Eddie Redmayne’s theory of acting Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne put in prodigious efforts to play Stephen Hawking, from months working on particular muscles to getting to grips with relativity – is an Oscar in the bag?

 

It’s a good story: Burberry model plays astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and gets a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. An Oscar nod, according to respectable turf accountants, looks certain.

It’s true: Eddie Redmayne has appeared in Burberry campaigns. It’s also true that the freckle-faced Redmayne may not have seemed like the most obvious candidate to play the planet’s most famous scientist.

But as any mindful Redmayne-watcher – or, to use the preferred nomenclature, Redmayniac – could tell you, the 32-year-old’s turn as Hawking in The Theory of Everything is no fluke. For the past decade, the same actor has been picking up awards and acclaim: he was named Outstanding Newcomer at the 2004 Evening Standard Theatre Awards and the Critics’ Circle for his performance in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?; in 2010 he won an Olivier Award and a Tony for his work in John Logan’s Red.

Onscreen, he has proved remarkably versatile: “Very often, too often, you play a type because you look like a type, you sound like a type,” he says. “I was lucky enough to go to university and have the space to explore things and fail. A lot of very bad work got done. But the second you get into the real world of the industry, things are very different.”

Against this, he was superbly discombobulating as Antony Baekeland in Todd’s 2007 true-life incest drama, Savage Grace, and, in contrast, made for credible romantic heroes in My Week with Marilyn (2011) and in Tom Hooper’s big screen production of Les Misérables (2011). Next year, he’ll play Lili Elbe, the first post-sex-change woman, in The Danish Girl, and he’ll bully Channing Tatum as the bad guy in the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending.

He laughs off the prospect of “awards season” but his remarkable physical transformation from a lively young student into an older man battling the symptoms of motor neuron disease is classic Oscar bait.

Months of training

Alex Reynolds

“You just try to educate yourself in everything,” says the actor. “For me, that was meeting Stephen and learning everything I could about him and talking to his family. The clinic was important because there is documentary footage of Stephen in the 1980s but before then there are only photographs. So you have to make an educated guess as to the progression of his condition. And then, having done all that, and having spent four months in front of an iPad trying to isolate the few muscles Stephen can access, you have to forget it all. Because you’re a human being playing another human being.”

Adapted from Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, The Theory of Everything offers a brief history of a marriage rather than a brief history of time. “The first time I read the script I went in thinking, this is a biopic,” says Redmayne. “It was a wonderful surprise to find this delicate, complicated romance instead.”

A chronicle of Stephen and Jane’s shifting relationship, the film marks a winning collaboration between a cast that includes Felicity Jones as Jane, the Academy Award-winning director James Marsh, screenwriter Anthony McCarten and the Hawking family. Jane, her husband Jonathan, and the Hawking children were actively involved with the production.

“The first time I met Jane she brought me into her living room and there was Felicity sitting cross-legged on the floor trying on Jane’s clothes,” recalls Redmayne. “Then, on our first day filming in Cambridge, suddenly I saw Jane running toward me and she reached in and started ruffling, saying ‘No, no, no: his hair was much messier’. The family could not have been more helpful or welcoming.”

That didn’t make it any less intimidating to meet Hawking for the first time. “Stephen had become such an idol in my mind. When I met him I was so nervous. I was a few days into filming. And suddenly I thought: ‘What if I meet him and I’ve got it all wrong?’ It takes time for Stephen to speak. And I have a hatred of silence. So I started spewing facts about Stephen Hawking at Stephen Hawking. It was an awkward and hilarious moment. But at the time it didn’t feel hilarious.”

Self-deprecating humour

Ivo Stourton

For all that, there’s no evidence of a sense of entitlement: he recently married his long-term girlfriend Hannah in a low-key ceremony and claims to have celebrated his Golden Globe nomination with a mulled wine.

He couldn’t be any other way, he says. “When you play Stephen Hawking, it’s not even about feeling humbled. From the get-go, you feel a bit thick. I gave up science when I was 14. I managed 20 pages of A Brief History of Time before I had to look up astronomy for kids dot com.”

He laughs: “After Les Misérables, when I was doing press interviews, my greatest fear in interviews was being asked to sing. And then I’m in San Francisco with this and someone asks me about relativity. I thought I was going to cry.” The Theory of Everything is out now

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