In last year’s The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne transformed into a young Stephen Hawking, depicting the cosmologist’s debilitating battle with ALS. His latest role called for an even more dramatic departure: a transgender woman.
Based on a true story, The Danish Girl finds the Oscar winner playing Lili Elbe, a trans woman who was one of the first to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. (Swedish star Alicia Vikander plays Gerda Wegener, Elbe’s wife who supported her through the transition.)
“There’s a certain fear that goes into playing any character, but really it felt like an extraordinary privilege [playing Lili]. She is an astounding woman,” the actor told reporters Saturday at the movie’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere. “The notion of transitioning and having confirmation surgery could almost lead to death. But her courage, her will to live a life true to herself, she felt that was more valuable.”
Redmayne, 33, met with trans women of all ages to prepare for the role and says the more research he did, the more one sentiment stuck out to him.
“What I found astounding, in relation to Lili’s story, is that almost 100 years on – I know there is a conversation going on at the moment, and that is wonderful – but there is still so much progress that needs to happen,” he said.
“It’s amazing, this conversation, and that the world is becoming educated. But I think there’s still a long way to go,” Redmayne added, noting the discrimination against and high suicide rate among the trans community.
As for Vikander, 26, she had an interesting tie to the LGBT community, thanks to her father.
“My dad, actually, he’s a psychiatrist and had worked with a lot of transgender people, so the support and ideas I got from him was incredible,” she told reporters of tackling the role.
And Redmayne says the film opened his eyes in more ways than one.
“I suppose that I had been incredibly ignorant beforehand, and I don’t … it never occurred to me that gender is fluid. There is a sort of spectrum,” he said. “The idea of the masculine and the feminine: Like, what is masculine? Is sport masculine? Is arty things feminine? I think it’s kind of antiquated, the notion of that now. There’s a spectrum, and we all fit on it somewhere.”