On Nov. 20, 2019, Eddie participated in a phone interview with some of his fans that run sites and social media accounts dedicated to him to discuss his new film The Aeronauts and answer their questions. I feel so blessed to be able to participate and to learn more about Eddie through these interactions. His new film is amazing so I recommend going to theaters and seeing it when it gets released on Friday!
Thank you to all who helped make this interview possible.
Eddie: Hi, guys! How are we? This is becoming almost an annual call. It’s like, my friendly place, you know.
Charlotte: Well, that’s nice to hear. Does somebody want to moderate? Or I can do that…
Eddie: Why don’t you take the lead?
Charlotte: Ivonne is going to start. Do you want to ask your first question?
Ivonne: I actually got to see the film at the LFF [London Film Festival], and I thought it was a true cinematic experience. There is a line in the film said by Himesh Patel’s character to your character that goes something like: ‘You’ve been assigned the responsibility to change the world.’ And I was wondering, do you feel the role of cinema is as important as it has ever been given the tumultuous times that we tend to be living in these day?
Eddie: You guys! What an amazing question! I feel that the world — maybe I’m not specific to cinema or television or art — but I feel, you’re absolutely right. It could not be more vital at the moment. That art forms that not only reflect society but that can be used to expose elements of society, give us things to escape society, give us moments of sort of fantasy and things that engage us in all that is around us. One of the things I love about my job is that whatever film you’re doing, whether it’s a real character or not a real character, when you get to immerse yourself in the world of research around it, it always does change you in some ways by educating you. And I find that when I go to a cinema or I go to an art gallery, it’s constantly shifting and changing the prism through which you look at the world.
Charlotte: Even before you began filming The Aeronauts, you were telling us about how beautiful you found the script and how intimate and meaningful the storytelling is. Could you tell us — and the people we’re writing for — what makes The Aeronauts worth seeing, no matter what screen size they see it on?
Eddie: The very simple message of not letting other people put restrictions on aspirations, which is something, I suppose, that was also a theme of The Theory of Everything and some of the other films I’ve done is one that I believe keenly. So that was important to me. But the other thing was — and I’ve talked a lot about it in the press and I know you guys are super, very supportive, and secondly are aware of a lot of the things I say, but this idea of wonder. I find that so much of what we read and watch is incredibly sort of depressing, and I thought this had a notion of hope to it, and that it had an idea of the sublime and wonder to it that felt compelling to me. The reason I took on the film was of all the scripts I’d been reading, even though it was playing another scientist, period drama, English, there were scenes in it — when Felicity’s on top of that balloon — that as you read the script you just went, ‘I’m desperate to see that on a cinema screen or on a screen.’ And that was one reason, and the other was the pure challenge of can you keep an audience engaged when it’s two people’s intimate story against this macro backdrop. That’s what I found enticing.
Marci: You went up in an actual balloon for this film, which to a lot of people might seem pretty risky or extreme. Is that the most dangerous or daredevil thing you’ve done for a role, and if not, what is? And, were you nervous about going up in the balloon?
Eddie: You know, it probably is the most, well, is it the most? I think the most extreme thing I’ve done for a role is this moment in Jupiter Ascending in which I was sort of hung on these wires about 30 feet in the air without really knowing what would happen when I was spun around like 50 times, when the character was spinning through some gravity-free, weird — I had no idea what was going on there. I remember ignorance being blissful then because I had no idea what I was doing. It was the most, I suppose, terrifying on The Aeronauts, because of that story that I’ve recounted, but really the most important thing about that story — or not important but riveting thing was the total peace one second, because it was so quiet and you were having the most stunning views, beautiful landscape, to total carnage, chaos, noise and fear within a millisecond. And the only other one I’ve mentioned is the old Elizabeth I horse riding story which was on this huge steed with spurs on my feet, unable to ride, careering toward Helen Mirren and the cavalry. (Laughter) Those were probably the most terrifying moments.
Ali: In the film, your character, James, goes to great lengths to learn more about meteorology and expand that field. Is there any topic or idea that you would like to learn more about? Or are your films a way that you do that?
Eddie: The honest truth to that is that I’ve probably become a — I’m definitely excessive when there’s work involved, when I get a script and I know I’m doing it, whether it’s theater, films — I get a bit obsessive. I’m a bad reader generally — I’m a slow reader — but I find it very difficult to read anything other than things to do with the work when I’m sort of in it. So a few years ago I sort of submitted to that where I had guilt about not reading enough novels or not reading — I submitted to the idea that I’ll let the work dictate what I read up on. And I found that incredibly enjoyable. There are times, particularly when I’m working on a location somewhere, where I’ll want to go and get under the skin of the city you’re staying in, and I love that element. But for me, the things that remain are — I have a passion for art, and more and more recently a bit of anything about architecture. One of the joyful things recently when I was in Chicago, was getting to go on the architecture tour, and in the evenings when I walked back from filming and you’d get to study some of the buildings, and I found that lovely.
Charlotte: We have Erina from New Zealand. This is her first time on the call.
