The Danish Girl is about transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was born Einar Wegener in 1882 and in the 1920s became the first known recipient of sex reassignemnt surgery. Eddie Redmayne, the reigning Best Actor Oscar-winner for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, plays Lili in the film (out Nov. 27), and spends more than half of his performance identifying as a woman. The movie, based on David Ebershoff’s novel, focuses on Lili’s struggle with her own identification, especially at a time where such an expression could result in harassment and institutionalization.
For the scenes in which Redmayne is portraying Lili as the woman she was, director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables) and cinematographer Danny Cohen (who also shot Room, in theaters now) devised a subtle but effective adjustments to shoot the actor so that his feminine side came through, thus making the emotional journey of the story even more powerful. The camera’s height — something which audiences rarely consider unless the position is very low or very high — was raised slightly above Redmayne’s eye line, offering an angle that changed the contours of his face.
“That was one of the things that Tom [Hooper] hit on,” Cohen explained to EW. “Just one or two inches on the camera height and that did a lot of favors to Eddie’s look and his fantastic bone structure. It shouldn’t really be apparent, and inevitably we were inconsistent, but we did always try to get that perspective. It definitely affects how the audience views the film.”
The Danish Girl is an almost expressionistic film of rich, painterly imagery — though Hooper is quick to point out that the technical elements Redmayne’s performance, which could make him only the third actor ever to win consecutive Best Actor Oscars, were only a small piece of his devotion to the role.
“For Eddie, what was going on inside Lili’s mind was always the primary concern,” says the director. “He’s an extraordinarily conscientious and empathic actor and I think everything flowed from inside to out. The emotional journey led to getting the physical stuff absolutely right. For myself and Danny [Cohen], Eddie’s performance was a great inspiration and encouraged us to do our best work.”