Exclusive: One-on-one with Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne
After finding worldwide fame and acclaim, Redmayne tackles his biggest role yet in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne may well be a wizard. How else would you explain the ridiculous trajectory his career has taken in the last decade? In the ten years since his screen debut in 2006’s “The Good Shepherd,” Redmayne has won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, a Tony, and the big one - the Oscar for Best Actor. There’s even more than that, but there’s only so much room in one article. I don’t envy the man’s poor shelf having to hold up all that gold.
In the last five years, since his co-starring role in “My Week with Marilyn,” Redmayne has, anecdotally at least, gone from a promising up-and-comer to a household name. He’s built his reputation on his ability to portray real life figures - having been nominated for back-to-back Academy Awards for playing Dr. Stephen Hawking in the “Theory of Everything” and Danish painter Einar Wegener in “The Danish Girl.” He makes an impression not only through his skills as a mimic, but for his ability to bring their uncanny humanity to the surface. His performances are honest and full of empathy - it’s no wonder that audiences have latched on to Redmayne.
When Warner Bros. decided to dive back into the Harry Potter universe with a prequel film series, it was Redmayne who was the filmmakers’ first and only choice to be their wizard.
“He is quintessentially British, and an actor for all times who can play a character from any time,” says David Heyman, who produced the entire Harry Potter film series.
Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a character only mentioned in the Harry Potter films as the author of one of Potter’s textbooks - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The new franchise, named after the book, explores the life of Scamander, as he raced around the globe, protecting the helpless magical creatures scattered across J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
Before he accepted the role, Redmayne wasn’t without worry about the prospect of spoiling one of the world’s most beloved series. “I suppose the concerns were the natural ones - loving the Potter films so much that you don’t want to be the guys who arrive and screw it all up. But having that said, when we read the script, it had all the warmth and the whimsy of what I loved about those films, but it had a totally new take on the world, which gave you the confidence to feel like you could try, anyhow.”
For Redmayne, Rowling’s immense knowledge of her own world and its characters made playing Newt Scamander much like the historical figures he’s become accustomed to playing.
“I thought having played real people, where you have so much resource material, that this would be very different because it was fiction - but we had J.K. Rowling. In the script, she had drawn these characters so specifically, that they kind of leapt off the page. Also, we could speak with her while we were filming. They are very real in her imagination. Even though you see a just snippet of that in the film, she has the whole arcs of who the characters are.”
That doesn’t mean that Redmayne didn’t prepare. To play a character who has to interact with beasts that never existed, Redmayne spent time with real-life animal handlers, studying how they related to the creatures in their care.
“I met with zoologists and people who track animals to observe them in the wild, and they all talked passionately about feeling at one with the environment and celebrating nature. I did quite a bit of work on the extraordinary relationships between humans and animals and it lent a lot of physical and emotional elements to my performance.”
Though it has been his so-called “real people” that have brought him so much worldwide acclaim, Redmayne found exploring the world of Fantastic Beasts a creatively satisfying endeavor.
“I think it was the range of experience. I’ve never done a film where you get to do quite intimate scenes juxtaposed with the massive scale of some green screen moments. There’s one moment where I’m riding a huge creature, and the reality of shooting it was that I was on this gigantic green bucking bronco with two guys in full green suits flinging me around screaming about teapots and insects, to then working with puppeteers who were playing some of the other creatures.
“And working with actors so diverse and extraordinary - Dan [Fogler] is such a comedian - physically so brilliant. Someone like Colin [Farrell] who I’ve always admired, who has a wonderful dark quality. It’s the variety of the thing that was most fulfilling.”
While he gushes over the talents of his co-stars, the filmmakers can’t seem to stop singing the praises of Redmayne’s performance as Newt Scamander. “Eddie is brilliant at getting under a character’s skin and exploring every detail of a role, yet all that effort is invisible. All you see here is Newt - an outsider who is somewhat knotty but winning and engaging, someone you immediately invest in,” says Heyman.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in theaters now.