Eddie: New Zealand, wow! What time is it?
Erina: It’s 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. [Editor’s note: For the rest of us on the call, it was Wednesday afternoon.]
Eddie: Wow, you’re amazing!
Erina: Weather predicting and weather patterns are a major theme for your character in the film. Over here in New Zealand we are a country obsessed with weather chat! Have you found yourself kind of more invested in the weather and how the day will pan out…like looking at all the apps…have you become more of a weather guy?
Eddie: You know, that’s absolutely hilarious because both my mother and my wife are obsessed with the weather. My mum is endlessly reminding me that she did a job at the university talking about, ‘Ooh, there’s a cold front coming in.’ And Hannah will always be sort of obsessive before going out, checking the weather app on her phone to see like exactly how many layers — I couldn’t be less interested in the weather. So it’s so funny because when I read the script, of course all the science was sort of riveting, but as I hear the film described as ‘the man who wanted to understand about the weather,’ I’m like, oh my God. Only in New Zealand and England are they going to be interested in that…I’ve got to say that I’ve just been doing an interview before this about places that have blown my mind, and the first film I ever made, I shot in Australia, and then Tom Sturridge and I came over to New Zealand, for like two weeks at Christmas, and we shot on those extraordinary beaches, those volcanic beaches just outside Auckland, and oh! My God, they remain the most beautiful place in the world I’ve ever been. I would actually love to come back one day.
Erina: You’re welcome any time.
Eddie: Thank you (laughter).
Ivonne: Eddie, you’ve mentioned how you instantly fell in love with the script of The Aeronauts, and I’d imagine that you must be getting a lot of scripts these days. What makes a script stand out for you? And do you base your decision on the script alone, or do you also take into account who else is part of the project?
Eddie: You know, that’s something that shifted as I did more work because back in the day what would happen was as an actor you’d get sent a script by your agent, and it would say, for example, ‘This is Elizabeth the Golden Age, it’s being made by Working Title Pictures, it’s being directed by Shekhar Kapur, it’s starring Cate Blanchett. Please take a look at this part, and audition for it.’ And you would go, ‘Oh, wow! That would be great, and I would be lucky to be in that.’ You’d audition for it, you’d try to get it, and if you got it, you’d do it. The riveting thing that’s happened in the past couple years is that suddenly you’re being sent books before they’ve been made into television series or films, you’re being asked to step up very early in the process. Some actors love attaching themselves to lots and lots and lots of things. If I become attached to something, I really want to — and because there is a certain element, and because it’s an industry where some things will happen, some things won’t…I prefer to try and keep those things as films that I’m really keen to make. But suddenly you’re the one having to take the leap, as it were — the leap of faith. So all I do now is react with instinct, and that basically is, when I’m reading a script — Alfred Molina described it beautifully — you’re sort of reading a script, and then you suddenly you feel a lurch in your stomach, a slight sickness because you suddenly go from reading the script objectively to reading the script imagining yourself doing it. And if you feel that lurch or sickness, then I’m probably going to do the thing.
Charlotte: We know better than to expect you to spill any secrets about Fantastic Beasts 3…
Charlotte: …so let me ask you about the Trial of the Chicago 7…what it’s like portraying Tom Hayden, and working with Aaron Sorkin and a great ensemble cast. I’m kind of wondering how you’re doing with the accent…and the long hair and hippie culture and what has the overall experience been?
Eddie: Well, the long hair — I thought that was going to be thing but it isn’t, because we’re shooting it all together, in Chicago, in ’68 during the riots he had short hair — quite long on top. And then the trial lasted so long that his hairstyle changed. This is Sorkin’s take on those events, so we sort of ended up at a place that’s pretty, sort of neutral. The film’s — we’re in the thick of it. Today’s a day off, like the only day off I’ve had. It’s an amazing ensemble of actors. It’s riveting to watch this group of actors, some people I’ve known for a long time, some that I haven’t, all with their different processes, all trying to depict this very beautiful script. I’m sure you saw in the press that this was a film I was attached to, and then it fell through, and then it came back again. It’s such a long gestating project, but it’s just brilliant that we’re making it, and it really has been a joy being part of that ensemble. They’re a pretty wonderful troupe.
Charlotte: When you say that Sorkin’s take on it is pretty neutral, what do you mean?
Eddie: That means…on the way I look. What’s interesting is that I’ve done so many things based on real life, and the way Aaron described it is this is a painting, not a photograph. And of course there are many moments in the piece that are verbatim taken from the trial, and there are elements that aren’t. But I really hope it ends up being a beautiful thing.
Charlotte: I’m excited about it. My sister actually had Tom Hayden as a teacher in college.
Charlotte: He taught after the trial in California, and I ran into him several times over the years when I was working in California, and so I’m anxious to see how you portray him. He was quite an intellectual, and I remember her and her friends always describing him as so charismatic, when that didn’t always come across on TV, but that he was incredibly charismatic to these young college girls especially.
