soccer player recruited to help Dug’s team. For more on Early Man, read Matt Goldberg’s review.
Check out what Eddie Redmayne had to say below.
Collider: You doing a lot of press today?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: It’s one of those days, but it’s all good.
You really can’t go wrong promoting an Aardman movie.
REDMAYNE: No, you know what- it’s one of those dreams to be a part of.
I would imagine. What’s your earliest memory of Aardman?
REDMAYNE: I think it was Creature Comforts. Do you know those Steve?
REDMAYNE: They went and recorded the voices of people across the country and then animated them with creatures and I just found them hilariously funny. I think that’s when my love for them started.
I love those ones in the zoo.
REDMAYNE: Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen the one with the seals in the foreground being interviewed with a penguin in the background doing a sort of full swallow dive from the diving board and he’s getting stuck in the ice. It’s all happening so small in the background and it’s one of the great moments of comedy.
I completely agree. Talk a little bit about how you got involved in Early Man.
REDMAYNE: I was genuinely just asked if I wanted to do it and I have had some slightly shoddy experiences with voiceover work before, where people hire you because you’re an actor and then when you find yourself in the booth, you sort of open your mouth and you see their look of frights and shock- where, perhaps, they don’t love your voice as much as they thought. So, because I had so much love for Nick Park I didn’t want to be the one to butcher it. When I was offered it, I asked him if there was any chance we could have a session in which we mess around with it, so he could just check that he wanted to hire me. So, we had the most amazing couple of hours trying hundreds of different voices, and him showing me some early animation with Doug and all this and it was great.
That’s actually a pretty smart move.
REDMAYNE: Yeah, so I didn’t get fired.
Totally. What was it about the story and script that really excited you?
REDMAYNE: I come from an incredibly sporty family and I am incredibly useless at sport, particularly soccer. So, Nick describes it as: he always wanted to make an underdog sports movie, being the least sporty person in the world. It was also my opportunity to make an underdog sports movie by having a severe lack of talent. That was one thing. The other thing was I just love the heart of these films. They have such a joy, and warmth, and humor to them that, yeah, I felt like it would be a lovely thing to get to swim in.
One of the things I appreciate about Nick and Aardman movies is that they don’t really go for the cheap joke. It’s not playing to the lowest common denominator.
REDMAYNE: Yeah. I think Tom Hiddleston put it like, “the distance you’ll go for that joke is quite extraordinary and extreme.” You sort of pursue the joke relentlessly and it’s quite brilliant.
What do you think would surprise people to learn about the recording process on Early Man?
REDMAYNE: I would say they’d be surprised by how many times you say the same line. Nick is ridiculous- he’s like the most generous spirited man in the world, but you can do one line hundreds of times and you can tell because he has always got a smile on his face but you begin to read when he’s super happy and when he is just sort of okay. So you’ll do it for 5 minutes or 10 minutes on the same line and eventually you’ll go, “Nick, when you say the line,” or whenever he says it his voice sort of explodes into Wallace and Gromit and every single one of his characters he has ever played, and he does it so perfectly that you then try and copy that, basically.
Completely. I would imagine that this is probably the most important question I’ll ask today: did you ask him to record anything for an answering machine message?
REDMAYNE: Oh, gosh! What a wasted opportunity! I did get him to- he signed my script and did quite an amazing drawing of Doug and Hognob and that made me very happy. That’s one of those things I’ll probably frame.
Without a doubt. I can’t believe it’s not already framed.
REDMAYNE: I can’t believe I didn’t make him do my answering machine message! [laughs]
Guess what you’ll be thinking about the next time you see him.
If this isn’t the perk of being an actor- getting to meet these people and work with them and get little perks like that, what’s the point of being an actor?
REDMAYNE: I know, you’re absolutely right. I should think more about that.
