The actor opened up to Out Magazine about what it was like to play the woman recognized for pulling off the first successful gender reassignment surgery, how he prepared for the role for three years, and how he thinks gender issues should be addressed in society today.
“It’s a civil rights moment,” he says. “My greatest ignorance when I started was that gender and sexuality were related. And that’s one of the key things I want to hammer home to the world: You can be gay or straight, trans man or woman, and those two things are not necessarily aligned.”
Although Redmayne has played gay men on stage before, including the gay son of a fictitious American president in 2008 production of “Now or Later,” he explained the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe was different.
“I knew nothing about it, going in,” he says. “It felt like it was a piece about authenticity and love and the courage it takes to be yourself.”
To prepare for the role, he spoke to various cisgender people, including “Jupiter Ascending” director Lana Wachowski, Paris Lees and April Ashley, now 80, who was a former Vogue model whose career plummeted when her birth gender was revealed.
“People were so kind and generous with their experience, but also so open,” says Redmayne. “Virtually all of the trans men and women I met would say, ‘Ask me anything.’ They know that need for cisgender people to be educated. I felt like, I’m being given this extraordinary experience of being able to play this woman, but with that comes this responsibility of not only educating myself but hopefully using that to educate [an audience]. Gosh, it’s delicate. And complicated.”
Redmayne also mentioned the fact that trans issues have been in the public eye a lot recently, in light of Caitlyn Jenner transitioning and Laverne Cox being an active spokesperson for the transgender community.
“I absolutely salute [Jenner’s] courage,” said Redmayne. “Hers is a very specific story, and it’s one that shouldn’t stand for everybody’s. But it is amazing what’s she gone through and how she’s done it.”
But what playing Elbe has taught him the most about gender is the fact that “it’s fluid” and “that it needn’t be labeled.”
“The Danish Girl,” costarring Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard and Matthias Schoenaerts, will hit theaters Nov. 27.