Tuesday 20 February 2018

Magical world of Eddie Redmayne

From real life characters to the fantastic world of JK Rowling, Eddie Redmayne gets it right every time

Eddie Redmayne in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'
Eddie Redmayne in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'
Eddie Redmayne with his wife Hannah Bagshawe

Anne Marie Scanlon

'Aww, Bless," is, to my mind, the most patronising, condescending thing a person can say. And yet the entire time I spend with Eddie Redmayne, it's right there on the tip of my tongue and it is a struggle to keep it from passing my lips.

Rationally I know I am sitting with a 34-year-old man, an actor of such accomplishment that he swept up an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild Award for best actor for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The following year he was again nominated for all of the above for his role as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. He's also won a Tony Award.

I know all of this. But my brain keeps telling me that I'm with a very exuberant teenage boy - the type any mother would be proud to call her son. It's not that Redmayne is especially youthful looking and he certainly doesn't have that supernatural "glow" that only access to the very best healthcare and cosmetics can bring (there are actually some, gasp, lines on his face). Unlike his old classmate Prince William, he also has a fine head of hair. Yes, Redmayne is posh - very posh, he went to Eton followed by Cambridge and, as such, has found himself frequently lumped in with other posh actors (such as Tom Hiddleston, Damian Lewis and Dominic West) in the on-going UK debate around whether only the privileged can afford to go into the arts.

Despite his "pedigree", in person the actor's poshness seems to be contained to his good manners. He's not stodgy though, he exudes energy and exuberance - it's these qualities coupled with the jumper he's wearing that give him the aura of a teenager. Small wonder then that he is the latest "Boy Wizard" to hit cinema screens, as Newt Scamander in JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

During our time together Redmayne frequently talks about his wife, PR executive Hannah Bagshawe, who he obviously adores. (The couple married in 2014 and their daughter Iris was born earlier this year.) It's this that's triggering my inner "Aww, Bless". Every time Redmayne says the words "my wife" I have to suppress the urge to pat him on the arm.

As we speak, it becomes clear that Redmayne possesses a wonderful imagination. While telling me about the rather unique audition process for what is sure to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, it becomes apparent that the star can spin a good yarn himself. Redmayne has my rapt attention as he unfolds his tale of several meetings with director David Yates (Tarzan and the last four Harry Potter films).

"I didn't know anything about it, it was all super-cryptic and David invited me to a club in Soho, he was sitting by a fire and he started telling me this story." I'm picturing him in a smoking jacket I say, "Practically," he replies before continuing, "and every few months, because JK Rowling hadn't finished the script yet, I'd go back for another instalment."

While he may not have the cut-glass accent of many of his school and university contemporaries, Redmayne does have the self-deprecating air of a true Englishman. "I have this little case," he tells me. "It's my work case. I take it to set and the first time I met David, it's the most embarrassing thing, I'd come straight from work and I'd brought this little case and half way through he says 'and Newt has this case...'

"There was an embarrassing time when I was starting out as an actor, that lots of us would get dressed up for auditions to basically look like the guy," he says with a laugh.

"You'd put a weird Napoleon outfit on for the Napoleon part... so when David said about the case I felt really embarrassed and said, 'I promise I didn't know this; I didn't come with the case deliberately'."

I'm similarly entranced when the actor tells me about how he proposed to his wife. "In the middle of nowhere, in the hills outside of Florence. About two minutes after I proposed, and you're having that moment of absolute excitement, and then round the corner come two tourists." (He puts on a typical Valley Girl accent) 'Oh my God, can I have a selfie?'" Most people would be quite within their rights to tell strangers to butt out at such a moment but I get the impression this was never an option with Redmayne and tellingly he adds: "There is a selfie out there somewhere of literally seconds after we got engaged."

While Fantastic Beasts is set in New York in the 1920s, the plot has been shrouded in secrecy. Advance trailers show actor Colin Farrell in a role that has "baddie" written all over it. Given the imagery, it looks as if there is some sort of wizarding parallel being drawn between Colin Farrell's character and the rise of Fascist leaders in the interwar period in Europe.

Redmayne won't be drawn further than saying. "I think everyone knows that JK Rowling is incredibly politically engaged and is, I think, a formidable artist and what great artists do is reflect what is going on in the world. There are many themes in the film, about segregation, about repression, that are absolutely woven into the piece and the danger of those things."

Similarly, Redmayne can't say enough nice things about Farrell. "It was wonderful (working with him). I've always admired Colin and he has a great reputation of being an incredibly kind man and he was."

Redmayne goes on to tell me about going to Comic Con (a massive convention for fans of movies, fantasy, science fiction and comics). "We went to Comic Con to present this film, it's totally insane and crazy. I had to go on in front of thousands of people and... I'm not built for that, I don't know how to do that, and I was really nervous. Before I went on, Colin gave me a pep talk. He's a very generous man."

Despite Colin Farrell's intervention, the convention wasn't without hiccups. "I handed out 5,000 wands (Newt's wand) but then when I got back on stage, I was supposed to do a spell and realised I'd handed out my own wand as well. I had to run off stage and ask to borrow a wand. I did the spell and... this girl was waiting to take back her wand. I thought, 'wait a minute, everybody in that room has a Newt wand except me.'"

The truth is, Eddie Redmayne doesn't really need a wand to weave magic.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens nationwide November 18

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