Not just a pretty face

Hollywood diaries
Last Updated : 23 January 2016, 18:34 IST
Last Updated : 23 January 2016, 18:34 IST

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Eddie Redmayne has been called a lot of things — posh, “troublingly beautiful”. But nobody could ever accuse him of being complacent. In fact, the old Etonian and contemporary of Prince William is fast gaining a reputation as one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood.

Just two months after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Theory of Everything, in which he bent his body into the diseased shape of scientist Stephen Hawking, he announced that he was transforming himself yet again, this time into a transgender woman, for a film about the first man to have a sex change operation.

For an actor who could have picked pretty much any role from the cream of Hollywood’s scripts, The Danish Girl was certainly not the easy option.

But, for Redmayne, it was the only game in town. “The whole story was new to me and I found it to be a passionate and incredibly unique love story,” says the 33-year-old. “It was about the lives of two extraordinary women and it moved me profoundly.”

After seeing the film, nobody could doubt Redmayne’s sincerity. Every line, every gesture is performed with the same care one would employ in the transportation of an expensive Ming vase. It is as though he felt he had a duty to get it “right”.

This, after all, has been a seminal year in the history of transgender people, with the news of former decathlete and reality TV star Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn making headlines around the world and sparking intense debate about the rights of trans people.

Redmayne’s thoughts on the matter are impeccably liberal and he talks about the many transgender people he met in preparation for the role, including the director of The Matrix, Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry, who transitioned in 2008 and who directed Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending.

“Lana is just the most wonderful woman,” he says. And Jenner? “What Caitlyn has been doing is great,” he replies. “Her transition is a unique and specific one. She has used her status to highlight some of the serious problems that trans women and trans men have to go through. Her show has made everyone educate themselves on things like terminology.”

One suspects Redmayne will make a lot of trans friends with The Danish Girl. Adapted from a novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, the film tells the real-life story of the Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener who felt he was two people in the same body and underwent a series of ground-breaking operations in 1931 to become a woman called Lili Elbe.

His wife, Greta, also a painter (played by Alicia Vikander in the film) struggled with the change but ultimately encouraged him on his transsexual journey.

The Danish Girl’s director Tom Hooper first read the script while he was in early pre-production for his film The King’s Speech in 2008. And having worked with Redmayne on the TV mini series Elizabeth I (starring Helen Mirren as the Virgin Queen), Hooper immediately thought of him for the role of Einar/Lili. “I still did my homework, thinking about who else I could cast, but my instinct was always Eddie,” he says. “I felt there was something in him that was drawn to the feminine.”

In fact, Redmayne had previous — he had played women in school productions at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, and his first professional stage role had been Viola in a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre, in London.

There followed films like My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables, but last year’s role in The Theory of Everything was Redmayne’s first leading part in a movie.

After learning how to mimic the movements of a motor neurone sufferer to play Stephen Hawking, Redmayne then had to lose weight to portray the fragile Lili in The Danish Girl.

“There was an interesting dilemma between the costume department and the makeup department in which the makeup department were worried about me losing so much weight because my features would become more extreme and the costume department were insisting that I lose as much weight as I could,” he says. “So in the end I needed to find a sort of halfway house. Basically, I would eat breakfast and a little bit of lunch and that was it.”

Redmayne has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance and is tipped to make the Oscar short list for the second year in a row, so all the effort seems to be paying off.

But Redmayne insists success hasn’t changed him. Redmayne’s wife Hannah Bagshawe, whom he married in December last year, also keeps him grounded. “I have known Hannah since I was a kid so she has seen me in all sorts of guises,” he says.

Friendly and unpretentious, he has no delusions about the ephemeral nature of fame. “There is a certain amount of commerce in the film industry in as much as you have value and for a moment your value goes up, then it all disappears again,” he says.

“My belief is that if you go up, you have got to come down at some point,” he says.
John Hiscock

Published 23 January 2016, 15:23 IST

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