Eddie: Well, I hope we’ll get to talk again around when that film comes out.
Charlotte: I hope so, too.
Marci: You’ve done a few roles now where you play real people from history – is it easier having that background to go off of when you’re preparing for a role, or do you find it more freeing to play fictional characters?
Eddie: It depends on the director’s take. Obviously when I was playing Stephen, and Stephen was part of the process, it was very specific. And The Danish Girl was a film script based on a novel based on a truth. It was three steps away from the reality, and so there was a huge amount of artistic license. I find it really useful, here’s the thing: When you’re doing an adaptation of a novel — years ago, I did Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and I read that and studied it. But then you’ve got a script which is much shorter than the novel and can’t fulfill the tiny intricacies. And I remember the actor that I was working with hadn’t read the book, and I remember feeling a bit shocked by that. And he said that he found the problem was he’d try to paint in things that aren’t supported by the script. Does that make sense? And when I watched Tess of the d’Urbervilles, he was so much more successful in his characterization than I was because he wasn’t busy trying to paint in things that weren’t supported. So it’s an interesting thing when you’re playing real people. You try to do all the research, but then a lot of it, if it doesn’t help the script that you’re portraying, you have to accept that verisimilitude or by doing an impression of — and again, it depends on the director. Some people, ‘I don’t even want you to think about that character that you’re playing. I want you to play the words on the script, on the page.’ Does that make sense? So I always do the research in order for them to throw it away, but hopefully it’s sitting there inside me somewhere.
Charlotte: Ali, I think your next question plays well off that.
Ali: I thought so, too.Your most recent films have all been period-related films with most of them based on true characters. If you could do something different for your next project, what kind of film would you like to participate in?
Eddie: You know what, at the moment for me, it’s not about the film — it really is about the filmmaker. I just really want to work with some directors that I really admire…I know that I’ve got another Fantastic Beasts, so I’m going to be back in tweed, and all that joking about trying to get more contemporary. I can’t tell you how fun it is playing parts where you’re in the makeup trailer for about five minutes rather than an hour-and-a-half, and costume takes about 30 seconds. But really at the moment it’s about who the filmmaker is and not the story necessarily. I would just love to work with some great filmmakers.
Ali: You said you had specifics. Are there a few specific individuals?
Eddie: There are. I’ve always dreamt of working with David Fincher, principally because he does thousands of takes, and that fits my process quite well. The Sorkin movie is a very quick shoot, and there’s a very quick turnaround, so you only get a take or two. The thing about films is that you spend all this time creating a character in a vacuum, and I like as many opportunities to try and play with things, but obviously time doesn’t always allow that. But quite often, people are, ‘Well, Fincher does thousands of takes,’ and I’m, like, ‘Brilliant!’ (laughter from everyone). But there’s one example.
Erina: I saw the movie (The Aeronauts) last week, and after watching the film I felt a positive sense of achievement in a very inspiring kind of way. How important do you think these types of films are in a world that at the moment can be a little bit negative and a little bit downbeat at times?
Eddie: I think that it’s all a sum of what I was saying before, that what I read about the script, the idea of the wonder and looking up. I find that in London, for example, it’s really interesting that you walk down the high streets of London and at ground level it’s like every other high street in the world — every famous shop, McDonald’s, a pharmacy, everything you’ve ever seen. And that’s the way you exist, but occasionally, London is an ancient city. When you look up onto the second floor, you’ve got some of the most beautiful architecture, but the first floor is just Pizza Hut or whatever. That idea of looking up and relating to computers and telephones and looking down, it is more literal than that, actually. I’m in New York at the moment, and I thought that was one of J.K. Rowling’s geniuses in Fantastic Beasts, the Woolworth Building, a building you just take for granted but the idea that it could be filled with something else, that your imagination can take it to different places, as well, that was important. So I think that being this theme throughout The Aeronauts of these two people supporting each other to find the best version of themselves was interesting. And I like that. I felt that that married well with how Felicity and I had worked on Theory of Everything, and obviously the idea of getting to play with her was really enticing.
Erina: And I felt I wanted to go out and climb a mountain or something. (Laughter)
Eddie: Did you, though? I feel like I’m going to climb a mountain — or maybe I’ll just watch Netflix. (Laughter)
Charlotte: Well, we’re getting near the end of our time slot. Is there anything you’d like to add, any kind of message to your fans?
Eddie: Oh, gosh. I’m so bad at this! It is so wonderful to feel supported by a group of people. I know some of you have been such longterm fans and supporters. The anonymity of it — it’s a different thing when you do theater and you get to see a reaction and a support and a response. And film and television is different because you create these things and we never can rationalize that people actually see it. But getting to speak to you guys, from all corners of the globe, and it’s totally surreal and very wonderful. Thank you for your support. It, really really does mean a vast amount.
Charlotte: Well, we can’t believe that you’re willing to do this with us. It’s very special, and we’re all so grateful for the time that we get with you.
Eddie: Thank you for saying that. I’m hoping we’ll get together again around Chicago 7. Lots of love, guys.