Eddie Redmayne felt so much pressure in preparing to play Stephen Hawking in “Theory of Everything” that his first meeting with the famed scientist got off on the wrong foot.
“It could not have been more catastrophic,” Redmayne joked to the audience after TheWrap Awards Season Screening Series presentation of the film at The Landmark Theater in Los Angeles on Monday. “I was so nervous, and I hate silence, and I had done all this research on him. So, I basically ended up spewing all this research at him, telling him all about himself. And he was just looking at me, like ‘Really?'”
The meeting got better after that initial awkwardness, and Redmayne spent about three hours with Hawking, during which the scientist could only say about eight or nine sentences to his visitor. But it was enough, and Redmayne came away with an understanding of Hawking that’s clearly carried over into his performance.
“His wit and that sense of mischief were really what we took away,” he said during a Q&A moderated by TheWrap Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman.
The actor has been impressing critics and audiences for his incredibly realistic and physically transformative performance as the physicist, whose diagnosis of motor neuron disease at the age of 21 was considered a death sentence — but which he ultimately managed to survive with the help of his first wife, Jane.
Felicity Jones plays Jane in the James Marsh film — which is based on Jane’s own memoirs — and when she met her real-life counterpart, she too found inspiration that’s demonstrably carried over to her performance.
“She has this ability to command a room. There is something of that battle general in her,” Jones said of the real Jane Hawking, who stubbornly refused to give up on Stephen after his diagnosis, even as his own family tried to prepare her for the worst.
“They are a true match for each other,” Jones said of Stephen and Jane. “They’re both academics. There’s wit, there’s a sort of intellectual curiosity. In meeting her, there was just so much more to put into the characterization.”
For Redmayne, there was also the physical element to his characterization of Hawking, who slowly but surely lost feeling and control of his muscles.
Redmayne detailed a process of determining which of Hawking’s muscles he lost control of in which year, and finding the right way to carry that physical manifestation in Redmayne’s own body. He described it as a form of dance, and took instruction from a dancer, Alex Reynolds.
“I really tried to learn those physicalities like dances, so you can really riff on it when it came to playing the story,” he said. “So you weren’t even thinking about it, you were just inside of it.”
Both actors agreed that it’s Hawking’s effervescence and the aforementioned wit and sense of mischief that’s resonated and stayed with them.
“Someone once asked Stephen what was the greatest mystery in the world,” Jones shared of a quintessential Hawking moment. “And he just paused and wrote, ‘Women.'”
Watch the video of the interviews above.