In this extended interview transcript, the Oscar-winning star of “The Theory of Everything,” “The Danish Girl,” and the J.K. Rowling fantasy, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” talks to correspondent Tracy Smith about his career, playing real-life characters, award season, fatherhood and changing diapers.
TRACY SMITH: So let’s talk “Fantastic Beasts.”
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Let’s!
TRACY SMITH: Do you get the sense that people are eager to see this movie?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: You know, the moment that I got a sense that people were excited was when I went to Comic-Con. Now I’d never been to Comic Con. I’d heard a lot about Comic Con before. And we went to show a sort of new trailer of it. And I walked into this huge auditorium of thousands of people. And there were people dressed up as Newt Scamander, the character that I’m playing, which I found sort of uncanny and weird and exciting (Laughs) and kind of bizarre all sort of rolled into one. So that was an exciting moment. I feel like J.K. Rowling’s world is one that is owned by everyone in some ways. People have grown up with it and have such a sense of that universe that there’s something kind of wonderful seeing everyone get involved.
TRACY SMITH: Is it a little intimidating, too?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Endlessly intimidating (laughs), yes! It is intimidating because I love the Potter films. I found them the most wonderful sort of escapism every year or two. It was a sort of magical place to dive back into. And if you’ve loved something and then in some ways you become a part of it, you just don’t want to be the one that screws it up!
But that being said, I think that pretty much every part I’ve played you always think is the most intimidating, whether it was with playing Stephen Hawking -- I knew that Stephen would see the film and Jane, his first wife, would see the film, it was their story. And so that felt pretty intimidating. And then it’s about other people’s expectations. But I think it’s good -- it helps make you work harder.
TRACY SMITH: Do you have those moments of self-doubt where you say, “Oh, I can’t pull this off”?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Frequently. Yeah,
TRACY SMITH: Does fear motivate you?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: It’s definitely an aspect of it. Yeah. Kind of fuels you with adrenaline and all those nerves, all those things that kind of keep you on edge keep you super-engaged and sensitive and responsive. Certainly it makes you work harder. The fear of messing up is what makes you work harder!
Actors who perhaps are super-confident and have absolute belief in themselves I always admire, because I can’t really be like that. Because you never know what’s right, what you feel inside versus what is portrayed. The depiction of the exterior as opposed [to] what you’re feeling inside is always so different that it’s impossible to know what is right.
But I find that what doubt does, or fear, is it makes you come up with as many ideas as you possibly can. And on film that works ‘cause you’re then handing over that fear to the director, who has to make sense of all those options!
TRACY SMITH: Makes sense. So in “Beasts,” these beasts are computer-generated. How do you pull that off?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Well, what I found kind of riveting was, I thought when I joined this film that there would be people [who] go, “Well, this is how it’s gonna be done.” But the amazing thing about director David Yates and David Heyman, the producer, is -- despite the scale of these films, and they worked on many of the Potter films -- there is an intimacy to the creation of it that feels really collaborative.
J.K. Rowling wrote this script and yet she allowed us to come up with ideas. So when it came to the beasts I remember David Yates saying, “Well, why don’t you spend a few weeks, months working out what would be best for you?” I ended up working with all sorts of puppeteers. Some of the guys who had worked on “War Horse” came up with huge puppets.
And then sometimes there were actors dressed in green-screen things for me to interact with. And then sometimes it was just imagining. There’s one little guy called Pickett who is a Bowtruckle. I kind of adore him. He’s a sweet little stick insect figure. And they made a little wire puppet for me to rehearse with. So I did a couple of weeks’ rehearsal. Then in the end I would just sort of imagine he would stand on my hand. And I’d just find myself on the tube, on the subway kind of gently talking to imaginary figures!
TRACY SMITH: You were doing it on the tube?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Yeah. But there was something so wonderful about this film, about jumping into that kind of imagination you have as a child [like] talking to your teddy bears or your imaginary friends or your dog or whatever it is. That made it a huge amount of fun.
TRACY SMITH: Speaking of childhood, tell me about growing up. Your parents are not show business people.