The Evening Standard gives us a look into Eddie taking on this new role as the amazing Stephen Hawking and how he feels about it all.
As Eddie Redmayne takes on the biggest role of his career, he talks falling apart in the presence of a great man and how the professor has killer timing
As Eddie Redmayne downs his tea I notice three girls standing by a tower of funghi, surreptitiously trying to take his photograph. “Whatever Eddie’s got, that’s what you spend your life looking for,” says his agent Dallas Smith, who saw him in Twelfth Night and signed him on the spot. “He had a unique presence, even completely untrained, the sort of magnetism that only great actors have. The fact he had gone to Eton and Cambridge was meaningless. He had the most astonishing natural acting ability. You can’t teach that.”
Tom Hooper, who directed Redmayne in Les Misérables, concurs. “Eddie has the most prodigious gift, and it’s got to a point where his talent transcends the whole discussion,” he says. “There are plenty of people who went to Eton. There is only one actor like him.”
Redmayne, who is about to appear as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is in many ways an unlikely actor. “I’ve no idea where any of it comes from,” Michael Grandage says. “I’m not sure he does. Ask him!”
Redmayne was born in London in 1982 into a family who had never dipped a toe into the performing arts. His mother Patricia runs a relocation business and loves golf; his father Richard is a banker. His half-brother Charlie is the CEO of the publisher HarperCollins; his half-sister Eugenie works for Prudential. His elder brother James is in private equity and his younger brother Tom has recently qualified as a chartered surveyor.
While at Cambridge Redmayne himself did internships at City broker Cazenove — “the greatest acting job of my life, trying to pretend I knew what a share was” — and on the Evening Standard business pages. “I wrote a piece about tax self-assessment schemes, all of about seven lines, but I did get a byline. My mum’s probably kept it somewhere.”
Then one afternoon his shift in the pub was interrupted by a call from Smith. He had landed a part in Doctors, the daytime-TV soap. “Probably the most exciting day of my life.”
So where does it come from? “I have no idea either. I’m someone who likes clarity, some sense of structure, and yet I’ve ended up in this peripatetic and crazy existence, in which you’re at the beck and call of everyone else. I think that’s why family is so important to me. In the rest of my life I’m trying to create something as rooted as possible.”
Just before The Theory of Everything began shooting we met in the bar of the Young Vic theatre in London. Redmayne is fresh from a movement class. Or rather frazzled. He orders a Diet Coke and a chicken salad. A few days ago he had his audience with Stephen Hawking. He paints a toe-curling picture of the two of them sitting at Hawking’s house in Cambridge for an hour and a half — one of them “vomiting forth into the void”, the other silent, motionless, amused.
“I was terrified because I’d made choices, in terms of his physical decline and his character, that I couldn’t now go back on. So I was thinking ‘Oh God, what if I meet him and it changes everything, is this going to undermine all the work I’ve done?’ Then his carers, who are lovely, took me in to meet him, and the first thing I do is over-apologise for the fact that someone who’d studied art history is playing this great scientific mind.”
He sips his Diet Coke. “These days, Stephen has glasses with a sensor under them. On the screen, rather than the predictive text software he used to have, there’s an alphabet with a cursor. When he does this movement [Redmayne makes a sort of blink] it stops on a letter. So if you’re speaking to him live, it takes him a long time to respond.
“You don’t see that on telly, because he’s usually been sent questions in advance. And because it’s hard for him to speak and because I hate silence, I just spew forth information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking for the next 40 minutes. The first thing he eventually says, after all that time, is ‘Please call me Stephen’, because I’ve been calling him Professor Hawking all the way through.
“Then, for some reason, I hear myself informing him he was born on January 8, because I’ve been talking about science and religion in our film and he makes this point in his book My Brief History about how he was born 300 years to the day after Galileo. Then I tell him I was born on January 6, I don’t know why I say it, but I do, ‘So we’re both Capricorns’, and then the second it comes out of my mouth I’m like, ‘Fuck. What did I just say to Stephen Hawking?’ And there is this punishing four or five minutes as he blinks away.
“Finally, the voice says, with killer timing: ‘I am an astronomer, not an astrologer’. And it’s just… the idea that he might think the guy playing him in a biopic thinks he’s Mystic Meg…” Redmayne rubs his hands furiously through his hair. “I don’t think I ever will get over it.”
I ask what he was hoping to take from the meeting, besides a chat about their shared star sign. “I suppose I wanted some sense of approval. That he was OK with me taking on his life. Obviously he hasn’t yet seen what I’m going to do, but I felt very supported.”
It was also a revelation, he suggests, to see at first hand “how Stephen runs a room. He’s in complete control. Not only is he clearly adored by all the people around him, it’s amazing to see how flirtatious he is. He emanates wit and humour and this sort of energy. Even though he can use very few muscles now, it’s one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. He’s very funny. With his voice machine, there’s no intonation, no way of delivering something with nuance, so all he has is the capacity to press play. Watching how he navigates that is amazing; his timing is magnificent. He is the king of the one-liner. He’s cool.”
Redmayne’s eyes glitter. “He’s fucking cool.”
As we leave, I wish him luck and ask if he’s planning any more preparation. He says he is going to stick three pictures up in his trailer: Einstein with his tongue out, James Dean leaning against a wall and the joker from a pack of cards.
A few days after the shoot wraps, on a drizzly Wednesday last December, we meet at a Pizza Express near Oxford Circus. Redmayne is a lifelong devotee of their salad dressing and orders extra on the side. He looks physically shattered, if pleased to be eating pizza again.
When I ask about the shoot, he can barely muster the energy to talk about it, although he raves about his co-star, Felicity Jones, who plays Hawking’s first wife Jane Wilde, describing her as “exquisite in the film. She has this amazing fragility, but also a backbone. She never made the easy choices. Jane is not a well-known figure, it’s not like Stephen, so she could have taken liberties but she was authentic right down to the voice, to the manner, to the look. It’s a beautifully judged performance.”
As Redmayne tears into his pizza I notice that his face looks different, in a way that’s hard quite to pinpoint. He reaches a freckled hand up to his right cheek and explains there are now muscles there that have developed since he started working on Hawking’s facial movements.
“In nine weeks there was no let-up for him,” director James Marsh tells me. “We had to keep going until the very last minute. Eddie was stretching himself, collapsing himself in different ways every day. He was cracking his voice, doing these violent throat clearings. And every day he was reckoning with mortality and decline.