Landing the role of Stephen Hawking in the film “The Theory of Everything” required a lot of perseverance from British actor Eddie Redmayne. “If it’s a part you care about, you have to inevitably chase after it,” said Redmayne. “For this one, I had to really persuade a lot of people that it was worth taking the risk.” The risk received quite a high reward when Redmayne won the Oscar for Best Actor on Feb. 22.
His portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the distinguished physicist battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.) was recognized with additional winnings from the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards.
While there are many other films about Hawking’s groundbreaking work in cosmology, “The Theory of Everything” is told from the perspective of his first wife Jane, and follows their relationship as he gradually becomes paralyzed by the motor neuron disease.
In preparing for the physical demands of portraying a person with A.L.S., Redmayne said he had to resort to method acting. He spent four months meeting with A.L.S. patients and their families in London to understand the physical and emotional effects of the disease. Since there’s no documentary footage of Hawking before the 1980s, Redmayne had to look at photos of him and work with a choreographer and doctor to track the decline of Hawking’s physical state.
Redmayne had only met Hawking a few days before filming started, but what he took from the meeting was Hawking’s positivity and humor, which could be seen in the film. “He’s super sharp, as far as his timing, and his wit is unlike anything that I’ve seen,” said Redmayne.
For most of the film, Redmayne is wheelchair-bound, with limited movement and speaking ability because of the disease. Although his role seemed not to be physically demanding, he said it was genuinely the most exhausting part. “It’s like you’re taking all of your energy that you’d use for being up and moving, and trying to focus it in on this small space,” he added.
Playing someone with physical limitations humbled Redmayne. “While making the film, I would stay in the chair whilst in a specific physicality, and it was quite uncomfortable, but you always knew that you could get up at the end of the day.”
He hopes for people to take away the same positivity he experienced. “When you have that [life] sentence given to you, it makes you look at time in a different way. Being able to live as Stephen has done, despite all the obstacles, living positively and living a full life — it’s a reminder of that.”
The Oscar-winning actor is working on another transformative role in “The Danish Girl,” directed by Tom Hooper (“Les Misérables”). Redmayne plays Copenhagen artist, Lili Elbe, who is one of the first people undergo sex reassignment surgery in 1930.
Graphics Courtesy of Focus Features