In The Theory of Everything
, Eddie Redmayne
plays Stephen Hawking
in a performance that's already winning Oscar buzz. The movie gives us a young Hawking, and shows us how he fell in love with his first wife, Jane Wilde, whom he met while studying at Oxford in the early 1960s. From there we watch him react to a diagnosis of motor neurone disease
, which increasingly debilitates him until he is unable to communicate without assistance. We spoke with him recently about his work on the movie, and here's what he had to say.Zimbio: The first thing I wanted to ask about is how much time did you spend with Stephen Hawking?Eddie Redmayne:
I met Stephen maybe four or five days before we started filming, which was an amazing experience. I’d spent four or five months preparing and so by this point — he has iconic status anyway — but by this point he was a complete idol of mine. So I was incredibly nervous when I met him. We got to spend a few hours with Stephen and some of his carers. And Felicity and I went and spent an evening with Jane, Stephen’s first wife, and Jonathan, her husband. So we got to spend a lot of time with the Hawkings.I read that you have the same sign as him and you brought that up.
Yeah, this is true. So when I met Stephen, now it's difficult for him to speak because he uses this muscle here in his eye to communicate. And so it takes a long time for him to speak, or to say sentences. I was so nervous meeting him, that I just literally was just talking complete and utter gibberish at him, about him, and eventually I was just running out of things to say. And in a desperate attempt to fill the silence, I was saying how he was born on Gallileo's birthday, on the eighth of January, and I was born on the sixth of January. I was saying, "We're both Capricorns," and as I said it, I was like "Why
did I just say that?". He started typing away, and about six minutes later, he said, "I'm an astronomer, not an astrologer." And I don't think I've ever felt so small in my life.That's one of the things people don't really realize about him. He's such a witty guy, like in his writing, and he does cameos on Star Trek and things. Were you able to get a sense of his sense of humor while you were spending time with him?
Absolutely. That was one of the great things I took away from him. He has an extraordinary sense of humor. Also, because he takes so long to write things now he has this extraordinary capacity for one-liners that knock everything else out of the park. And his timing is extraordinary. I love the fact that he's embraced all the shows that he's been on. It's great watching him. Can you tell me about his reaction to the film? How did he feel about the finished product?
Well I saw him just before he went to sit, and I said to him, "Stephen I'm really nervous you're seeing it. I hope you enjoy it, but let me know what you think. And he took a while to type out what he was saying, and he said, "I will let you know what I think, good or otherwise," were his words. And I was like, "Okay, if it's 'otherwise,' maybe just say 'otherwise.'"That's a lot of pressure!
The greatest thing was after seeing the film — when we made the film we used a synthesizer approximation of his famous voice — and after seeing the film, he incredibly generously allowed us to use his voice. And he's been hugely supportive. So that meant the world for me.One of the things about this movie is the way that it approaches spirituality and atheism — this has always been sort of a running theme in Stephen Hawking's work, and not just his work, but the people who talk about his work. So I wonder how the people who were acting in the movie paid attention to the spirituality theme in the film.
Well I think it's a really interesting theme in the film because Jane was very religious, and is religious, and Stephen wasn't, and it was sort of the polar opposites meeting. But the idea that you can live whilst having completely different philosophies perhaps, that you can live together as a team. But when you're playing someone, I do everything not to judge them or to put my own opinions on anything, so actually it was very easy to get inside — definitely not easy to get inside Stephen's brain — but to get inside his mindset I suppose. And I hope that one of the themes the film addresses is this conversation between science and religion.I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to run down a few Stephen Hawking glossary terms, and sort of test your knowledge.
Oh no! This is my worst nightmare. [Laughs]I have a few things written on this scrap of paper. How about Hawking Radiation? Do you know what Hawking Radiation is?
Yeah.Okay, what is Hawking Radiation?
[Laughs] Do you want me to say?Well I'm looking for a little bit.
Okay, Hawking Radiation is basically when you have a singularity, and you have these black holes, and it was always thought that gravity was pulling everything in, that it was sucking it in like a whirlpool, and Stephen realized there were these photons that were actually being split, and there were some, therefore, that were emanating from the black hole.Pass!
Is that a pass? Is time up? Tell me his time's up! [Laughs]Cosmological inflation! Go.
Oh no no no no. Time is counting. Okay, I have no idea. Keep going.Okay, Second Law of Black Hole Dynamics.
No! No, I knew we shouldn't have gone here.[Whispering] Event Horizons. Event Horizons!
Event Horizons! Oh I love a good event horizon. They're great for sci-fi and stuff.The General Theory of Relativity?
Yeah well, that's where you've got quantum and relativity, and he was attempting to combine those two things. And what I love about Stephen's science is that science continues to be nebulous and continues to change, and people's opinions keep changing and therefore.... is his time up? Yes, yes! Time is out! [Laughs]The bell has rung.