From Eton to the Oscars - the making of Eddie Redmayne
He never went to drama school and The Theory of Everything was his first lead role in a film. But Eddie Redmayne's talent was obvious as soon as he stepped on to a stage
It almost feels as if Eddie Redmayne, winner of the Best Actor prize at Sunday evening’s Oscars ceremony, has come out of nowhere. His performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything is, of course, a tour de force. He plays the scientist over the course of 30 years, from brilliant Cambridge student to world-famous and wheelchair-bound astrophysicist, portraying in closely observed and often painful detail the physical deterioration brought on by the onset of motor neurone disease.
But Redmayne cut an unlikely figure when he bounded on stage to accept his statuette, this sweet, freckly, puppyish boy. It’s not just that he’s young, although he certainly is that; most Best Actors win their Academy Awards when they’re in their mid-forties, and Redmayne is only 33. It’s also that he’s taken the award for his breakthrough role, the first leading part he’s ever had in a film.
The truth is, though, that Redmayne has been working away steadily for the past 13 years on both stage and screen. His first break came when he was 20, when his school drama teacher recommended him to the director Michael Grandage for the part of Viola in the Globe Theatre’s 2002 production of Twelfth Night. (Grandage described him as "‘troublingly beautiful" in the role.)
The school in question might have been significant: Redmayne is an old Etonian, an exact contemporary of Prince William’s (the two were both members of Pop, the flamboyantly waistcoated school society). His teacher, Simon Dormandy, was an inspiring figure: "he is still the person whose advice I seek," says Redmayne.
Redmayne’s background is solid, Chelsea establishment, his father, Richard, a banker, his mother, Patricia, the head of a relocation business. Eddie was the only one of his four siblings who was drawn towards the arts. His mother has said that her son is "a performer and has been ever since he was five and he first started singing at school. I remember at his 21st birthday one of his friends gave a speech saying they were looking forward to seeing him at the Oscars."
Redmayne didn’t train as an actor. After Eton he headed up to Cambridge, where he studied art history. He was part of a notable generation of young British actors at the university, making friends with Tom Hiddleston and Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens.
After his success in Twelfth Night, Redmayne continued to work on the stage. He picked up awards for his role in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? in 2004, and in 2010 he was recognised with Olivier and Tony Awards for his part as Mark Rothko’s (fictional) young assistant Ken in John Logan’s Red, which took him from North London’s Donmar Warehouse to Broadway.
Redmayne has never been afraid to take on difficult roles, using his almost unnerving beauty to great effect. In his first film, Like Minds (2006), he played a schoolboy suspected of murder, and in 2007’s Savage Grace, he played a boy having an incestuous relationship with his mother, played by fellow Oscar-winner Julianne Moore.
Playing Hawking, though, has been his biggest challenge. Redmayne was assiduous about his research, talking to MND sufferers and their families, studying film footage of Hawking and working with a choreographer to get his physical performance absolutely right. Shooting the film out of sequence, he carried a vast scroll of paper to pinpoint Hawking’s physical state at any given moment.
When I met Redmayne in December 2014, the most striking thing about his attitude to the role was his sense of responsibility. You hear it in the speeches he’s given since the awards started rolling in (he won the Bafta for Best Actor, as well as the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild Award).
"[The Oscar] belongs to one exceptional family: Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children," he said when accepting his Oscar. "And I will be its custodian."
There is a steadiness, too, in his private life: he recently got married to Hannah Bagshawe, who he’s known since they were teenagers.
Where will Redmayne’s career take him next? He’s currently filming The Danish Girl under the direction of Tom Hooper. In it he plays the painter Einar Wegener, who in 1930 became one of the first people to change sex, a throwback to his Eton days, when he was often cast in female parts out of necessity. Ladbrokes are already offering odds of 12/1 that Redmayne will win the Best Actor award again next year. Quietly, almost by accident, he has taken a seat at Hollywood’s top table.