There’s an old saying, the kind you might find in the office of a high school guidance counselor, that goes something like, “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll end up among the stars.” Eddie Redmayne is an actor already on the rise, but with his performance as a young Stephen Hawking in search of the secrets of the universe in this past fall’s The Theory of Everything, he shot past the moon and may well end up with interstellar stardom. Or at least an Oscar.
Born in London in 1982 and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied art history, Redmayne came up with some dynamic and swoon-worthy roles in lush period pieces such as Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Robert De Niro’s CIA saga The Good Shepherd, and the epic 2010 miniseries The Pillars of the Earth. But if Redmayne’s early work showed that he could be an engaging performer, his recent work (including Tom Hooper’s starry 2012 production of Les Misérables, in which the actor stormed the barricades as the romantic Marius) showed him to be as ambitious as he is talented. This month, Redmayne will again aim for the heavens, in the Wachowskis’ space opera Jupiter Ascending, donning some serious mascara in the process to play an extra-planetary villain.
Jennifer Lawrence, who knows a bit about sci-fi, met Redmayne years ago through director Oliver Stone. Fresh off her worldwide press tour for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, the Oscar winner called Redmayne, who was in Turin, Italy, to talk about running on fear, Real Housewives addiction, fake falls, and bad salmon.
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Well, thank you. When I was cast, my mate Charlie Cox, who plays Jonathan in the film, said, “If you get the opportunity to play Stephen Hawking, you have no option but to give it your everything. You have to give 8,000 percent.”
LAWRENCE: Did that scare you?
REDMAYNE: Oh, it was petrifying!
LAWRENCE: That would scare the shit out of me.
REDMAYNE: You do that thing of trying to chase down the job, sounding incredibly confident because you never think you’ll get it. And then you get offered the job, and you have a moment of euphoria, and then you basically want to be sick for the first year.
LAWRENCE: I don’t know if you get this, but I get embarrassed really easily when I have to have big meltdown scenes. Do you get self-conscious?
REDMAYNE: Are you kidding me? I’m just one gigantic ball of rancid fear and self-consciousness. I’m entirely fueled by fear, so the fact that I knew it could be a catastrophic disaster made me unable to sleep, and made me work quite hard.
LAWRENCE: It looked like you lost a lot of weight.
REDMAYNE: I lost, like, 15 pounds at the beginning of the film. With the disease, Stephen did lose a lot of weight. But we couldn’t shoot chronologically, so we were having to jump between different time periods within the same day. Our extraordinary makeup artist, Jan [Sewell], and costume designer, Steven [Noble], did clever things like making the collars tight and my makeup look healthy in the morning, and then, if in the afternoon I was playing him older, they would mess with proportions—the collars would become bigger or they would use slightly oversized wheelchairs. But it was a real work in progress. Do you ever watch dailies?
LAWRENCE: No. Unless I keep getting the same note and I’m obviously not getting it, then I’ll watch it again on the monitor. But, oh my God, did you watch rushes of this?
REDMAYNE: We sort of had to, because we were jumping in and out of all these different time periods and trying to track the illness and the physical decline. I had an iPad with all the documentary footage of Stephen and then we had the dailies. I kept hoping that the two things were going to meet, but obviously they never did. [laughs]
LAWRENCE: Maybe watching dailies would make me better. Every time I’m at a premiere, all I’m doing is thinking, “Oh, you shouldn’t have said it like that!” Actually, it would probably just make me neurotic. What was your most helpful tool? Was it the Stephen documentaries?
REDMAYNE: Good question.
LAWRENCE: I know! And I just came up with it, too.
