Oscar 2014: Best Actors—Eddie Redmayne as Physicist Hawking in the Theory of Everything

the_theory_of_everything_poster“The Theory of Everything,” one of the front runners for the Best Picture Oscar, will be released by Focus Features on November  7.

Redmayne achieves one of the most challenging physical, emotional, and mental transformations of the year.  Likely to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, Eddie Redmayne says that he always knew that the toughest critic of his new biopic, “The Theory of Everything” would be the man he portrays onscreen, Stephen Hawking.

After “The Theory of Everything” premiered at the Toronto Film Fest in September, Redmayne earned raves and Oscar buzz.   It’s the first leading role for the 32-year-old actor, who won the Tony award for the 2010 play “Red,” and appeared in 2011’s “My Week With Marilyn” as Colin Clark, and 2012’s “Les Miserables” as the heartthrob Marius.



Hawking’s longtime battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has made him a quadriplegic, and he speaks through a computer-generated voice amplifier. Before the screening, he met Redmayne. “He took a while to type something, then said, ‘I’ll let you know what I think–good or otherwise,’ ” Redmayne recalls. “I said, ‘Stephen, if it’s otherwise, you don’t need to go into details.’ ”

After the screening, which took place in London, Hawking called the film “broadly true,” and praised the film’s director James Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten. “He emailed us,” Marsh says, “and said there were certain points when he thought he was watching himself.”

the_theory_of_everything_4_marsh_redmayne_jonesHis main competition in this year Best Actor Oscar race is another bright British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of World War II drama “The Imitation Game.” But Redmayne won’t campaign against his friend, whom he met when the two were playing Scarlett Johansson’s husbands in “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

“I totally see why people are comparing us, because of the subject matter; we both play geniuses. But I won’t be engaged in that. I think he’s the most beautiful actor. I’ve long admired his work. I hope there’s room for both our films.” Cumberbatch had played Hawking in a 2004 BBC TV movie, and the actor’s name even showed up on set one day, when “Theory of Everything” was shooting at his old boarding school. “There was this hilarious moment when we were shooting a scene at Harrow School,” Redmayne says. “There was a wooden board with names engraved on it, and by my head was ‘B. Cumberbatch.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re haunting me!’ I took a selfie of me dressed as Stephen and sent it to Ben.”

Redmayne is part of the new British actors in Hollywood, which includes Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Jack O’Connell (“300: Rise of an Empire”), Charlie Cox (“Boardwalk Empire”) and Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers”). These leading men have passionate fans on Twitter and Tumblr (“Redmayniacs” and “Cumberbitches,” for instance), though none is yet a huge box-office star.

“What turns Eddie on are tough, tricky roles,” says Working Title co-chair Eric Fellner. “But he’s an incredibly good-looking man. So he can be a movie star too.” Redmayne won’t describe himself that way. “A movie star is someone who has to open a film to gazillions of dollars,” says the actor, who lives in London with his fiancee Hannah Bagshawe. “I’m just trying to pay my mortgage.”

Redmayne grew up in England, where one of his first roles was in a West End production of “Oliver!” at age 11. He had only one line, as “Workhouse Boy No. 40,” but he still remembers it: “Books you ordered from the bookseller, sir?” He enrolled in the boarding school Eton College, studied art history at Cambridge and appeared in all-male stage production of “Twelfth Night” as Viola that landed him a U.K. agent. One of his early roles was as Julianne Moore’s son in the 2007 indie “Savage Grace,” which deals with incest. “Eddie came in for the audition with Julianne, and the two of us looked at each other and said, ‘Why should we bother reading anyone else?’” says director Tom Kalin. After Moore commented on how much they looked alike, he was never more grateful for his freckles and reddish hair.

Redmayne recalls visiting Hollywood in his early 20s for auditions with other unknowns like Garfield, Tom Sturridge and Jamie Dornan. “You’d come over for a month,” Redmayne says. “We used to go to the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, and split a sandwich between us because that meant we could get cheaper parking. We’d swim and play tennis for hours.” It was a surreal existence trying to break into the business. “We were staying on friend’s agents’ floors, and renting places together,” Redmayne says. “I’d be driving the cheapest rental car. But then you’d get to turn up at the CAA party. All these huge limos would arrive. I’d be in this red blob.”

the_theory_of_everything_3_marsh_redmayne_jonesThere was a comfort in his community, because even if he didn’t land roles, he’d be happy when one of his friends did. “When we started going out for the same parts, it never got in the way of our friendships,” says Cox, his co-star in “Theory,” who screen tested for “My Week with Marilyn.” Redmayne tells a story about how at the press junket for “Les Miserables,” a journalist asked him if he’d ever audition to play Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” After he said yes, the book’s author, E.L. James, dissed his candidacy. “She took to her Twitter feed to go, ‘Under no circumstances!’ ” Redmayne recalls. “I was like, all right, all right! Am I that bad? I can put a whip in my hand. I can get all kinky, can’t I? Apparently not.”

He got into great shape for “Jupiter Ascending.” “The Wachowskis had encouraged me to develop a six-pack,” Redmayne says. “So I’d spent months basically doing sit-ups and eating chicken, and then the day it finished, I started prepping for ‘The Theory of Everything.’ I was like, ‘Please, it’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever got close to abs! Can’t I just walk down a beach?’ ” He then promptly started the process of losing 15 pounds to play Hawking. “I just didn’t eat dinner,” he says.

the_theory_of_everything_2_marsh_redmayne_jonesIt took a decade to get “The Theory of Everything” to the screen. In 2004, McCar­ten read the book by Jane Hawking, Stephen’s first wife, about their life together, and traveled to Cambridge to meet her. “I had to convince her and her family it was a good idea.” He wrote several drafts of the script, and shared them with Jane. When she finally gave him permission to adapt her story, he optioned the rights independently. The project eventually landed at Working Title, with docu filmmaker Marsh (“Man on Wire”) attached to direct. Universal, which picked up the biopic with a budget of less than $15 million, is releasing via Focus Features.

