Eddie Redmayne is very aware of how much has changed in the last couple years. Mainstream acceptance of the trans community has been on the rise, and there is now greater demand for trans roles to be played by trans actors, as with Laverne Cox on “Orange is the New Black” and the cast of “Tangerine.” Redmayne, to his credit, took the subject very seriously as soon as he was involved with “The Danish Girl,” about Lili Elbe, one of the first people to transition from male to female, a number of years ago. The Oscar-winner talks about how his education meant more to him than just doing a film.
You actually won your Oscar for “The Theory of Everything” while you were shooting “The Danish Girl.” That must have been a gear-shift.
We were quite in the thick of shooting. I flew out to Los Angeles with my wife, and it was the most frenzied, adrenaline-fueled two days of euphoria and excitement. There was so much adrenaline pumping into my body I can barely remember any of it. The next thing I knew we were back on set, doing a scene where Lily was undergoing surgery. I was lying there on this bed and the whole thing felt like this weird dream. Very odd.
You were involved with this for a few years before it was finally greenlit. That seems like it would give you extra time to research and get it right.
Exactly. Until it was greenlit, it was more about learning for my own sake. I’d been attached to it, then it didn’t look like it was happening. Then when I was working with Lana Wachowski [on “Jupiter Ascending”], I mentioned Lili and Gerda [her former wife, played by Alicia Vikander] to her, and she was incredibly passionate about her story and spoke so eloquently about Gerda’s paintings of Lili. She pointed me to where I should start educating myself. Then once it got greenlit, I started meeting members of the trans community from different generations. Everyone was so stunningly generous in sharing their experiences in order to educate me. Above and beyond the film, life-wise it was an amazing thing.
What kinds of things in particular did you learn?
I’d always summed that being transgender involved some form of physical transformation, and I realized that’s absolutely not the case. It’s entirely to do with what’s in one’s mind. Whether one has undergone any physical changes is neither here nor there. All the women I talked to described how they had known from a very early age that they were a different gender than that which they’d been assigned at birth. What was important for me was that when Lili was living as Einar, she was uncomfortable in this guise. There was an amazing drawing of Lili when she was living as a man. She had these high starched collars and this tailored suit. It almost looked like a scaffolding that she had put on herself as a consequence of trying to keep up this masculinity.