Eddie Redmayne: “Love is the thing that an equation can’t be made of”

Oscar winning Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything talks croquet, famous friends and sequels...


Eddie Redmayne has a date to talk to The Big Issue but has been delayed. The Golden Globe nominations have just been announced and The Theory of Everything is up for four awards, including Best Actor for Redmayne’s astonishing performance as Professor Stephen Hawking (which he went on to win – he would also win an Oscar for the role as well).

Redmayne’s publicist rings for his instant reaction to the news. “Beyond thrilled… I’m about to have a few mulled wines to celebrate,” he says in quotes circulated across newspapers and the internet.

He was doing some Christmas shopping when he was told about the nomination. “I was in the middle of the street and I jumped around a little bit and yelped,” he says. “Now I’m talking to you, then I’m going to go home and continue the festivities there.”

Eton-educated Redmayne, who will turn 33 on January 6, spent a few years modelling before roles in Birdsong and Les Misérables led to his most significant role to date. The Theory of Everything follows Hawking from his university years and diagnosis of motor neurone disease through every agonising step of his gradual physical deterioration. His performance is truly transformative, showing a dedication and commitment to rival Daniel Day-Lewis’ left foot.

The film marks Redmayne’s real arrival, one of a growing number of the young, hot and posh English gentlemen invading Hollywood. Redmayne will be touring upcoming awards ceremonies with Benedict Cumberbatch, who has received praise for his portrayal of another thwarted British genius, Alan Turing.

I was in the middle of the street and I jumped around a little bit and yelped

Before Redmayne’s celebratory mulled wine, he keeps his rendezvous with The Big Issue…

Congratluations!

Thank you so much. How are you doing?

I’m fine even though I’ve had to wait for half an hour just because you are nominated for a prestigious award!

I apologise for that mate. But God, it’s amazing!

The award nominations are flooding in but would they be meaningless if Hawking himself had hated your performance?

I met Stephen before we started filming and he was incredibly generous but you have to win his approval. We were on a knife-edge daily. I tried to block out the noise of fear of ‘what if this is a catastrophe?’, and when he saw the film and enjoyed it that was a great reward.

By all accounts you made a bit of an idiot of yourself when you met him for the first time.

Yip, thanks for reminding me.

You noted that you were both Capricorns and he said: “I am an astronomer, not an astrologer.” It’s a good line.

He has the sharpest mind I’ve ever encountered. You can see the complication between how quick his response is and then the time delay having to spell out that response using just his eye muscle. In the few hours we spent together he said maybe eight or nine sentences. It was me filling the silence that was catastrophic.

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He is one of the most famous figures in the world but in the film we can see how funny – and flirty – he is. Do people not know who the real Stephen Hawking is?

I was in the same position myself. I recognised his voice and his icon-status from The Simpsons and that he had done things with black holes but that was the limit of my knowledge. I knew the only way to get close to authentically representing the person we think we know was to uncover the parts that we didn’t.

What do you think is the most incredible thing about him – his scientific discoveries or the fact he was overcome so many obstacles in order to make them?

I think the discoveries he has made have been utterly, utterly astounding, but the fact he’s managed to translate these things to laymen like myself, people who are really useless at science and gave it up as a kid. The idea of democratising science is massive for him and that combined with his extraordinary capacity to overcome these brutal physical obstacles is certainly for me where his fame comes from.

Are you disappointed the film didn’t cover the periods where he became a global celebrity, appearing on The Simpsons and making cameos in The Big Bang Theory?

Maybe there’s potential for a sequel! “The Theory of Everything 2: The Hollywood Years”…

He has the sharpest mind I’ve ever encountered

You went to Cambridge University where he taught. Did your paths ever cross?

I had seen him across the campus while walking to lectures. You would catch a glimpse of him, flanked by his nurses. There were always a troop of people tailing him and getting their photos taken with him. He was a rock star on campus.  

There is a croquet scene in the film. Did you play a lot of croquet at Cambridge? Is that what people do there?

I’ve played croquet once in my life. Nothing infuriates me more than a game of croquet, when someone puts their ball next to yours and whacks it for miles. It’s a brutal game and one I’m particularly useless at. In fact we had a stunt croquet man on the film. Is that the most English thing ever – a stunt croquet player?

