'F***, What Did I Just Say to Stephen Hawking?' as Eddie Redmayne Takes on the Biggest Role of His Career, He Talks to Clemency Burton-Hill about Falling Apart in the Presence of a Great Man and How the Professor Has Killer Timing

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

'F***, What Did I Just Say to Stephen Hawking?' as Eddie Redmayne Takes on the Biggest Role of His Career, He Talks to Clemency Burton-Hill about Falling Apart in the Presence of a Great Man and How the Professor Has Killer Timing


Byline: Clemency Burton-Hill

AS EDDIE Redmayne downs his tea I notice three girls standing by a tower of funghi, surreptitiously trying to take his photograph. "Whatever Eddie's got, that's what you spend your life looking for," says his agent Dallas Smith, who saw him in Twelfth Night and signed him on the spot. "He had a unique presence, even completely untrained, the sort of magnetism that only great actors have. The fact he had gone to Eton and Cambridge was meaningless. He had the most astonishing natural acting ability. You can't teach that."

Tom Hooper, who directed Redmayne in Les Miserables, concurs. "Eddie has the most prodigious gift, and it's got to a point where his talent transcends the whole discussion," he says. "There are plenty of people who went to Eton. There is only one actor like him."

Redmayne, who is about to appear as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is in many ways an unlikely actor. "I've no idea where any of it comes from," Michael Grandage says. "I'm not sure he does. Ask him!" Redmayne was born in London in 1982 into a family who had never dipped a toe into the performing arts. His mother Patricia runs a relocation business and loves golf; his father Richard is a banker. His half-brother Charlie is the CEO of the publisher HarperCollins; his half-sister Eugenie works for Prudential. His elder brother James is in private equity and his younger brother Tom has recently qualified as a chartered surveyor.

While at Cambridge Redmayne himself did internships at City broker Cazenove -- "the greatest acting job of my life, trying to pretend I knew what a share was" -- and on the Evening Standard business pages. "I wrote a piece about tax self-assessment schemes, all of about seven lines, but I did get a byline. My mum's probably kept it somewhere."

Then one afternoon his shift in the pub was interrupted by a call from Smith. He had landed a part in Doctors, the daytime-TV soap. "Probably the most exciting day of my life."

So where does it come from? "I have no idea either. I'm someone who likes clarity, some sense of structure, and yet I've ended up in this peripatetic and crazy existence, in which you're at the beck and call of everyone else. I think that's why family is so important to me. In the rest of my life I'm trying to create something as rooted as possible."

Just before The Theory of Everything began shooting we met in the bar of the Young Vic theatre in London. Redmayne is fresh from a movement class. Or rather frazzled. He orders a Diet Coke and a chicken salad. A few days ago he had his audience with Stephen Hawking. He paints a toecurling picture of the two of them sitting at Hawking's house in Cambridge for an hour and a half -- one of them "vomiting forth into the void", the other silent, motionless, amused.

"I was terrified because I'd made choices, in terms of his physical decline and his character, that I couldn't now go back on. So I was thinking 'Oh God, what if I meet him and it changes everything, is this going to undermine all the work I've done?' Then his carers, who are lovely, took me in to meet him, and the first thing I do is over-apologise for the fact that someone who'd studied art history is playing this great scientific mind."

He sips his Diet Coke. "These days, Stephen has glasses with a sensor under them. On the screen, rather than the predictive text software he used to have, there's an alphabet with a cursor. When he does this movement [Redmayne makes a sort of blink] it stops on a letter. So if you're speaking to him live, it takes him a long time to respond.

"You don't see that on telly, because he's usually been sent questions in advance. And because it's hard for him to speak and because I hate silence, I just spew forth information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking for the next 40 minutes. The first thing he eventually says, after all that time, is 'Please call me Stephen', because I've been calling him Professor Hawking all the way through. …

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