When Eddie Redmayne picks up the phone, he’s got handlers waiting outside, already prepared to take him to rehearsal. He’s had a full morning. On this particular Thursday, Oscar nominations have been announced and his portrayal of astrophysicist and all-around genius Stephen Hawking has earned him a Best Actor nomination and his co-star Felicity Jones, who plays Mr. Hawking’s wife Jane, a Best Actress nomination.
“I was in Los Angeles and asleep and I was woken up with this rapping on the door, and it was my manager at the hotel with a phone with a cacophony of screams from the team of people who have been supporting me for years,” he says. “I went from naught to 100 in the space of three seconds. I’ve been flying on adrenaline ever since.”
And rightly so. His portrayal of Mr. Hawking, from able-bodied to wheelchair-bound, but with a mind that can take in worlds beyond ours, is the centerpiece of “The Theory of Everything,” which has also earned nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay. The two leads will be appearing this coming Thursday at the Arlington as they accept the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Vanguard Award. Mr. Redmayne will be returning to SBIFF after two years— he received a Virtuoso Award for his work on “Les Misérables.”
“Felicity and I have both been over the moon,” says Mr. Redmayne. “Felicity and I have been friends for a long time and we really, I think she’s such a formidable actress. We pushed each other so much on this film. It was an amazing partnership.”
For the two actors, it was a partnership they had never been able to explore until this film. Both auditioned for roles they never got, and both worked at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre under Michael Grandage. It was Mr. Grandage who in 2011 had cast Mr. Redmayne in Shakespeare’s Richard II, a role he says was challenging only because of the historical weight of the previous actors— Ian McKellen and John Gielgud— who had taken on the role.
But nothing really prepared Mr. Redmayne for the demands of this role. “The Theory of Everything” charts Stephen Hawking’s battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which has left him with a mind that can chart the cosmos, but a body that can barely move. He communicates through a computer that can read very small muscular movements. For Mr. Redmayne, he had to slowly reduce everything in his actor’s arsenal, working with his eyes and that smile. Later in the film, Mr. Hawking has to let Jane know that he’s leaving her, and Mr. Redmayne achieves it through the most minimal of ways.
“It was totally heartbreaking playing that scene, as it was in real time,” he says. “Each take was 15 minutes long. It was a long day, but it was a very intense one . . . It was all Stephen had, those few muscles that he could use for expression. What he was doing, where he’s looking, the choice of words he uses and when he presses play. The intonation, the gesture, the physicality is not available to him. He has to write them out before he says them. He cannot intonate a softness or a gentleness.”
Mr. Redmayne met with Stephen Hawking and his family before the film, and the astrophysicist came to set as well.
“The main thing I took away was his strength of character, his charisma and this lord of misrule quality, this mischief,” the actor says. “Above and beyond, there were a few facts he gave me, but it was this optimism above all else. He always finds humor and when he smiles the world is a greater place.” And Mr. Hawking’s final gift to the film was the rights to use the patented computer voice that has become the man’s trademark.
On the morning of the nomination, Mr. Redmayne had already talked to his co-star Ms. Jones and quickly done a press junket with her. Their friendship can definitely be seen there up on the screen.
“Felicity and I both love research, we both love rehearsals, we both love talking about it,” he says. “It was lovely to be on the same page with someone. And then to sort of throw it away in a sense. You do your homework and you hope it’s in your gut and registered in you.”
Santa Barbara International Film Festival Cinema Vanguard Award:
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
Information: (805) 963-0023, www.sbiff.org