Eddie Redmayne: ‘I’m taking a year off acting’
The Oscar-winner speaks exclusively to Gentleman's Journal about films, fashion and Fantastic Beasts
Eddie Redmayne needs his shirt ironing. Not the shirt he’s wearing, of course. As always, the actor is impeccably turned out – a jumper over a print shirt, his legs folded in navy chinos. Rather, it’s a white dress shirt that needs pressing, in preparation for the Oscar-winner’s appearance at an Omega watch event later this evening.
As it is promptly whisked away, Redmayne promises that the shirt will later be paired with a brown corduroy suit, offering a neat segue into one of the actor’s many accolades. But, even as I utter the words ‘Britain’s Best Dressed Man’, the perpetually humble Redmayne winces.
‘I know I probably shouldn’t say this,’ the actor says sheepishly, ‘and it’s obviously a flattering thing, but I don’t think I deserve that title. You see, when you’re an actor and you go to loads of red carpet things, all these different brands and all these amazing people just tell you what to wear. And, on top of that, I also have a wife – and she has no reservations telling me when I look ridiculous.’
Redmayne married the public relations executive Hannah Bagshawe in 2014. However, the actor reveals that his wife’s sartorial input goes far beyond throwaway fashion advice.
‘I’m actually very colourblind,’ he reveals, ‘and it’s a weird thing, a confusing thing to explain. Lots of people think that I just see in black and white, but it’s more like confusing tones of colour. So, blues and purples or greys and browns may trip me up. It feels like you haven’t been educated on your colours properly,’ the actor laughs, ‘because they merge. Funnily enough, I was having this exact problem trying to pick out a tie for dinner tonight. I had to ask for my wife’s help.’
What colour won out, I ask.
‘Blue – I hope!’ Redmayne chuckles. ‘If you see it and it’s yellow, you’ll know my wife played a terrible trick on me.’
Unlike many high profile stars, the 35-year-old has few reservations discussing his family. Indeed, since Redmayne’s first child (a daughter, Iris) was born last June, he’s barely stopped talking about her.
‘Fatherhood has been amazing,’ the young actor gushes with unadulterated exuberance. ‘And I’ve been so lucky that, with the job I do, I didn’t have to take paternity leave. Instead, I just stopped working after my last film, and had a chunk of time off when Iris was born.’
The actor admits that, without work, the last year has seen a massive change of pace. But, given the acceleration of his career to date, the respite has been greatly appreciated.
Redmayne’s acting career started on stage. When he was just 22 years old, the young actor was named Outstanding Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre awards for a mesmerising performance in Edward Albee’s abstract tragedy, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
In the years that followed, Redmayne trod the boards of both the Donmar Warehouse and the John Golden Theatre on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for his stint at the latter. After dabbling in screen work with the BBC’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Other Boleyn Girl, the actor took his first starring film role when he was cast as Colin Clark in 2011’s acclaimed My Week with Marilyn.
Clark – a role which saw Redmayne play a meek but aspiring filmmaker opposite Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier – was the first time audiences saw the actor employ his now signature unassuming acting style. But this unpretentious, humble demeanour is not constrained to the screen; Redmayne’s everyday life shows that he has been unwilling to let fame change him.
‘I try to lead a normal life. For example, I still take the tube,’ he says proudly. ‘It sounds so silly, but I literally don’t think there’s a better way to get around London. I could get driven more, but it’s a purely logistical reason that I decide not to.
‘Sporadically, people approach me on the tube, too – which is fun,’ the actor continues. ‘What happens usually is that people take sly photos – and that is a bit weird. But only because normally what will happen is that the photo will be taken surreptitiously, and then a flash will go off – and you see them, they see you and you have an odd sort of stand-off for 30 seconds or so until you arrive at the next stop.
‘But you must either change your life, or adapt to live with the attention,’ rationalises Redmayne.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the Oscars. In 2015, the Brit won one of the most coveted acting accolades there is – the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role – for his portrayal of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. For someone who strives to live a regular life, I ask, just how ‘normal’ did he feel at the Oscars?
‘Well, firstly, I defy anyone to go to the Oscars and feel like it’s normal,’ he says. ‘I mean, it’s such an insane thing. They shut down half of Los Angeles and you drive through closed-down roads to get there. And, when you do arrive, there are banks and banks of people, and absolutely everywhere you look there is someone you admire or have seen off the telly.
‘It’s not like you suddenly become immune to those things. If you’re a fan of someone from watching their films, or seeing them in boxsets, it’s not like you just go, “Oh, I’m an actor now.” You still get excited to see them. But it’s an alien experience, the Oscars – and, even though I’ve been once or twice, it’ll never feel natural, because the whole thing is such a wonderful piece of theatre.’
