By Gabriel Noble
You don’t need to be physicist Stephen Hawking, master of space and time, to know that Eddie Redmayne’s time ... is now.
The British actor, one of several from across the pond making a splash this year, has already taken home a Golden Globe and the SAG award for his portrayal of the famous scientist in “The Theory of Everything.”
Redmayne, 33, isn’t a new kid in Hollywood. With breakout roles in “My Weekend With Marilyn” and as Marius in the film adaptation of “Les Misérables,” he has proved himself to be magnetic on the silver screen.
And as a formidable stage actor, he won a Tony for his role opposite Alfred Molina in the Broadway play “Red.”
But with buzz of an Oscar win in the air, Redmayne is on his way to joining the Hollywood elite and earning himself a trifecta this awards season.
Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric sat down with Redmayne to discuss his transformation into the complex character of Hawking, the outbreak of “Redmaynia,” his new bride, and his siblings who have kept him humble throughout his outstanding year.
As a kid growing up in London, Eddie would stay up late to watch the Oscars, which are televised in the U.K. in the middle of the night. He never envisioned himself being “invited to the party” of celebrated actors because he never attended proper drama school, and instead studied the history of art at Cambridge.
It was there that he immersed himself in the theater, and appeared in an all-male stage production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as Viola that landed him a U.K. agent and launched his career. It was also in these early years that he met Hannah Bagshawe, whom he married this past December. As an antiques dealer, Bagshawe is far from the Hollywood frenzy and has kept him grounded throughout his recent success in the business. “She’s my rock,” Redmayne explains, and was particularly supportive during his process of transforming himself into Hawking. When Couric asks him about his fan club, the self-proclaimed “Redmayniacs,” he blushes and explains that “from my experience, they are quite gentle and kind.”
When Redmayne first read “The Theory of Everything,” an adaptation of the book by Jane Hawking, the physicist’s first wife, about their life together, he was convinced it was the role for him. In fact, director James Marsh reported that Redmayne was “ravenous” for it. The actor explains to Couric that he expected the script to read like a classic biopic of Hawking’s life, a brilliant theoretical physicist who suffers from ALS, which is a nervous-system disease that causes muscle weakness and hampers one’s physical functions. Though it’s a deadly disease for most, Hawkins has managed to beat the odds; in addition to his breakthroughs in cosmology and physics, he has spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
Redmayne’s first impression of the script, however, was of “a passionate, complicated, incredibly real love story about these two people who had had obstacles and limitations placed in front of them, but refused to be defined by them.” When he got the chance to read with actress Felicity Jones, Marsh was convinced by their chemistry and Redmayne’s ability to portray this physically and emotionally challenging role.
Redmayne spent four months studying Hawking’s life, and went to great lengths to portray him in an authentic manner. Just having bulked up for a previous role in “Jupiter Ascending,” instead of flaunting his newly chiseled figure, he went on to lose the muscle to inhabit the slender body of Hawking. “Where are you, six pack?” he jokes to Couric. He spent much of this preparation time at a neurology clinic in London with patients who suffered from ALS, studying their hands, their speech patterns and the way they moved through life. “I wanted to make sure that I understood the disease and understood the physicality well enough,” he explains to Couric, “that when it came to playing with Felicity, I didn't have to think about it. We could just play the emotional side of it and the emotional truth to it.” In addition to working with patients and doctors, he enlisted a choreographer to train his body to authentically inhabit the disabilities Hawkins developed at different stages of his life.
Just before shooting “The Theory of Everything,” Redmayne got the opportunity to meet Stephen Hawking himself. He was both nervous and starstruck, he recalls to Couric. Because Hawking’s speech is now paralyzed from complications of ALS, he speaks through a computer-generated voice amplifier. In the meeting, Redmayne awkwardly called him “Professor,” to which Hawking responded through his automated voice, “Call me Stephen.” Unable to decipher if this was a friendly invitation or an irritated reaction, Redmayne picked his words more carefully for the rest of the conversation, but ultimately laughed and was deeply moved by the time they spent together. Most important, this experience proved invaluable to his process of inhabiting the complexities of Hawking. When the physicist finally saw himself portrayed on the big screen, he was overwhelmed to tears.
With the Oscars fast approaching, Couric reminds Redmayne to “stay humble,” to which he laughs, and responds, “I have a plethora of brothers and a sister who do that for me.” Regardless of the predictions of a show-business trifecta, Eddie Redmayne has accomplished the role of his lifetime as Hawking, and we look forward to his next on-screen transformation.