At 32, he’s getting major Oscar buzz for his turn as world-famous theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything, but perhaps the most important critical praise English actor Eddie Redmayne has gotten comes from the man himself.
In a video detailing the Eton-educated star’s transformation into the wheelchair-bound scientist stricken with ALS, Hawking himself praises the performance.
“I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed me very well,” Hawking says. “At times, I thought it was me.”
Redmayne spent time with ALS patients and worked with a choreographer to learn how to mirror the physical manifestations of Hawking’s devastating illness, which he was diagnosed with at 21. Given two years to live when diagnosed in the early 1960s, Hawking went on to become one of the most famous scientists in history – despite being paralyzed and unable to speak.
The film is based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Hawking’s ex-wife Jane. The couple remain friends and both spent time on the movie’s Cambridge set.
“Jane would just ride up on her bicycle,” Felicity Jones, who plays the former Mrs. Hawking, told PEOPLE recently. “They both were incredibly generous to us.”
As for Redmayne, he confesses to being intimidated by the idea of portraying Hawking.
“I was so nervous,” he said at the Toronto Film Festival. “Then five days before we started filming I was lucky enough to meet him. I basically was so nervous, I just vomited forth information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking. He just sat there and took it and was like, ‘Yeah, I know. I am me.’ ”
He didn’t need to worry. After Hawking saw the film for the first time, the filmmakers say that a nurse wiped a tear away from the famed scientist’s eye.
Says Hawking: “I think Eddie’s commitment will have a big emotional impact.”