You put your body through extremes making the film but you couldn’t be bothered going out on the lawn to practise some croquet?

I spent a day with the stunt croquet man being trained but it transpired when it came to shooting that a day was not enough.

Were you too busy studying physics instead?

I attempted. I’ve been holding off seeing Interstellar because so many people have been saying, ‘You will be able to explain it to us, won’t you?’ And I have such fear that I won’t.

It is similar to The Theory of Everything in as much as love is seen as a universal force as important and powerful as space and time…

Absolutely. It is interesting to me that the theory of everything is this ultimate idea of perfection that we aspire to – and it’s important that we do aspire to discovering it – but almost with the knowledge that we’ll probably never find it. We learn to enjoy the journey rather than the… oh my God, that’s such a cliché. Don’t write that. Love is the thing that an equation can’t be made of.

If love is on Redmayne’s mind it could be because four days after this interview he married his long-term fiancée Hannah Bagshawe in a low-key candlelit ceremony in Babington House, Somerset, catching showbiz gossip columnists and growing legions of fanatical ‘Redmayniacs’ off-guard. Redmayne’s relationship could be part of the reason he was so drawn to the film. More than a biopic of a famous physicist, Redmayne says, The Theory of Everything is about love. “It is an incredibly intricate and passionate but quite complicated love story,” he says. “Almost a scrutiny of love – young, passionate love, love of subject matter and love of family but also the limitations of love, the failings of love in some ways.” Redmayne announced his engagement in The Times, only to be copied a few months later by Benedict Cumberbatch, who coincidentally also played Stephen Hawking in a 2004 BBC drama.

Did you watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Hawking?

No. I thought long and hard about that because Ben is a great old pal of mine and an actor I admire hugely. Basically I knew that if I did watch it I would try and steal all of Ben’s best bits.

I thought long and hard about that because Ben is a great old pal of mine…

I watched it hoping I could say your performance was much better but he is quite a good actor…

Quite an insane talent.

Are you really friends though? You’re supposedly also friends with Robert Pattinson, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hiddleston… How do you meet these hot young actors?

What do you mean? Where do you meet people? Do you want to go online – lookingforanactor.com? 

I’m not looking for dating advice, but is that something actors do, say nice things about people they may have worked with once or twice?

When you’ve been in the acting world long enough you work with people again and again. Jamie, Rob, Andrew Garfield and I have been working for about 12 years, starting in theatre in London. I was at school and university with Tom Hiddleston. When we go to Los Angeles we would stay on friends’ floors and as a group of Brits we would stick together and help each other with auditions. People become family. So they are actually friends, I promise we’re not just pumping hot air up each others’…

Are they on your Christmas card list?

I was just talking to Hannah, my girlfriend [yes, he used the word girlfriend four days before marrying her], about Christmas cards. I feel like the second you start a Christmas card list then you can never stop and you’re perpetually causing offence to people – if you forget to send one and you did the year before. Although as a kid I used to love making Christmas cards, with a bit of Pritt Stick and glitter. It was probably my favourite time of the year.

Next year you have two different projects. Jupiter Ascending, a sci-fi blockbuster from Matrix-makers the Wachowskis, then The Danish Girl, from Les Mis director Tom Hooper, where you play one of the first people to have a sex change in the 1930s. What do you look for in a role?

Trying to play something outside of what I’ve done before is definitely of interest. Whenever I read a script I can normally instantly have a gut reaction. It’s an annoying phrase, ‘trust your instincts’, because I’m like – okay, how do I know what that is? How do I define my instincts? Recognising what your instincts are is half the battle.

Your role in The Theory of Everything will change your career. Has it already changed your life?

I’m one of these people who gets caught up in the foibles and anxieties of my everyday bollocks, the small stuff. Stephen was given this diagnosis of two years and says that beyond those two years, every day has been a gift. We all have limitations put on us in some shape or form by other people, it’s how we supersede them that’s interesting. Remembering we only have one shot is what I took away – to live each moment fully.

The Theory of Everything is out now