Eddie Redmayne has won the lead actor Oscar for his indelible portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything in one of the competitive races at Sunday’s Academy Awards. Redmayne won over Michael Keaton for Birdman, Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game and Bradley Cooper for American Sniper.
Both Redmayne and Keaton won at the Golden Globes while Redmayne took the SAG and BAFTA trophies. With Redmayne’s victory, it means that the 11 last winners of the SAG best actor award have gone on to win the Oscar.
The 33-year-old British actor was praised by critics for delivering a visceral performance as the theoretical physicist overcoming motor neuron disease, providing inspiration and realistically reflecting the bittersweet love story with Felicity Jones, who portrayed Hawking’s wife, Jane.
“I am fully aware that I am a lucky lucky man,” he said in his acceptance. “This belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS,” a visibly humbled Redmayne added, referring to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, from which Hawking suffers. “It belongs – it belongs to one exceptional family – Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children.”
Redmayne – the latest British actor to crack Hollywood – is set to see his profile go cosmic after clinching the Oscar for his poignant and physically challenging portrayal of Hawking.
Redmayne built his reputation on the stage, television and as a supporting actor in several major films, but his first leading role as Hawking has elevated him to Hollywood’s A-list. The film is based on a memoir by Hawking’s wife Jane, played by fellow Oscar nominee Felicity Jones, and recounts their doomed love story.
The couple started dating in the 1960s at Cambridge University – before Hawking was diagnosed at the age of 21 with ALS. The film charts their relationship as his health declined and fame grew, until their marriage fell apart in the early 1990s.
Redmayne could have been left waiting for his first leading role had it not been for a beer-fuelled evening with director James Marsh. Despite having someone else in mind for the role, Marsh was convinced by Redmayne during a pub chat without the need for an audition.
Redmayne spent four months visiting people with motor neurone disease at a clinic in London and reading everything he could by Hawking. He also spent seven months preparing to play Hawking, mastering his physical decline into almost total paralysis as well as his dry wit, mischievous glint and lady’s man charm.
The result is a physical transformation that has been compared to Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance in My Left Foot. Hawking, now 72, has reportedly said there were moments watching the film when he thought he was watching himself, and was so impressed he allowed the director to use his trademark computerised voice.
Redmayne admitted he was “terrified” that Hawking might not like it, but that it was an honour to spend time with him – even if the first meeting started badly. Lost for words, the star-struck actor blurted out that they were both Capricorns, to which Hawking replied: “I’m an astronomer, not an astrologer.”
The son of a London banker with four siblings, Redmayne took acting classes from a young age and was a child extra in the West End production of Oliver! He attended the elite Eton school alongside Prince William and studied art history at Cambridge – the same university where Hawking still works.
Barely a year after graduating, Redmayne had a part in an all-male production of Twelfth Night by Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, and by 2004 had won his first theatre award. A few years later, he picked up both a Laurence Olivier award and a Tony award for his role as artist Mark Rothko’s fictional assistant Ken in the play Red.
He has appeared in a number of hit films including The Good Shepherd, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Other Boleyn Girl. He also played Marius in the Oscar-winning 2012 musical Les Miserables.
Like Cumberbatch, Redmayne is blessed with chiselled good looks and has modelled for luxury brand Burberry. On Sunday, he wore a midnight blue Alexander McQueen tuxedo with black accents.
“Redmaynia” may be cranked up even further with the recent release of the sci-fi movie Jupiter Ascending, the latest offering by The Matrix trilogy’s Andy and Lana Wachowski in which he plays a villain – with six-pack abs. – Reuters/Variety.com; AFP