A Brief History Of Mr Eddie Redmayne
Widely touted as an Oscar contender for his portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking, the actor shows us how to dress for a big night out
"They’re blue, right?” Mr Eddie Redmayne is staring down at his shoes, a pair of velvet low-top sneakers from Tom Ford. Lovely things, but even in the gloomy half-light of a back room in a Soho members’ club, it’s plain to see that they’re not blue at all; they’re black. “Oh,” he says, shifting his glance to the knee of his corduroy trousers instead. “What about these, then?” They are also clearly black. “Right. And the sweater?” Bottle green. “Christ,” he mutters. “I could have sworn this whole outfit was blue.”
If you haven’t guessed already, behind those greyish-green eyes, Mr Redmayne is quite colour-blind. It’s a mild impairment, but when your sartorial decisions are under as much scrutiny as his, it can still have its downfalls. Take this September, for instance. He attended the world premiere of his new movie, The Theory of Everything, in a teal suit so eye-poppingly bright that it gave his wife Ms Hannah Bagshawe quite a fright when she first saw it. “You’re not wearing that,” she said, with a look of horror on her face. “I know,” he replied. “It’s green.” “That’s not green, Eddie,” she shot back. “It’s f**king… green.” (Ms Bagshawe sounds fun.)
As predicted, the “f**king green” suit – a double-breasted linen suit from Burberry Prorsum’s forthcoming spring collection – made its fair share of headlines that night. Not quite as many, however, as the 32-year-old actor inside it. It might just prove to be a turning point for Mr Redmayne, whose career up until that point had been defined by a series of roles that, while well-received, owed rather a lot to his boyish good looks. There was My Week With Marilyn, in which he played the fresh-faced love interest opposite Ms Michelle Williams, and Les Misérables, in which… well, you get the picture. His performance in Theory, though, is his ticket out of the Hunk of the Month Club and into Capital “A” actor status.
The film tells the story of Professor Stephen Hawking, who, borne along by the love and care of his first wife, Jane, defies the obstacles in his path to rise to the pinnacle of the academic world. Told over the course of some two and a half decades, it tracks both the ascent of the professor’s career and the corresponding decline as his body succumbs to motor neurone disease. It’s a remarkable story and a demanding role, and Mr Redmayne grabs hold of it with both hands. The physical transformation that he undergoes is absolute – the film begins with him riding a bicycle through the cobbled streets of Cambridge, and ends with him wheelchair-bound, buckled, contorted and robbed of the ability to speak – but it’s handled so deftly that, save for two key scenes, you hardly notice it happening at all. A dragged foot here, a fumbled pencil there: tiny, seemingly insignificant details that amount over the course of the movie’s two-hour running time to a complete physical deterioration. It’s an incredibly measured performance, made all the more impressive by the revelation that the film wasn’t shot in chronological order. Not even close, as it turns out.
“On the first day of filming, we shot three scenes,” he says, stirring a lump of sugar into his coffee with a deftness that seems almost alien, particularly after having witnessed him in character only hours before. “The first scene was at the start of the film, pre-diagnosis. The second was when Stephen was using two walking sticks. By the third, he was in his second wheelchair. I was terrified. It was like I’d been asked to write a sentence in permanent ink starting with one word at the beginning, one at the middle and one at the end. I was having a complete meltdown – it was four in the morning, I was getting picked up at five, and I hadn’t slept. I was thinking, ‘I can’t start a job like this’.”
When we first met Mr Redmayne at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, it was just two nights before The Theory of Everything premiered. Back then he claimed that the intensity of filming was such that he hadn’t worked since. “I’d just finished filming Jupiter Ascending with the Wachowskis, which involved eating a lot of chicken and doing lots of press-ups. I lost all that weight for Theory,” he said. “After inhabiting so many different personas, both mentally and physically, I suppose I needed to take some time off to just remember who I am – what my body’s natural state is.”
As it turns out, though, Mr Redmayne has been working. He spent part of this summer returning to his origins as an art historian, presenting a documentary on the art of WWI. Like Professor Hawking, he is a “Tab” – an alumnus of Cambridge University (the term a shortening of “Cantab”, the post-nominal suffix used to denote a Cambridge graduate). Unlike the venerable prof, though, Mr Redmayne chose art over science, graduating in 2003 with a degree in art history. He wrote his final dissertation on Mr Yves Klein, the mid-century French artist responsible for the vivid shade of ultramarine known as International Klein Blue, and specialised in Venetian architecture and surrealism, but he was never bound for the art world; by the time of his graduation, his acting career was already taking off.
Art documentaries aside, he’s still in demand as a model, too – a gig he first landed with Burberry, the unofficial showcase for young Brit talent (other notable alumni include Mr Douglas Booth and Mses Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne). On his latest jaunt with MR PORTER, modelling this season’s eveningwear, he had the honour of being the first ever recipient of breakfast in bed at the then-unopened Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, the latest venture from Messrs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (whom we profiled recently in our online magazine, The Journal). Mr Redmayne gushes over the duo’s work: “Jeremy’s son is an actor,” he says. “You can see where he gets it from. What Jeremy does is build his venues around these wild invented characters and narratives. It’s the kind of thing that could so easily feel like a theme restaurant or theme hotel – but the ideas are so coherent, and executed with such passion, that you really buy into his vision.”
The biggest drain on Mr Redmayne’s time recently, though, has been in preparation for what promises to be a rather busy awards season. In the wake of Theory’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival – often cited as a launchpad for many of the year’s most award-worthy movies – Mr Redmayne found himself in the unnerving position of being declared an early frontrunner in the race for Best Actor at the 2015 Oscars. He skirts the topic with decorum – “Please don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful compliment… I just hope it serves to get the story out to more people…” – but it’s clearly something he still hasn’t quite got his head around. He seems almost in denial. But then, a biopic? Of a man struggling against adversity? The Theory of Everything is certainly ticking a few of the right boxes, even if Mr Redmayne is loath to admit it.
Come February, the Academy will have its say. Whatever the outcome, though, it seems the last word will be had by Professor Hawking himself. “I met him again just before he saw the film,” he says, recalling a dinner just a few months ago. “I said, ‘Stephen, I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think.’ A minute or two passed as he typed away with his eye-tracking software. Then, in that famous, vaguely robotic voice, he replied: ‘I will let you know what I think. Good, or otherwise.’”
By all accounts, he will spare Mr Redmayne the dreaded “otherwise”. During a Q&A session that accompanied the Toronto premiere it was brought to light by the film’s screenwriter, Mr Anthony McCarten, that Professor Hawking had already attended a private screening prior to the premiere; as the lights came up, a nurse was spotted wiping a tear from his cheek.
Mr Redmayne was at that Q&A session, too, standing on stage alongside his fellow cast and crew members dressed in that teal Burberry suit. From down in the stalls the colour seemed to lose much of its vibrancy underneath the harsh, bleaching glare of the stage lighting, taking on a greyish-green hue instead. Eerily similar to Cambridge blue, in fact – the varsity colour of Mr Redmayne and Professor Hawking’s alma mater. As it turns out, Cambridge blue and “f***ing green” aren’t that far apart. Even a “Tab” could be forgiven for getting them mixed up.
Photographed at The Beaumont hotel, London beaumont.com