Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his role as the brilliant Dr. Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Up next: a starring role in a fanciful new J.K. Rowling film ... but not before he talks to Tracy Smith for our Sunday Profile:
Just in case you were wondering what your kids’ Halloween costumes were going to be next year, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the latest spinoff of the Harry Potter series. But this time, instead of Harry, the hero is Newt Scamander (played by 34-year-old Eddie Redmayne), who travels to America with a suitcase full of magical creatures … and, producers hope, the makings of a movie mega-hit.
For Redmayne, home is in the relative quiet of central London, where he can sit at his favorite café and be left alone -- for now, anyway.
Smith asked, “Are you prepared for this next step? There will be a lot of fans out there. This is a J.K. Rowling film, this is the Harry Potter franchise, this is huge!”
“People often say, and at various stages in my career have gone, ‘Are you prepared for this?’ And I always kind of go, ‘What preparation do you do?’” Redmayne replied. “Do you, like, sit there and sort of armor up? I don’t think you can. Firstly, that involves the expectation the thing is going to be hugely successful and that’s something that I will never let my head go to.
“But the other thing is, even when things are successful, people go, ‘God, your life must have changed.’ But maybe it doesn’t, really. You still live your own way and carve your own path. And the rest is noise, I think, really.”
But for him, that “noise” has been pretty nice.
His turn as a transgender artist in last year’s “The Danish Girl” earned him his second consecutive Academy Award nomination.
But the on-screen transformation didn’t happen quickly, or easily. “I always feel like I’ve never been someone that was sort of blessed with a sort of innate talent of just being able to do things,” he said. “I had to work at it and learn from your mistakes.”
“Really? Because to us it looks like you’re not working.”
“No, I’m sure it doesn’t. If you go and look at some of those early films you’ll be absolutely sure that that’s not the case. No, I really have to work.”
“The Theory of Everything” is a good example. Redmayne spent five months learning how to move like an ALS patient for his role as physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking -- and he won the Oscar for this one.
He actually got the part without an audition. But to him, that was more curse than blessing. “At least if you’ve auditioned for it, the producers and all the people involved have some sense of what you’re gonna do,” he told Smith. “So you don’t turn up on day one on set and they go, ‘Whoa, you’re gonna do it like that?’”
So when it came time to audition his co-star Felicity Jones, Redmayne’s paranoia got the better of him, and director James Marsh had to talk him down: “‘Eddie, this isn’t an audition for you. Let me just reaffirm, you’re not being auditioned.’ And he said it so many times that I was like, ‘I’m clearly being auditioned!’ And it was similar with ‘Fantastic Beasts.’”
“You are neurotic,” Smith said.
“I have moments, definitely, yeah,” he replied.
He wasn’t always so tightly wound. Born in London to a banker and a business owner, Eddie Redmayne went to some of the best schools in Britain. He sang in the choir at Eton, and was a classmate of the future king of England, Prince William.
As a college student, he took a keen interest in drama, and got his first professional role at The Globe in London, in a 2002 production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as a very convincing Viola -- a woman, corset and all. “For years when I then started doing films and period dramas and quite a lot of Elizabethan period dramas, you know, the actresses would often be complaining going, ‘God, this corset hurts.’ I was like, ‘I know. I know your pain! I know how it feels.’”
He also did pretty well when he played a man, winning rave reviews -- and a 2010 Tony Award -- for the Broadway play, “Red.”
“You had a comfortable upbringing, went to great schools and success came fairly early,” said Smith. “I think some people might look at it and say it was easy.”
“Well, they would be right in the sense that compared to many actors I’ve had a remarkably lucky and easy run of it,” Redmayne said. “But to you … you feel the struggles. And it was through going to sort of years of auditioning -- I think it was about three or four years before I got anything sort of properly on screen.
“I remember also though my mom, when I was younger and I was showing interest, that perhaps if you get knocked by bad reviews and stuff, she would see that it would hurt a bit. And she’s like, ‘Darling, have you thought about becoming a lawyer? I mean, lawyers are basically actors. It’s the same thing.’ And she would occasionally repeat this. And I’ll be like, ‘Mom, have you ever seen me win an argument?’
“And she’d be like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘So ....’”
His struggle seemed to end in 2011, with a big-screen breakout role as a young filmmaker smitten with Marilyn Monroe, in “My Week With Marilyn.”
His Eton choirboy experience came in handy in 2012’s “Les Miserables.”
Does he see himself as a singer? “I really enjoy singing, but I’m not sure,” he replied. “I sound a bit like Kermit the Frog.”
There’s a kind of a self-deprecating, Jimmy Stewart quality to Eddie Redmayne, who married his longtime girlfriend, antiques dealer Hannah Bagshawe, a few weeks before he won the Oscar in 2015. This summer they had a baby girl.
In short, if you’re looking for off-screen drama, look elsewhere. Redmayne has a reputation for being one of the nicest actors in the business.
“I hate that word,” he said.
“Nice is so boring. But I’d rather ‘nice’ than ‘reprehensible,’ ‘toxic.’ Yup.”
Nothing boring about his schedule: “Fantastic Beasts” is reportedly the first of five installments.
“You’ve accomplished so much already: Tony, Oscar, now you’re in a big blockbuster, in case anyone was wondering whether you were gonna do that. What’s left?” asked Smith.
“When you put it in the term of a checklist, they are amazing things,” he said.
“And I don’t mean to say that you’re – “
“No, no, no. No, but it’s interesting. The reason you get into this is to play interesting people, or just to tell stories that intrigue you. And none of that changes. So although maybe those things feel like a lovely checklist, it doesn’t stop your appetite for wanting to tell stories.”
“You still have that appetite?”
“Still have that appetite, yeah,” Redmayne said.
To read an extended interview with Eddie Redmayne click here.
To watch a trailer for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” click on the video player below.
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