Eddie Redmayne on Awards, and Stephen Hawking’s place in the universe

Golden Globe winner Eddie Redmayne had to come up with a few more surprised and “incredibly honored” remarks when his Oscar nomination for “The Theory of Everything” was announced Thursday. He’s trying to keep his head about him, even as the acclaim piles up for his portrayal of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in the film.
“There’s an alchemy in film that you can never gauge or control,” Redmayne explains. “Lovely scripts that don’t turn into lovely films, or good films that people don’t see. And then there are the shoddy scripts that turn out to be wonderful films. So there’s this strange alchemy, this odd mixture of art and science, that sometimes happens to a film. I wonder if that’s happened, here.”
His 13 years of experience in the movies helps him not get too carried away. He recognizes “that it’s rare when all these things connect and a movie becomes what this one did. Felicity (Jones, nominated for best supporting actress) and I, when we took one on these parts, felt this amazing mixture of privilege and trepidation. We knew Jane and Stephen Hawking would see it and pass judgment on it. And since they’ve seen it and enjoyed it, and audiences have found it, that’s our real reward.
“All the buzz and hype, you can’t put one foot in front of the other, if you listen to that too much. But you do let yourself hear just enough of it to realize that this is a rare and wonderful thing to have happen to some bit of work you’ve done.”
Redmayne, 32, had made a mark in such hits as “Les Miserables” and such critically-acclaimed movies as “My Week With Marilyn.” “Theory,” which has him depicting Hawking from his college years, through his ALS diagnosis, his first marriage and his later life scientific triumphs, may be the most difficult piece of acting of last year.
First, he had to learn about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that killed baseballer Lou Gehrig and has crippled Hawking.
“What was so brutal about going to this clinic (National Hospital For Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London)
is that what the doctors were doing were just trying to manage the illness. There is no cure. That has emotional ramifications for any patient, including Stephen Hawking.”
Redmayne had to back-engineer the illness, “working out how he might have been to get to that particular point” in the script. Yes, Hawking ended up in a wheelchair, and there is little footage extant of him before the disease had taken hold. “I got at as many photographs of Stephen as I could. I showed them to the specialists at the ALS clinic to see if they could decipher what sort of hand gestures, how his body might shift, what sorts of movements would be upper neuron and lower neuron. Which parts of his body were stiff, and which were soft, and when this or that set of muscles stopped working.”
“The emotional side of the character I developed through talking with his children, reading both Jane’s book, and Stephen’s latest book, ‘My Brief History.’
Michael Keaton, who won an acting Golden Globe in the comedy category for “Birdman,” is considered the Oscar favorite. But it’s obvious that the physical journey Redmayne made — he also won a Globe — was an equally impressive screen transformation. Redmayne “transcends the eerie physical impersonation” and “reveals both Stephen’s grand resolve and his peculiar blind spots” Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss wrote. Getting across Hawking’s sense of humor, the “twinkle” that gives away “that extraordinary mind” was paramount, to Redmayne. For that, he used a meeting with the great scientist (“The power, the command he has over a room, just on entering it, is extraordinary”). And he relied on a couple of props, each day, to get his Hawking on.
“His look shifted and changed. Those Buddy Holly glasses that he wore, slightly askew, would throw me into Stephen World. And in the early scenes, there was one velvet jacket that the character wears that feels academic. Finding my hands in his pockets would shift my gait. There was something physical in putting my hands in there that made me feel something Stephen might have felt, and transformed me.”
One gift this awards season attention has given Redmayne is the chance to finally allow the awe to set in, to appreciate just who he was playing in “The Theory of Everything.”
“As someone who gave up on science as a kid, this was quite the job, forcing myself to learn about it, think about it and realize what Stephen did — that thanks to him, we can get our minds around it, we can tackle these amazing concepts. That’s what he means to the world, I think. That gift of passing on his understanding of the universe.”

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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