The National Student meets The Theory of Everything writer Anthony McCarten
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What is it like to write the life story of Stephen Hawking – a man whose discoveries have rewritten the history of time, but whose own voice all but gave up on him before he’d even left university? It is the unsaid moments in The Theory of Everything, both from Hawking (in a probable career-defining turn from Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) that say more than the words themselves. The challenge for screenwriter Anthony McCarten, then, is palpable. “It was clear that we’d have to find alternative channels of communication,” Anthony says, “and a lot of that is through gesture, and through eyes. And when Stephen loses the power to gesture... in one scene he can’t even embrace her anymore. I think somehow the relationship had to operate on that basis.” It was a challenge, he admits, to write a believable relationship where the words are lost but the emotional connection remains: the wordless domestic scenes, he says, were difficult to pull off, and are a testament to actors playing Stephen and Jane. He flags a scene of realisation towards the end of the film (no spoilers here) that sums up the emotion and silence of what he was aiming to achieve. It’s a scene, we agree, that packs a raw emotional punch. “I hope what comes through in that,” he says, referring to this pivotal moment, “is all the layers of emotion. It’s very complex emotionally; there’s an aspect of letting go, there’s an aspect of sadness, of release, and the actors play all those multiple layers simultaneously.” It’s a challenge the actors pull off well: aside from Golden Globe nominations for both Eddie and Felicity, there’s is a hum of Academy Award possibility surrounding Eddie’s performance, which is subtle and never overplayed - something that Anthony, in his creation of the script, had at the forefront of his mind. Finding the voice of Stephen the man, apart from the discourse that surrounds him, was also a work of speculation, says Anthony. “I knew he was witty,” he says, “I knew he was mischievous. I wanted humour in there, I wanted a bit of mischief; I wanted an element of the artist. Because he’s an extraordinarily good writer as well, he’s an extraordinarily creative person... I had those things, and that’s the basis of a voice, in a way.” The film is taken from Jane’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, although only partially according to Anthony – “because I wanted it to be equally about Stephen. They roughly had the same screen time, so I was able to find out a lot about Stephen. In the public domain there’s a lot known about his achievements and his battle with ALS (Motor Neurone Disease), and his scientific work – this wasn’t taken from Jane’s memoir, but it did give me insights into his life, his personal life, and his feelings.”
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