Vanity Fair spoke to Eddie at the BAFTA LA Tea yesterday about Stephen Hawking!
The Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything will make you cry. (It even made Hawking himself cry, and he lived the story.) But there are also moments of surprising laugh-out-loud levity, courtesy of Hawking’s enduring wit, which never seemed to wane, even after the physicist lost his ability to speak following a tracheotomy.
In fact, Redmayne says that Hawking’s wicked sense of humor was so apparent during his first conversation with the award-winning cosmologist, that he worked with director James Marsh and the writer Anthony McCarten to incorporate Hawking’s comedic flair into the film.
“The overriding thing when I met [Hawking] was this extraordinary, razor-sharp wit and formidable humor,” Redmayne told us on Wednesday, at a tea he hosted, along with Burberry and Vanity Fair, in celebration of BAFTA Los Angeles. “There is a kind of mischief, a Lord of Misrule quality that I tried to take away from spending time with him, that I tried to bring into the performance.”
The humor is apparent in the film. After the British scientist learns that the computerized voice he can use to communicate only comes equipped with an American accent, Hawking breaks in the system by delivering some of his favorite movie lines from American leading men. Later in the film, when asked about the pitfalls of fame by a fan, he jokes that he simply tells people who recognize him that the real Stephen Hawking is much better looking in person.
“He was endlessly poking fun of everything,” Redmayne told us of their time together. “I remember that I saw him right before he finally saw [The Theory of Everything] and I had spent seven months preparing, making the film. I remember telling him, ‘Stephen, I’m very nervous for you to see the film but do let me know what you think.’”
“He spent about nine minutes typing something out and then, in that iconic computer voice, said, ‘I will let you know what I think, good or otherwise.’”
“I was like, ‘O.K., well maybe if it’s otherwise, just stick with ‘otherwise.’ You don’t have to go into the minutiae or details of things I got wrong.’”
Just because Hawking does have the ability to skewer a conversational opponent with his intellect and equally attuned wit does not mean that the physicist abused that advantage.
“There is a wonderful story from one of the nurses I met with,” Redmayne told us. “She had graduated from nursing school and her first job interview was with Stephen. She was only 18 or 19 years old and was utterly terrified.”
“She spent all night researching and she went all prepped to the interview, but then he only asked her one question. He asked her, ‘Can you poach an egg?’ She said yes. And he said, ‘You got the job.’”
There are moments in the film when Redmayne, as Hawking, explains some of the physicist’s more sophisticated black hole theories. We asked the actor just how much of that dense scientific dialogue he understood.
“I hope that in the end I understood as much as I had to talk about,” he told us. “But it took quite a lot of work. It was a great acting feat trying to pretend like I had an idea of what I was talking about. I worked with one of Stephen’s old students who is a professor in London.”
There were quite a few interruptions in Redmayne’s studies though.
“He would start talking about the intricate complications of string theory,” the actor told us, “and I’d have to say, ‘Please imagine I am seven years old.”
The Theory of Everything opens in theaters on November 7.