There is a new feature on Eddie in the UK edition of Esquire Magazine’s January Issue (the one with Christian Bale on the cover)
To celebrate his career-defining performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, Esquire invites oscar hopeful Eddie Redmayne to try on the best of this season’s winter coats
When Eddie Redmayne first met Stephen Hawking, the man he plays in the new biopic The Theory of Everything, things didn’t exactly go to plan.
“I’d spent five months studying him on video, so it felt like a drum-roll moment,” the 32-year-old actor says of the day he and co-star Felicity Jones drove to Hawking’s home in Cambridge.
“Felicity stayed in the car for an hour so I could have some time alone with him. I went into his kitchen and he was sitting there. It’s amazing, the aura he has. You’re so used to how he looks — the silhouette and the voice — and I was really nervous. I just waffled: talking about him, to him. It was pretty embarrassing.”
The professor was eventually able to cut into the one way conversation, and Redmayne managed to relax.
“Then Felicity came in and they got on like a house on fire,” he laughs. “Stephen was incredibly flirtatious. A complete player.”
The Theory of Everything tells the story of Hawking when he was still a student at Cambridge in the Sixties, gangly and shy but with a quick wit and rebellious streak that helped him woo his first wife, Jane, played by Jones.
Then disaster struck. Aged 21, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live — a prediction that, at the age of 72, he continues to defy.
The film charts Hawking’s ascendancy to the rank of world famous genius — ignited by the publication of his groundbreaking theories about black holes in 1988’s A Brief History of Time — alongside the gradual physical decline that left him almost entirely paralysed and only able to communicate through a speech-generating device.
Quite a daunting challenge then, I tell Redmayne over coffee, even for an award-winning stage actor and the star of films including the 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables and the classy BBC miniseries, Birdsong.
“There’s a moment of excitement when you get a part like this, which soon gives way to dread,” he agrees. “We knew if we screwed it up we’d be lambasted because Stephen is such an icon.
“The strange thing about acting in a film is that no one tells you how to do it. I never went to drama school or anything.”
To prepare, the Londoner set about visiting patients suffering from motor neurone disease and studying clips of Hawking on the internet, before spending hours in front of the mirror “practising making my limbs go rigid or wilt”.
“I’m not going to lie, it was demanding and pretty intense. But we had fun, too, just as Stephen does. He doesn’t live a disease, he lives a forward-thinking, funny life.”
It’s an extraordinary performance. As one reviewer has put it, less an impersonation, more an inhabitation, and one threatening to turn Redmayne into a global star and possible Oscar contender in 2015.
Next year, we’ll also see him in the much-anticipated Wachowski siblings’ “epic space opera” Jupiter Ascending. “I thought I was doing some great departure, but maybe I’ve just done King Lear in space,” says Redmayne of working with The Matrix directors. Before that he is getting married to his long-term partner, publicist Hannah Bagshawe.
For now, though, Redmayne says he is focused on making The Theory of Everything as successful as possible.
“I want this story to be seen,” he says. “The stakes were so high. One of the first things my mate Charlie Cox [the actor who also stars] said to me was, ‘The great thing about this part is that you have no option but to give it everything.’ He was right.”