The movie’s team had drawn up a list of high-profile British actors who could play Hawking — including Garfield and Michael Fassbender, but Redmayne wasn’t on it. With the help of his agent, CAA’s Josh Lieberman, he was able to meet Marsh in a London pub. “It was 3 in the afternoon,” says Redmayne. The actor asked for a beer, and instantly regretted his decision when Marsh ordered a coffee for himself instead of alcohol. “In the end,” Redmayne says, “he ended up drinking a ton of coffee and I ended up drinking a ton of beer, so I was pissed and he was high on caffeine.” But they could see they were creatively compatible. “We had a like-minded attitude of ‘We have no idea how we’re going to do this, but we trust in each other to be brave enough to make mistakes,’ ” Redmayne says.

He got the offer to play Hawking without auditioning. “When you’ve auditioned, they’ve seen some sense of what you can do,” says Redmayne (he read three times before landing his role in “Les Miserables”). “I was thrilled and instantaneously nervous.” He was asked to read with British actress Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”), who was being considered to play Jane Hawking. “James kept calling me saying, ‘Eddie, by the way, this isn’t an audition for you.’ I was like, ‘Bullshit!’ Don’t pretend for a moment that Donna Langley isn’t seeing this,” he says of Universal’s chair who shepherded the project. Jones and Redmayne did their scenes together, and she was offered the job.

Redmayne spent four months studying Hawking’s life, a process that required much research. He watched every documentary and YouTube video he could find. “I tried to read everything I could get my hands on,” says the actor, who pored over all of Hawking’s books. “It became hilarious, because I would get 40 pages in, and I was like — ‘Eddie, none of these words make any sense to you.’ ” He contacted a physics teacher at Imperial College London who proved to be a good translator. He also worked with a choreographer, Alexandra Reynolds (she made the zombies twitch in “World War Z”). “We put what we knew into picking up a pen, drinking, walking, existing,” says Reynolds, who labored with Redmayne for hours a day, and filmed his movements on an iPad for them to study. She’d pose questions like, “What’s happening in your pelvis? Are you holding your head right?”

the_theory_of_everything_1_marsh_redmayneHawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease when he was 21, and wasn’t expected to live past 25. Doctors now know there are many forms of ALS, an illness that has sprung to the public’s attention with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Every two weeks, Redmayne visited a neurology clinic in London, where he interviewed patients. He met with more than 30, and went to some of their homes. Since the film wouldn’t be shot chronologically, he had to understand how the disease affected Hawking at different stages of life, and had a doctor consult with him on vintage photographs to see how Hawking’s body deteriorated

Redmayne compiled his findings on a paper he carried with him everywhere. “It was like the Magna Carta,” says Marsh, who made him scan it in case it got lost. “It became the most important document beyond the script.” Redmayne knew that after the cameras started rolling, he’d have no room for error. “The thing about motor neuron disease, once a muscle stops working, it doesn’t start again,” he says. “So often in the edit, directors and editors will shift things around. James and I were absolutely adamant that Anthony’s script would be solid from the get-go.”

Just days before shooting began, Redmayne got word that Hawking had agreed to see him in Cambridge. He was so nervous, he spent the first part of the conversation telling Hawking about the physicist’s own life. He called him “professor,” but Hawking wanted to be referred to by his first name. “It was complicated when I met him, because by that point, I’d spent so much time researching him,” Redmayne says. “It was the trepidation of not only meeting someone with an extraordinary brain and iconic status, but also — what if I got it wrong?”

The meeting proved invaluable in sketching out some final details. Hawking asked Redmayne if he would be playing him before he was forced to rely on his voice machine, and he told the actor, “My voice was very slurred.” Says Redmayne: “He has one of the most expressive faces. You’re never playing relaxed. The irony I found was that everything you’ve been taught about film acting is to reduce. The weird thing here is you are doing the absolute opposite. Your face is in these huge extreme positions and expressions.”

Redmayne was o edge the night before the shoot, he couldn’t sleep. “One of the first scenes was an intense, emotional one.” When he played Hawking in the later years of his life, Redmayne would sit in a wheelchair with his legs crossed and his head tipped over, in a position that affected his breathing. It was at times physically painful to contort his body for that long. “He was really suffering, but he never complained,” Marsh says.

There was this other trick: prosthetic ears. “When we wanted to get him thinner and smaller, do you know what we did?” reveals McCarten. “You make the ears bigger and the whole body seems smaller.”

Hawking made one more appearance before the film wrapped. He and Jane visited the set during the scene where their characters dance at a Cambridge party. The physicist lived up to his reputation as a flirt. “When Felicity came in, sparks flew,” Redmayne jokes. Hawking asked her for a peck on the cheek, and the actress obliged. “I was flattered,” Jones says. “I got to kiss an icon.”

Hawking was so pleased with the movie that he responded with a gift–letting the filmmakers swap the synthetic voice they had created and replace it with his own trademarked computerized version. “We spent a lot of time and money trying to reproduce the voice, but we never got it,” McCarten says. “There’s this constant frustration — it’s always underwhelming, because you never quite make it. But with his specific voice, it’s an actor’s dream. You’re one step closer to the truth.”