Photography by Peter Ash Lee for Yahoo Style
Styling by Dora Fung and Christopher Kim
“Whenever I’m in L.A., I’m always either an hour late or two hours early,” Eddie Redmayne says as he sits down at a table at the Los Angeles bistro Republique. “I can’t get anywhere on time.” The actor and his cast mate Felicity Jones are attending a party hosted by Yahoo Style celebrating their film The Theory of Everything, which has been nominated for an Oscar for best picture. Redmayne, who is quickly plowing through a large plate of hors d’oeuvres and a small basket of French fries, still hasn’t quite settled into his new role as Hollywood celebrity.
“Does anyone ever feel comfortable in it?” he asks. “How am I doing?” He’s told he looks perplexed. “Yeah,” says the 33-year-old actor. “I am. I’m not going to lie.”
Before The Theory of Everything came out last year, both Redmayne and Jones were only moderately recognizable. Redmayne had parts in My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables but was far from a household name. Jones, who has been acting since the mid-’90s, has a filmography filled with quirky indies (including two small but powerhouse performances in Like Crazy and The Invisible Woman, opposite Ralph Fiennes) and, unexpectedly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “Eddie and I have spent many years auditioning for film and TV projects together, and being turned down together,” Jones says. “And then commiserating together. But this was the first time we’d worked together.”
The Theory of Everything, directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker James Marsh, tells the story of Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane, who stood by his side for years as he was ravished by ALS. It’s partially a biopic and partially a love story — albeit ultimately a tragic one that ends in divorce — and it leaves the viewer with a sense of resolute human triumph. It wasn’t a role or a story that Redmayne was ever seeking out, but it’s one that he fully inhabited. His physical, tactile performance has so far won the 33-year-old a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, a Hollywood Film Award, and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
“At school, whenever we wrote an essay, I needed to be told the subject, and then I could go and immerse myself in that world,” Redmayne says. “I can’t just come up with it. So there are no specific movie parts I want. I never would have thought I could play Stephen. It was only when this particular script arrived and it was this version of the story that I felt like I could.
” The script, written by Anthony McCarten and based on Jane Hawking’s memoir, is what attracted Jones, too. The actress, 31, insisted on playing Jane as soon as she’d read it. “I liked that it wasn’t a straightforward biopic, that it was this complicated love story,” she says. “And there was a phenomenal female character to be played. I fought for it.” It was certainly worth the battle. Jones earned herself a slew of best-actress nominations, including an Oscar nod.
The actors, both of whom still live in London, rehearsed for two weeks in a London rehearsal space before shooting the film. They’d often shoot three scenes per day, usually nonchronologically, so by the nighttime the characters might have aged several years. There was a significant responsibility to the real people they were playing and to those who actually suffer from ALS. For Jones, the role involved obsession, lying awake at night considering how best to inhabit Jane.
Redmayne met Hawking during filming but did most of his research ahead of time. He spent four months visiting an ALS clinic and meeting with survivors of the debilitating disease. “I’d go to the clinic, and the doctor would meet the patients and say, ‘There’s a guy playing Stephen Hawking here. Would you be interested in talking to him?’” Redmayne explains. “I’m so in their debt. All of them had been given a death sentence of some description, of two to 10 years. And yet across the board they were living their lives fully and passionately and with great humor, and it was greatly inspiring. I’m one of these people who gets caught up in the anxieties and foibles of the most banal stuff. So it was a great reminder that we only have one life and how we all have obstacles in front of us, but how you want to overcome them is what defines us.” His gracious, pitch-perfect speech at the SAG Awards about witnessing “this will to love and this will to live” was one for the ages.
Redmayne’s career MO is that he wants to learn something about himself in every role he plays instead of simply doing something for the sake of working. His next film, which begins shooting this month, has gravitas similar to that of The Theory of Everything. In the movie, The Danish Girl, Redmayne again plays a real person, painter Einar Wegener, who was one of the first people to transition from male to female. Redmayne has met with several people from the trans community. “It’s set in the 1920s, but it has a contemporary resonance,” he notes. “It’s been about educating yourself on all sides of it.”
Meanwhile, Jones recently wrapped the children’s fantasy A Monster Calls, in which she stars alongside Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver, and was recently at Sundance promoting True Story with James Franco and Jonah Hill. She isn’t after anything specific when it comes to her roles, but like Redmayne she knows when she sees it on the page.
“Early on, you’re so happy to get a job,” say Jones, who has just secured a role in the new standalone Star Wars spinoff. “You need to pay your rent, so you work in all sorts of things. Each film or each part demands something completely different from you. So it’s that thing where if you have too many plans and strategies, they never work out anyways. It’s got to be instinctive. My main thing is to work with interesting, talented directors. You learn so much from them. That’s where I feel more comfortable and happy working.”
Can Redmayne’s next role live up to his rather mind-boggling performance as Hawking? He isn’t sure, and he doesn’t really care. “Oh, God, I don’t think I can ever think that way,” Redmayne laughs. “If our dream is to create interesting stories and play interesting people, they don’t come more extraordinary than Stephen and Jane. I think it’s so rare in one’s lifetime to get the opportunity to tell one of those. I feel really lucky for that. I try not to think of my jobs as competitive with each other. Just retaining employment, frankly, is a wonderful thing.”