Anyway, enough of my joking around. [laughs] Often time with animated movies, a lot can change along the way. I’ve spoken to people that have worked on Pixar movies or Walt Disney movies, and it’s a dramatic change from when you first started to what people see on screen. How much of Early Man changed from when you were talking about it to what people see?
REDMAYNE: That’s a good question. The answer is the script was endlessly being fanoodled- I think I just invented a word. As you say, that world of animation- we would record once every two months and record for a day and then two months later you come back and they would have animated some of the stuff you recorded last time. You would go and re-record other bits where they’ve refined the script. It was a massively organic process. What was weird was that you never read the script from start to finish. So it was really, more than any film I’ve ever done, when you saw it, the final cut of it, it was super surprising. It was wonderful to watch because you didn’t really know what you were making as you went along.
I think it’s a criminally underrated film. I think it’s a really good spy thriller. Everything about it is just well done.
REDMAYNE: Yeah. We’ll I’ve always dreamt of seeing the full cut. I think it would be a long, but intriguing thing.
Yeah now, of course, I’m a big fan of the movie and now you tell me there’s a longer cut- or could be a longer cut. I want to see that one.
REDMAYNE: If you write that people will be like, “no there’s not!,” but all I heard was the original cut was- that they really had to cut it down for running time. It plays in that slow burn, doesn’t it? Matt is so wonderful in that film
Absolutely. I think that, it’s interesting- I don’t even know if that movie could be made now because of the slow burn. You know, audiences now are expecting a little more action, if you will.
REDMAYNE: Yeah, but I think, actually it would have made an extraordinary mini-series.
Without a doubt.
Redmayne: Pitch that. [laughs] Although, maybe, they did do a mini-series many years back with Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton that was about the start of the…I can’t remember what it’s called. It would be an interesting story.
I can’t say enough about how great television is right now. I’m sure, just like me and everyone else, I’m sure you’re binging TV shows and watching stuff because of the quality of the small screen.
REDMAYNE: Yeah, absolutely.
In fact- this wasn’t on my list- but I’ll ask you, what’s the last thing you binge-watched that you would like to recommend?
REDMAYNE: The last thing that I binge-watched. Well, I’m normally about 6 years behind everyone else. [laughs] My wife and I have just watched Big Little Lies. I did think the performances in that were pretty extraordinary. Also, the directors take on it- that’s what is so riveting, watching television become fully the director’s medium. It felt so- you really felt his thumb prints all over that, in a really stunning way. That, and, obviously we’re British, so obviously we watch The Crown. [laughs] I can’t give you any revelations, I’m always such a sheep. I’m such a follower, rather than a groundbreaking new series finder.
REDMAYNE: I think it may have been ever so slightly longer. It’s a most intricate script and she’s woven these extraordinary threads that pull you back into the world of Potter and collect the beasts lore, the sort of Potter lore. I’ve been so lucky in the past 4 years to work with Jo and to work with Nick Park, who I think are two of the great storytellers. What is amazing about working with Jo is that she does it because of how passionate she is about her characters. It oozes from every pore of her and you feel so inspired, basically, working on one of her pieces because you know how much she cares about every single character. That’s a wonderful thing.
I know that the studio and Jo have talked about it possibly being a five film series. How much has she told you about where this whole journey is going to go?
REDMAYNE: Well, the truth is, to be honest with you, whenever Jo comes to set, which was quite a lot more on Beasts on the second one than on the first film, you will always see a crowd of actors surrounding her, desperately trying to eek out information about information about the characters. One of the wonderful things is that she responds to what she’s seeing in the rushes and her sense of where the story is going, or what her interpretation of what the characters are. She will then respond to how actors are performing it, and that is a lovely thing. The answer is you get snip-its, but always with the sort of caveat that it could change. It’s pretty exciting.
Can you tease any of the new beasts?
REDMAYNE: Any of the new beasts? Mate, I would so love to tease lots of things. No, can we tease any new beasts? [pause] No, sorry. [laughs] You’ll have to wait.