Redmayne’s first appearance at the Oscars was in 2013, when the cast of Les Misérables was tasked with opening the evening with a rendition of One Day More – an experience the actor describes as one of the most nerve-wracking moments of his life. ‘People always say that it must have been terrifying for me when I was first nominated. No, no, no. Nothing compares to that first year – having to sing. Just before we went on, I remember overhearing someone backstage say, “Right, that’ll be one billion people tuning in,” and I was like, “What?”’
But Redmayne is no longer a stranger to awards ceremonies. A year after winning his Oscar, the actor was once again nominated for an Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe when he brought the story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe to the screen in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl.
‘I think the amazing thing with acting,’ says Redmayne, ‘is that, whatever part you’re playing, you get to do an amazing amount of research around it, and meet people who often let you into their lives. You learn so much, and how much of that you end up using on the screen is inconsequential, because what you gain on a human level is huge. It’s the part of the job that I enjoy most, the research period.
‘On The Theory of Everything, I had about three or four months with a choreographer, and I met people at a clinic in London who were living with motor neurone disease. I also met Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane.
‘But one of the biggest challenges of that film – and, I suppose, to some extent The Danish Girl – was that we didn’t shoot chronologically. So I’d be playing Stephen Hawking at different times in his life within the same day. And, because of that, acting’s not just about learning about the progression of a character, but about being able to access those different physicalities and mindsets within the same day.’
The two films that saw Redmayne Oscar-nominated kept him firmly on the campaign trail for the last two awards seasons, jetting around the world to film festivals and promoting tirelessly from November through February. But even though he is taking a self-proclaimed ‘break’, recent months have seen the actor return in a new franchise-building blockbuster.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!’ claps the actor. ‘How magical that was. However, this first film, of a projected five, was set in New York, and my wife and I were disappointed when we realised it was all shooting in Watford. So at the moment, I’m trying to persuade our director, David Yates, if we can shoot the second on location in Paris – which is where the sequel is set – but I fear that it’s going to be Watford-for-Paris. Don’t get me wrong, those sets are amazing. But it would be nice,’ he lapses into a faux-French accent, ‘to get some real fromage and saucisson and baguettes for lunch!
‘Making such a big film was a lovely experience, though, and it was released using a different model to what I’ve been used to. It got thrown out on thousands of screens around the world on the same day. So, rather than promoting it for six months, it was just two very intense months – which meant we were able to travel as a family unit.’
And, with that, he’s back to talking up the virtues of fatherhood. ‘Now it’s as if I’ve got fewer hours in the day to get things done, which definitely sharpens you up – despite the fact that you’re always hugely sleep-deprived. It’s difficult to talk about without speaking in clichés,’ the actor continues with a grin, ‘but, for the first several months at least, I was only sleeping for about three hours a night. I felt almost jetlagged, but it was sort of euphoric – because, however tough life became, whenever Iris woke up, she’d give me a grin and that’s always just amazing.’
Redmayne is a real family man and, when he collected his OBE for services to drama from Windsor Castle in December, he brought everyone, parents included.
‘That was a wonderful day,’ he recalls. ‘It’s so old-school and British and romantic. I suddenly found myself having a conversation with the Queen – trying to frantically remember whether to say “mam” or “ma’am”.’
Redmayne plays down the reasons for which he was awarded an OBE, but one of his many services to drama is his continued effort to champion theatre. ‘I’ve found that, ever since I was a kid, my imagination is most inspired when I step into the theatre,’ he explains. ‘I’d love to return to theatre, and I’ve just been trying to show that it isn’t as elitist as many perceive it to be. There are so many skills, from storytelling to confidence-building, that theatre can teach you.
‘And I always had much more choice with my theatrical roles than my film roles. With film, you’re on a list, and you don’t have those choices. For The Theory of Everything, for example, I was definitely not top of that list. Five or six other actors said no, so I got my moment.’
Becoming the youngest man to win the Best Actor Oscar since Adrien Brody collected the award in 2003, Redmayne was soon inundated with offers. ‘I saw an increase,’ he nods, ‘but there’s an alchemy with filmmaking that you can’t control. I’ve done films with amazing scripts that have ended up being bad films. There’s something in the process that you can’t pin down. But, generally, if I distinctly react to a moment in the script, I don’t think that it might be lost in the process. If it’s there on the page, there’s a chance it’ll be there on the screen – and those are the instincts I react to.
‘Those are the chances worth taking.’