REDMAYNE: I think you’ve got a sideline. Oprah beware. [both laugh] There was one documentary of Stephen and [ex-wife] Jane [Hawking] from the 1980s. It’s the only footage I could find of Stephen speaking, and he’s almost incomprehensible. The illness has really taken hold of his physicality. He can still move, but it was a very specific physicality. You could still see the mischief in him, the glint in his eye. I had these three images in my trailer—one was Einstein with his tongue out, another was James Dean, because Stephen is just effortlessly cool. He has this kind of shambolic confidence to him. And the last one was a joker in a pack of cards, a marionette with a puppet, because when you meet Stephen—I describe it as a “Lord of Misrule” quality—he’s got a great sense of mischief. I worked with a dancer as well, an amazing woman called Alex Reynolds. My instinct was to try to learn the different stages of the physicality like a dance. Like learning steps, you never have a hold of it—I’m a shit dancer by the way—but once you know the steps, you can then play. So we went to these ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] clinics in London to become educated in the specifics of the disease. Then I’d go to a studio and Alex would film me walking with a dropped foot or something, and we would go and scrutinize it. It’s one of the things that you can’t see on your own. The other thing about ALS is that no one knows when it starts. You normally discover you’ve got it because you fall and go to the ER, and they’ll just bandage you up and send you home. It takes a really astute doctor to realize that the reason you fell was because your foot muscle has dropped. I take it that Stephen probably already had ALS from the outset of the film, so I tried to find the little details in his hands and stuff that Alex would just be rigorous with. And you know how, quite often, people don’t understand how actors work and so they treat us with kiddie gloves?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, like a land mine.
REDMAYNE: Well, she came from the world of dance and she was like, “Do it again! Keep doing it, keep doing it!”
LAWRENCE: That’s great. And, by the way, great head smack. Was it your first fall?
REDMAYNE: Did we impress with the head smack? I don’t want to give away my trick.
LAWRENCE: I have to know it! I’ve been hit too many times.
REDMAYNE: [laughs] Okay, so the stunt guy—you can imagine he didn’t have much to do; it wasn’t The Hunger Games—he was so excited for the fall. He put out a crash mat and tied my hands behind my back and said, “Just fall!” I was like, “What?!” But for the close-up, he had me on my knees with my hands tied behind my back and there was a very subtly matted, painted pavement.
LAWRENCE: How did you get your head to bounce like that?
REDMAYNE: Because it was slightly soft.
LAWRENCE: Can you tell I do action movies? [laughs]
REDMAYNE: Aren’t you renowned for damaging yourself on the sets doing all your own stunts?
LAWRENCE: No. Renae Moneymaker, my stunt double, is. [laughs] Do you guys watch E! in the morning?
REDMAYNE: I don’t talk about it. It’s really been bad on this press tour. I come home from trying to pretend to know about astronomy and physics all day and turn on The Real Housewives.
LAWRENCE: Oh my God.
REDMAYNE: I know. It’s bad.
LAWRENCE: You watch Real Housewives, Eddie?
REDMAYNE: I’ve been a closet lover of faux-reality TV since The Hills. It’s bad.
LAWRENCE: I feel like I’m going to cry. We’re making a breakthrough. I went to Pump the other night to meet [restaurateur and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star] Lisa Vanderpump. I had her sign a bottle of vodka, and when she gave it to my friend who was with me at the Oscars, my friend said, “Jennifer, this is so much better than the Oscars!” [laughs] We took so many pictures with her. We were like, [referring to season four of the show] “Puerto Rico was a witch hunt. Brandi [Glanville] and Kyle [Richards] were so mean!”
REDMAYNE: I can’t believe the intricacies of their lives. I want to know how much of it’s a sham, how much of it is directed.
LAWRENCE: Me too! That’s why we’re fascinated by it, because, movies, I’m bored with. I know that that’s fake and blah, blah—except for the crash-mat Stephen Hawking.
REDMAYNE: I know, and then you see the helicopter shots in these shows that are substantially more expensive than anything in Theory of Everything, and you’re like, “How?” I’m also a complete sucker for the soundtracks, the teeny pop music.
LAWRENCE: What’s your favorite shitty reality TV show?
REDMAYNE: I’m a bit vintage. I go back to The Hills. Occasionally Audrina [Patridge] or Whitney [Port] will be on a website that I shouldn’t be looking at, and I’m like, “You know, I just want to check that they’re doing all right, because it’s my youth.” [Lawrence laughs] And the depressing thing is that it’s not my youth. I was too old to be watching those programs when I was watching them.
LAWRENCE: MTV sometimes plays them for, like, three hours, and that will just turn into my morning. Like, I’ll cancel shit.
