Eddie Redmayne did such a convincing job of portraying Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," the astrophysicist said he thought he was watching himself at some moments in the biopic, which opens Friday. The actor, whose previous films include "Les Miserables" and "My Week With Marilyn," worked with a movement coach to be able to endure long periods of time emulating Hawking's hunched-over posture, a result of his crippling motor neuron disease.
Redmayne also explained why he was "a big ball of tension" on set and why he's never seen good pal (and likely Oscar competition) Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Hawking from 2004.
Moviefone: You did so much research for this, you carried around a sort of Bible on set.
Redmayne: I did all the reading I could so I could throw myself into all this: I watched every video of Stephen Hawking I could find. I read as much as I could about astrophysics, but I'm useless at science. [Laughs] And I met with about thirty people who are living with ALS.
At what point did you meet Stephen?
I didn't meet him until four months into preparations, so I was incredibly nervous that I'd been preparing to play him all wrong.
Did he have any advice for you or any requests?
He asked me, "Are you playing me before I lost my voice?" And I said, "Yes." So he wanted to make sure that I slurred my speech. He wanted to make sure that I incorporated that, so I was able to go to [the director] James [Marsh] and [scriptwriter] Anthony [McCarten] and make those changes.
What else did you talk about?
Not that much, actually. I spent hours with him, but he's not able to say very much in that time, he can only communicate with the muscles around his eye, so it takes him quite a long time to say something [via his computer].
What would you say is the key to playing him?
I don't know if there's a key, but he does have this twinkle in his eye.... Stephen's son, Tim, told me that he used to take his dad's wheel chair for rides, like it was a go-kart. And he used to type swear words into his computer. I'd been approaching the role very respectfully and it reminded me that he's a real person with a sense of humor, that a lot of people dealing with his situation cope with humor. And he still has a sense of mischief.
You spend a great deal of time hunched over in a wheelchair in what looks like a very painful position. How did you get through that without injuring yourself?
I worked with an osteopath so that I could go into those positions. If you just sat like that without any preparation, you body would certainly protest. If I was having a muscle spasm or something on set, he could make an adjustment, and then I'd get adjustments at the end of the day. Of course, I was always conscious that I was able to get out of that chair and so many people aren't able to.
Felicity was telling me that on the first day of filming, which was the May Ball scene, Jane [Hawking's former wife] came over and redid your hair.
Yes! Jane came over and literally rearranged my hair, piece by piece. She said, "It's much messier than that." It's what you dream of, as an actor. I was a big ball of tension having Stephen and his family one one side and Jane and Jonathan on the other. But of course, nerves are what get you through, so it was quite a good thing.
You must be thrilled to hear that when Stephen saw the film, he cried and said that, at times, he thought he was watching himself.
Yes, I didn't hear that until recently and it's just incredible.
You're good friends with Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking ten years ago. Did you ask for any tips from him?
No, I didn't. [Laughs] I'm friends with the director, Philip Martin, as well -- he directed me in something called "Birdsong" -- and I do plan to watch it one day. I know it had gotten these fantastic reviews and I didn't want to see it because I knew I'd steal all of Benny's best bits.
"The Theory of Everything" is in select theaters Friday, November 7.