As the year winds down, the Oscar race heats up and when it comes to that proverbial buzz, there is a veritable beehive swarming British thespian and heartbreaker Eddie Redmayne in his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. Directed by James Marsh ("Man on Wire"), "Theory of Everything" chronicles the staggering love story of Hawking and his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) as he suffers the debilitating effects of A.L.S. At 72, Hawking, the "Smartest Man in the World" with the famous computerized voice, international best seller, and TV cameo panache, has given the film his stamp of approval.
In our ongoing partnership with the New York branch of BAFTA, the delightful Mr. Redmayne was at The Standard, High Line for a BAFTA New York, In Conversion talk and was kind enough to chat with us one-on-one about art, awkward sex scenes, and the role of a lifetime.
Eddie Redmayne at The Standard, High Line
Standard Culture: When did you first start going by ‘Eddie’?
Eddie Redmayne: I’ve never been ‘Edward’—except occasionally when I was younger and mum would get pissed off with me. But even then not really, I’ve always been Eddie. I did a play by Edward Albee, and he gave me a copy of the play inscribed in the front. He wrote that I should return to Edward. But by that point it was too late.
You studied Art History at University. What was your favorite period to study?
I wrote two dissertations, one on Brancusi, and then one on Yves Klein, and so I suppose the period I enjoyed most was really late 19th and early 20th-century British and French art. I was also obsessed with Sickert. Do you know who Sickert is?
He’s a British painter who Patricia Cornwell is convinced was Jack the Ripper.
An Art History Major at Cambridge, Eddie wrote dissertations on Yves Klein and Constantin Brâncuși. Clockwise from Left: Yves Klein "Anthropometries", a work by Patrick Heron, Constantin Brâncuși's "Princess X" (1915-16), Walter Richard Sickert "Brighton Pierrots" (1915)
What's hanging above your sofa?
I have two prints by Patrick Heron, a British artist who painted and worked in Cornwall, an abstract artist, part of the post-war period.
When did you know acting was going to be your thing?
I always enjoyed it, but I never let myself believe that I could really make a trade of it. And to be honest, there was never a moment when I said, ‘Right, this is what I’m going to do now.’ When I was at university, I got an agent, and I was like, “I’ve always loved this, maybe I’ll give it a shot.” After that it was just putting one foot in front of the other really, but I’ve continued waiting for it to all crash down around me.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Being able to immerse myself in completely different worlds. And I love that you never know what’s around the corner. I mean, particularly the last few years, from “My Week With Marilyn,” to “Les Misérables” into ["Theory of Everything"]. It’s a colorful life.
And don’t forget “Savage Grace.”. In fact, our last BAFTA New York talk was with your co-star Hugh Dancy. You guys had a very intimate scene—
Yes a very intimate scene! Yeah, with Julianne Moore as well.
Two questions: was the beard terribly scratchy? And do you have a breath freshening routine when you go into kissing scenes?
I do remember that Hugh had a beard – he was the first man I’d ever kissed - and it was quite extraordinarily scratchy. Do I have a [breath freshening routine]? I always have a mint. Yeah, I think it’s one’s responsibility.
What was your reaction when you read the script for “Theory of Everything”?
When I started reading the script I thought that it was a biopic of Stephen Hawking. And what I found extraordinary was that it completely subverted that. It was a kind of complicated, passionate love story. And so my expectations were totally thrown. It was a thrilling read. I then chased it quite hard.
How much math and physics did you know going in and how much coming away?
I gave up Science/Physics when I was 14, so the answer is: next to nothing. I worked with one of Stephen’s old students who’s now a professor in London and he, gosh, he started telling me the intricacies of string theory and I was like, “Imagine I’m a child.” And I worked my way up. But I literally looked at everything from the most complex websites to “Quantum Relativity for Dummies.” No sorry, “General Relativity for Dummies” —that’s important, don’t make that mistake!
What’s the difference?
Quantum is the study of the absolute tiny and General Relativity is huge, and if these things can ever be welded, then we might get closer to the theory of everything…I’m told.
As you prepared to play someone with ALS, did you ask yourself, ‘What would I do if this happened to me? Would I be able to handle it the way he did?”
To be honest, I did try and think long and hard about that and I have no idea. All I know is how Jane and Stephen responded and it was the most incredibly brave and admirable thing. What I loved about the script was that even though it was a very specific scenario, there’s a sense that we all have some form of limitations imposed on us. Nothing as extreme as Stephen – one hopes – but how one chooses to address those challenges is what defines us.
How on earth does one even begin to embody another human like you have done in this role? The physicality alone must have been a Herculean job.
I really had no idea. I knew that I needed to understand the disease, really understand the science, so there was a lot of obvious groundwork that I needed to cover first. But at some point you just have to take a leap of faith.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
It involves a bath somewhere. A really hot bath.
What’s your motto?
Take life step-by-step, pace by pace, slowly, slowly, and leave the competition to others.
Finish this sentence: Checking into a hotel makes me feel ____.
Giddy. I love hotels!
"Theory of Everything" opens nationwide on November 7th.
IT'S LIKE A MINI-BRITAIN UP IN HERE
Read our other BAFTA New York, In Conversation Interviews:
• Benedict Cumberbatch, "I Bore Myself Listening to Myself"
• Hello, Mr. Hugh Dancy