REDMAYNE: So you’re a lady of leisure now? Are you finally having a moment off?
LAWRENCE: I am and I’m miserable. I was so excited to get time off, and now I don’t know what to do with myself. What do you do when you have time off?
REDMAYNE: Someone asked me today what I’ve been doing, and I felt like I had to really make up something to justify my-
LAWRENCE: Yeah. I’m like, “I paint—I’m a painter!” [laughs]
REDMAYNE: What do I do? I don’t know. I’m really shit at the piano. I play the piano.
LAWRENCE: I’m so happy you don’t have an answer.
REDMAYNE: And then I occasionally try to pretend to paint, again, badly. But this is the great luxury of not working: the moment you read a book that has nothing to do with work, you know you’re really relaxed. And I have a shit attention span. I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes.
LAWRENCE: Me too. I read two pages and I’m like, “Maybe I’ll just watch TV until the commercial break, and then I’ll finish the chapter.”
REDMAYNE: [laughs] Get some more Bravo on! But I’m curious, what are you going to do with your spare time?
LAWRENCE: Um. Sorry, I’m eating Chinese food.
REDMAYNE: Chinese? What time is it where you are?
LAWRENCE: This is my breakfast.
REDMAYNE: I’m impressed, Lawrence!
LAWRENCE: I had it for dinner and breakfast, and I ordered so much that I’ll probably have it for lunch.
REDMAYNE: Is it sunny and beautiful in Los Angeles?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. Where are you?
REDMAYNE: I’m in Turin. There’s a film festival here, and I’ve just arrived from Munich. But now I’m inspired by your Chinese food to go and have a shitload of pasta while I’m here. My fiancée saw some photos of me at the L.A. premiere, and she’s like, “Ed, you’re looking underweight.” I said, “Baby, I’ve got loads of sushi and juices.” And she was like, “That’s not what I’m talking about! I’m talking a fucking gigantic bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and a burger.” [laughs]
LAWRENCE: I hate you, by the way, for getting skinnier on a press tour. I only get fat. Because all I can eat is fast, hotel food.
REDMAYNE: Are you guys finished with Hunger Games now?
LAWRENCE: I think we’re done with the press tour. I’ve got, like, one more thing to shoot for Hunger Games. We just have one scene to do for the end.
REDMAYNE: It’s over? Wowzer. That’s quite intense. That’s, like, several years of your life.
LAWRENCE: I know. I’m not happy about it at all.
REDMAYNE: Wait, can’t they write some more?
LAWRENCE: I know, right? I would totally do it. And now Liam [Hemsworth]’s doing a movie in Australia for two months. It’s the longest that the three of us have ever spent apart.
REDMAYNE: Are you like siblings?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. We were just on the plane, and Josh [Hutcherson] was eating something that I don’t like—salmon or something. I was eating my own snack and he kept eating my snack. I was going to share with him because I’m not an asshole, but then finally I was like, “I can’t eat your snack. So it’s not fair that you’re eating my snack!” Our security guard just started laughing at us. And we were like, “It’s been a lot of years!” [laughs]
REDMAYNE: Speaking of salmon and planes, do you remember that time I saw you at the BAFTAs in London? It was about two years ago, when you guys were doing Silver Linings Playbook , and we were doing Les Mis. I’d flown in from Berlin that day and eaten some dodgy salmon on a plane. I was presenting with Sally Field. I did the red carpet, and I got in and we were in this bar and I remember I saw you there. We went into the BAFTAs and I was sitting behind Anne Hathaway, and as the lights went down—
LAWRENCE: “I’ve got to go!” [laughs]
REDMAYNE: I legged it down some stairs in the Royal Opera House just out of the auditorium and preceded to projectile vomit the entire way down the corridor!
LAWRENCE: Oh my God!
REDMAYNE: I know! It was horrific. And five minutes earlier, I had been chatting with you in the bar—but pale and sweaty.
LAWRENCE: I wish you had told me. I would’ve taken pictures!
