Interview: Eddie Redmayne
18th December 2014
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Eddie Redmayne has been on our screens (both big and small) for decades, but it is his roles of late that have propelled him into the limelight. His work in Les Misérables, the Wachowskis Jupiter Ascending (delayed until next year) and now The Theory of Everything, creating an Oscar buzz for his turn as Stephen Hawking, he has been building up a diverse CV that many young actors would envy. In the refined surrounds of Claridges, we spoke with Redmayne about taking on the character of an icon, how he feels about his growing celebrity and what the future holds. When you were doing the press tour for Les Miserables did you know that you would be playing such a great role as Stephen Hawking? No, it sort of happened when I was doing a film called Jupiter Ascending [released next year] and part of that job, playing a sci-fi baron out in space, I had to get a six pack and I had a trainer at Leaveson Studios. I’d spoken to James [Marsh, director] on the phone to try to get to meet him and what was amazing was that my trainer worked with motorneuron patients so he was the first person to start to work with me, so it started a bit after Les Mis. How was the process of acting with, for example, only the use of one hand and limited facial expression? When I met Stephen he can move so few muscles but it’s as if all of those energies – tone of voice, facial expressions – are channelled into the few muscles that he can. I’d watched all the documentaries that I could and I’d wait for everyone to leave the house then practice and sit by the mirror. What’s interesting is there are muscles we don’t use and they are the muscles that have become active for him. What was it like to meet Stephen Hawking? When I met him I spent four months researching him and I wanted to meet him earlier but he’s a busy man! Because we weren’t shooting chronologically I had started mapping out what I wanted the bulk of the performance to be and there was this great fear when I met him what if I had got it totally wrong. He had gone from this icon to idol status in my mind by the time I was introduced to him. It takes him a long time – there’s a unique rhythm when you speak to him and we’re used to seeing him on shows when he’s been given the questions in advance and almost presses play, so there was a very unique rhythm and a ton of silence – I hate silence! – and it was pretty catastrophic; I spent 45 mintues spewing information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking and sweating and he was looking at me probably thinking ‘Really? Are you going to tell me about myself?’ But he did tell me a few things that were very helpful, but said probably eight or nine sentences in three hours so what it was really about for me was getting the sense of the person; he’s a real force of charisma and wit and a bit of mischief! Was there any of that humour when you were in conversation about him? Well, part of my diatribe of just useless words when I was filling the silence was about his book – My Brief History – his autobiography which he had just published and in it he had made a big point that he was born on the 8th January, which was Galileo’s birthday and I was telling this to him for some reason and I told him I was born on the 6th so said ‘So we’re both Capricorns!’ and as soon as I said it I thought ‘Fuck! What did I just say?’ and he just looked at me and then looked at his screen as I just sat there for ten minutes stewing and then in his iconic voice he said: ‘I am an astronomer, not an astrologer.’ I was beetroot by this point, thinking Stephen Hawking thought I believed he was Mystic Meg. Although he asked me if I was playing him before the machine and I said I was and he told me his voice was very slurred and there’s one horizon documentary of Stephen speaking before the tracheotomy and he was completely incomprehensible. Jane [his first wife] would understand and she would translate for him. But the producers were a bit weary of having subtitles but it was difficult for me as all of the stuff I had prepared to play Stephen before that was an educated guess, there was little footage or anything, and that was the first bit of footage I could really use and the thought of not being able to use it, and then Stephen suggested having someone to translate him. I went back to James and Anthony and said this is the one thing he’s asked for, this authenticity, and Anthony actually wove in some scenes where Jane translates a bit and you don’t need subtitles but you get a sense of that moment. What was it like to go to the set every morning and have to play him? When you do something on stage if you screw it up one night you can go on again the next day and do it again. With something like film everyone always thinks you can just do it all again and again and the reality is that you can’t. You have a specific amount of time and it’s getting shorter and shorter as the years go on and you have limited time to get that scene down and there’s nothing more horrific than that feeling when you get in the car at the end of the day and think ‘That’s an idea! Oh, I can’t do it any more’. It’s a really mentally rigorous thing you do, having to think of new ideas, like coming up with things you want to try and you want to fail at. This whole project was a great mixture of astonishing privilege and fear. So I can’t say I was like ‘I can’t wait to get to work!’ but it was interesting. What did you fear the most? I think fear of Stephen and Jane and the family being disappointed. Have you talked to them afterwards?
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