November 19, 2014 Ali Articles & Interviews, Theory of Everything Leave a Comment

The Detroit Free Press did this article about Eddie and his performance in The Theory of Everything. They speek with Eddie and his director James Marsh.

Actors can engage in plenty of odd pre-performance rituals, but when it comes to moments you’d rather strangers not see, few compare to hanging out in a London park and mimicking Stephen Hawking.

That was life for Eddie Redmayne in the months before he took on playing the scientist in the new biopic “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne would practice Hawking’s physicality through the ages while a movement coach captured it all on camera. Then the actor would study the footage and go out and do it all over again.

“It was a little like shooting a love scene,” Redmayne said over lunch at the Waldorf Astoria recently. “You knew it was good for the movie, but there was also a bit of ‘can we get out of here?’ ”

Redmayne makes audience members want to stay firmly in their seats through the James Marsh-directed “Theory,” which focuses on the relationship between Hawking and his former wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), and is based on the second and more gentle of two memoirs she wrote about their marriage. Redmayne plays Hawking with an air of both swagger and wry humor — and a distinct absence of self-pity — while also capturing the subtle but devastating encroachments of Hawking’s rare motor-neuron disease.

It’s a part that evokes the extreme physicality of Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot,” and it has already attracted a slew of attention for the 32-year-old British stage veteran — while reigniting the theory that British actors are just better than other actors at playing period drama.

“There’s this sort of cliche that a British actor likes to put on the clothes and then begins to find the character, and an American actor looks inside first,” Marsh said when asked about the phenomenon. “Both can be brilliant, but they’re very different processes.”

To play Hawking, Redmayne studied nuances like the difference between upper and lower neurons, trying to break down the role to a granular degree. At some point in Hawking’s degeneration, for example, the upper arm might be spastic while the lower half was rigid. Redmayne wanted to capture that, but the effort required an unusually intense kind of mental split. “When a scene ended you’d hear this exhalation and realize just how much energy Eddie was consuming while barely moving,” Jones recalled.

Since Hawking’s condition was degenerative, Redmayne also needed to study the entire life of the septuagenarian scientist. In the years since the 1980s, video footage of Hawking has been abundant, but the several decades before yield only the occasional photograph. Redmayne consulted medical textbooks and talked to nurses who worked with Hawking to reconstruct how his condition evolved over the years.

If all that wasn’t challenging enough, “Theory” was, like most movies, shot out of sequence. That meant Redmayne could be skipping ahead to a latter-life level of degeneration in the morning, then winding the clock back to an early-disease moment in the afternoon. It grew so complicated that the actor kept a chart on set tracking where the film was relative to Hawking’s real-life condition. Each point on the chart would contain the movements he could and couldn’t do, and he would often consult it before jumping into a scene.

“I remember thinking when I started this, ‘Well, this is going to be interesting.’ And it was.” He paused. “Everything would affect everything else.”

Redmayne is a seasoned player on the theater circuit — he won Olivier and Tony awards for his supporting part in the art-world play “Red” and has done “Richard II” in London — but he has had a less prominent film career. His best-known role was as Marius in Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” two years ago.

Good-natured with an outgoing streak, he seems to be hovering between the less Hollywood world he comes from (he attended Cambridge, where he would sometimes see Hawking at a distance, and in a few months will get married to a non-actress, Hannah Bagshawe) and the more slick one he has sometimes dipped into. (He has worked as a model.)

While making “Theory,” the actor worried that he was perhaps taking his Hawking performance too far and feared he might insult the famed scientist. The ice was broken, though, when the two finally met. Redmayne was nervous and began babbling. He even mentioned his birth sign and asked Hawking what his was. There was a pause, and then Hawking quipped, “You know, Eddie, I’m an astronomer, not an astrologer.”

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