[laughs] There’s like a sniper on you. It’s like no. Two other questions about other projects. You were in talks to play Frank Baum in a biopic Road to Oz. Whatever ended up happening with that one?
REDMAYNE: That was never actually- that was a sort of rumour. That was never sort of a reality.
Ok. Well we can put that one to bed then. There’s also talk that you might do The Aeronauts with Tom Harper and Felicity Jones. Is there any truth to that? Could that be on the horizon?
REDMAYNE: That is actually true. We start shooting in the summer and it was a script that came out of the blue that just completely floored me. I found it incredibly moving, incredibly original, and a film of wonder. When I heard that Felicity was being offered the other part, I thought it would be an amazing opportunity because I just adore working with her, and we challenge each other. It was a no brainer really.
Totally. I would imagine, though, that you are offered a number of scripts and a number of opportunities. Obviously, Fantastic Beasts takes up a lot of time, but what is it- when do you know when you’re reading a script that, man, I gotta play this character? How do you know that that’s the thing you want to make?
REDMAYNE: Normally, because there is a slightly sick feeling that comes over your stomach when you go from reading the piece as an objective piece to trying to work out how you’re going to do it. That’s the sort of slight sick feeling- when you’re like, “oh, I’d love to see someone else do this!” and then you’re like, “oh, maybe I should.” It really tends to be a slight thing of nausea because you’re trying to work out how you’re going to go about it, what that means for your life, where you’re going to have to travel to. It all comes in this huge rush. Normally, it doesn’t tend to be, for me, a moment of great excitement, it tends to be a moment of nausea. [laughs]
It’s interesting. I spoke to Andrew Garfield and he talked about how he has a really tough time leaving the character on set and that he almost puts too much of himself into his roles. Whether that is a play, or in a movie- that it really puts a toll on him. I’m curious, you’ve played some roles that really cause you to push yourself. How much are you able to, when you leave set at the end of the day, flip the light switch and just shut off and go back to being you? How much does it go with you at night?
REDMAYNE: Good question. It’s interesting you said that about Andrew. It’s interesting when you spend time with him…you definitely see his physicality sort of parallels the character, and sometimes the action and voice. I saw him in Angels in America recently, he’s extraordinary in it. You can see that happening. I think I leave my characters on set. My wife may disagree ever so slightly. [laughs] I think, what I do know, for example: between the past two Fantastic Beasts, we had a little girl, so I decided not to work. So it’s a weird thing the work that I was doing was Early Man, bits of that, and then I workshopped some other things. It was really important for me to take myself- even if it was just workshopping stuff- to take yourself away from the character you just played so that you can come and reinvent that person or refind that person fresh, rather than just playing the same character to the next character. I think it’s a sort of mixed bag- I like to think I leave the character at work but maybe more traits remain.
It’s interesting that you chose to stop working. Even though you have had such tremendous success the last few years, I’m sure in the back of your brain there must still be that little bit of a voice saying, “Am I going to work again if I take a break from acting?” There has to be that neurosis. Everyone has that, I would imagine.
REDMAYNE: I think so, I think everyone has that. What happened to me was when I was promoting Theory of Everything, promoting Danish Girl, those were intense experiences because they were long promotional times. When I was making The Danish Girl, I was promoting Theory of Everything, and when I was making Fantastic Beasts, the weekend I was promoting The Danish Girl, and you realize your life is so consuming with your work that you probably haven’t had enough time to live in order to that to feed back into your work. So it was important for me to- but you’re right there’s neurosis singing in your ear daily, but you try and take a step back and go, “well I think, it’s more important for the work that I do actually have a moment of time off.”
I actually think it probably does help to recharge your soul rather than constantly working. I’m sure that helps. Either way, thank you so much for getting on the phone with me today. Congrats on Early Man and thank you so much for giving me your time.
REDMAYNE: See you later. [Source]