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Interview: 'The Theory of Everything''s Eddie Redmayne is a disaster with science

After playing Stephen Hawking, the actor only got slightly better at understanding the cosmos.

Check out Metro's video interview with Eddie Redmayne.

Eddie Redmayne is sorry when he discovers the film of “Les Miserables” — in which he plays moony revolutionary Marius — sometimes gets shown on a giant screen in Times Square. “I apologize for this. That’s not what you want to run into when you’re going down Times Square — a giant freckled head,” he says. He’s also forthright about his lack of scientific bona fides, despite playing no less than Stephen Hawking in the biopic “The Theory of Everything.” He essays the scientist from before he was hit with crippling motor neuron disease, viewing his life with his very patient wife Jane (Felicity Jones).

Have journalists been grilling you about science?

That was the great fear. I got through all of the “Les Miz” press tour, and everyone would say, “Would you sing something? Please sing something!” I thought at least this one would be easier. It was fine in Los Angeles, then I got to San Francisco, and there were all these tech science newspapers. They were like, “Tell me about string theory!” “Please, no! I’ll sing for you! I’ll sing!”

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Are you at all a science nerd?

Absolutely not. I gave up science when I was 14-years-old. I really am one o t hose people whose brain can’t cope with that. However hard I tried — and I did try hard — it didn’t take. I met one of Stephen’s old students, who’s now a professor in London. He was genuinely telling me about the intricacies of space time. And I was like, “No, no, no, back to the beginning. Imagine I’m seven.” But it was riveting, totally riveting. I like the idea that science is fluid, that Stephen would prove something than disprove himself. There’s these gigantic negotiations happening across the Atlantic. Someone will submit a paper here and it will be contradicted in Russia, then reaffirmed somewhere else. I find that international chess game amazing.

Are you better at understanding science now?

You know what? No. I’m a bit better. Someone asked me if I could give a lecture on all the things in the film, and I said, “I could. It would last about three minutes.”

When you met Stephen Hawking, what types of things did you pick up, especially given that you’re playing him even when he’s young and pre-disease?

By that point I’d done four months of research, reading everything and watching everything I could get my hands on. Stephen had gone from hardcore icon status to idol status. And suddenly I was sitting in front of him. Now it’s even more complicated for him to speak because he just uses on muscle. He has glasses with a sensor that goes to a cursor on the alphabet. It takes him a long while now to respond. I found myself with this extraordinary man and just…silence. And I started to fill the silence with air and information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking, basically. It was just really embarrassing. Eventually he was just looking at me, like, “Really?”

But he was incredibly kind. The thing I took away was he said his voice when he was younger was very slurred. There’s documentary footage from the ’80s of him speaking, and he’s completely incomprehensible to us. But Jane and his students understood him. His students would come to work for him early in order to learn how to understand him. I also saw his brilliant humor, razor-sharp wit and mischief.

You do spend a lot of the film smiling mischievously.

That smile when you’re with him, the world lights up. He uses it as shorthand, because it takes him so long to say things. A smile will be yes and an every so slight grimace will be no. I got to see first-hand how expressive his eyebrows are. I heard stories from Jane and his nurses. His one nurse said that she had just graduated from training and her first job interview was with Stephen Hawking. She spent all night researching, prepping on her medical stuff. She arrived to meet him and the one and only question he asked her was, “Can you make poached eggs?” I think she lied and said yes, and he hired her. [Laughs]

How about prepping for the physical aspect of your performance?

Every week or two I would go to a neurology clinic. They would tell their patients after a visit that there was this actor working on playing Stephen Hawking and ask if they would meet him. Across the board people said yes. They were at different stages of the illness. They would allow me to touch their hands, feel their muscles. Some would let me visit their homes and see the emotional ramifications on their families, but also see the physical things of how you adapt your house to fit the disease. That all was helpful with the filming.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge

 
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