REDMAYNE: I thought I got away with it. I was home within 20 minutes. I woke up the next morning still feeling pretty rough and turned on my phone and there were hundreds of text messages and e-mails because apparently Sally Field went on and said, “I was meant to be presenting with Eddie, but he’s currently being sick backstage.”
LAWRENCE: Oh my God!
REDMAYNE: I know! I was outed by Sally Field, but everyone just thought I was shitfaced. Anyway, so no more salmon on planes is the point of that story.
LAWRENCE: Oh yeah. No salmon on a plane. I projectile vomited from salmon. I can’t eat it anymore.
REDMAYNE: How many years has it been?
LAWRENCE: Um, four? No, longer.
REDMAYNE: That’s for life then. I give it like a year and a half after getting food poisoning from something, and then I start gorging on it again.
LAWRENCE: That’s what I think about tequila.
REDMAYNE: I hate tequila!
LAWRENCE: I’m always like, “Nope, I can never drink tequila again,” but …
REDMAYNE: Tequila is my salmon. I had a brutal experience with it at university. [laughs]
LAWRENCE: [Lawrence is disconnected and comes back on] I’m sorry. I think my publicist pulled the plug when I started talking about tequila. [both laugh]
REDMAYNE: So are you having Thanksgiving?
LAWRENCE: I’m flying to Kentucky tomorrow. That’s where everybody lives. That’s where my nephews are, so I go back there.
REDMAYNE: Are any of them actors?
LAWRENCE: No. Do you have actors in your family?
REDMAYNE: No, not at all. It’s a positively weird gene. How did you get into this?
LAWRENCE: When my parents were going to be working when I got off from school, they started me with theater. I didn’t really like it, and I only did it for a few weeks. I was 14, and then somebody took my picture on a street in New York, and then I read a screenplay for a film called Gracie ; it was about soccer. I had always sucked in school and hated sports, and then I read that and was like, “This I get! This I love!” I became so convinced that it was going to work out that I told my parents I was moving to New York. I look back and I’m like, “Oh my God. You were a fucking idiot! You could’ve died!”
REDMAYNE: I feel like the opposite. I never really committed to being an actor. It never felt like it would be possible, I guess.
LAWRENCE: You were very British and self-deprecating about it.
REDMAYNE: My parents are amazingly supportive, but my dad works with numbers, and the statistics of how few actors get … Did you ever stop to question it?
LAWRENCE: No, I never have. I was just like, “It’s going to fucking work!”
REDMAYNE: Absolutely amazing.
LAWRENCE: You seem very driven by fear.
LAWRENCE: Does that go away for you, or is that your fuel? Like, I’ll be afraid on the first day of work and then I feel it and then I’m driven by confidence. I don’t know if that’s tricking myself, because Silver Linings was the only time I felt scared the whole time.
REDMAYNE: Why was that, do you think?
LAWRENCE: Probably because I was out of my comfort zone. It was my first movie with David [O. Russell]. And he’s always shouting at you. [laughs] You’ll be doing a scene, and he’ll be like, “Say this! Do it the exact opposite way!” Or “Do the whole scene in slow motion!” It’s a way of pulling you away, which is why you’ll watch it and you won’t recognize yourself.
REDMAYNE: That’s extraordinary. And it’s interesting that you say that the first moment is fear, and then, from there, it’s confidence, generally. People ask, “Do you enjoy acting?” But you only have those specific few hours to do a scene, and then you drive home and wait for six months to find out how it went. You can’t go back and put in a new idea. Filming is about continuing to be alert and to think, and I find it quite exhausting. Certainly I would say that fear is a part of that.
LAWRENCE: You feel that with every job?
REDMAYNE: I do. I feel it when I’m playing a lead because I feel a sort of responsibility, but I also feel it almost more when you come in to do a couple days on something and you don’t have time to warm up. I would love to be able to free myself of that.
LAWRENCE: Well, don’t mess with it. Whatever you’re doing is really working. And there was no fear in your performance. I wouldn’t have been able to give myself up that much.
REDMAYNE: I’m sure that’s not true. And it can be a complicated way of living, though.
LAWRENCE: Yeah. That sounds miserable.
REDMAYNE: We’re working on it, Jen! [laughs] Bring on the tequila!