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'Theory Of Everything' Probes Stephen Hawkings' Love, Not Theory

Jan 10, 2015
Originally published on January 10, 2015 11:31 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The movie awards season is upon us. Eddie Redmayne may pick up an armful of statuettes for best actor. He plays Stephen Hawking in "The Theory Of Everything." NPR's Linda Wertheimer spoke with Eddie Redmayne who portrays the British scientist during his rise to fame from his college days to the paralyzed genius who speaks through a computer.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: I understand you actually met Stephen Hawking a few times during the course of making the movie. And do you have any idea what he thinks about how the movie came out, about your performance?

EDDIE REDMAYNE: So he did go see the film. And I saw him just before the screening and I said to Stephen look, I'm very nervous. But please, you know, do let...

WERTHEIMER: Yeah.

REDMAYNE: ...Me know what you think. And he now takes them - he just uses these muscles around his eye to communicate. He has censors in his glasses. And he took a wee while to respond. And then he said in his iconic voice, he said I will let you know what I think, good or otherwise. And I was like OK, Stephen. If it's otherwise, perhaps you can just stick to otherwise. We don't need all of the things I got wrong.

But no, he's been incredibly generous about the film. And when we made the film, we had used an approximation, like, of his iconic voice. I mean, Stephen owns the copyright to the actual voice, to his voice. And after seeing the film, he gave us his voice so he's been wonderfully supportive.

WERTHEIMER: I would say that that was an affirmation. Now in the movie, we see Hawking healthy and active, going to college. And while he was still there, he was diagnosed with ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease - with a very grim prognosis, severely crippled within two years. Now, we have a clip from that time of his life. He is trying to face his future alone, and his girlfriend Jane, who is played by Felicity Jones, barges in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING")

FELICITY JONES: (As Jane Hawking) Are you going to talk about this or not?

REDMAYNE: (As Stephen Hawking) Excuse me, just go.

JONES: (As Jane Hawking) Is that what you want?

REDMAYNE: (As Stephen Hawking) Yes, it is what I want. So please, if you care about me at all, then please just go.

JONES: (As Jane Hawking) I can't.

REDMAYNE: (As Stephen Hawking) I have two years to live. I need to work.

JONES: (As Jane Hawking) I love you.

REDMAYNE: (As Stephen Hawking) You - you - that's a false conclusion.

JONES: (As Jane Hawking) I want us to be together for as long as we've got. And if that's not very long, well, then that's just how it is. It'll have to do.

REDMAYNE: (As Stephen Hawking) You don't know what's coming. It'll affect everything.

WERTHEIMER: Now, these two people married. Jane stayed with Stephen Hawking until 1990. Their relationship is one of the biggest parts of this movie. The film has been criticized, in fact, for sort of skipping over his accomplishments and concentrating on his relationships.

REDMAYNE: Yes, no - I mean, this film is based on Jane's autobiography. And really, this story is - for me - an investigation into love and love in all its guises, whether that is young love and passionate love. But also the love of family and love of a subject matter, but the complications and boundaries of love. There are so many documentaries that have been made that it felt like this was a different story. This was the personal element.

WERTHEIMER: What was the hardest part of this for you? I would think that it would be very difficult to contort your body and your face to resemble Hawking's. And then when you're sort of in that frozen position somehow manage to act.

REDMAYNE: I went to a neurology clinic in London, and they educated me on ALS. And I met maybe 30 or 40 people who suffer from this horrific disease, but also their families. And then I decided to work with a dancer because when you're filming, unfortunately, you don't shoot chronologically. So you're having to jump between different periods in Stephen's life and therefore different physicalities. And what I wanted to make sure was that those his physicalities were so embedded in me that I wasn't going to be playing a physicality, as it were, wasn't going to be playing the disease, but could actually just play the human story at the core of the piece.

WERTHEIMER: What about the speech? We know that Stephen Hawking speaks using a computer, so what did you do, just type up a script for the machine?

REDMAYNE: Well, we had some specialists who created a program pretty much identical to what Stephen had in that period. And quite often we would type it out for real, and that's been condensed in the editing process in the film. But what it creates is that, you know, if that's the only way you can communicate, then all that Stephen has is those muscles that he can use on his face; he's lost gesture, so where he's looking, what specific words he chooses to say and when he presses play, so you can't use tone of voice.

And so I remember when I met Stephen the first time, I was talking to him for a while ,and I was calling him Professor Hawking. And then the first thing he said to me is call me Stephen. And because it was in that voice, I couldn't work out whether he was saying oh, you know, call me Stephen or whether he was going, stop being so sycophantic; stop calling me professor. Call me Stephen. You know, it's very - it's really interesting because you can't really judge.

WERTHEIMER: Hawking himself is strongly atheist, he's rationalist, quite an unsentimental person in his public appearances. But in this film, you seem to be reaching for a way to demonstrate that he is an inspiring person. Did you talk about that, the difference between the man and the way you made the movie?

REDMAYNE: No. I mean, I think that for me, in my mind, there's no question that Stephen is an inspirational figure. This man was given two years to live. And rather than going to a sort of deep melancholy, which he did for a moment or two, he's chosen to - he says everyday beyond those two years has been a great gift.

SIMON: Eddie Redmayne in conversation with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about his role as Stephen Hawking in the film "The Theory Of Everything." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.