Sometimes, harsh weather is awesome. Case in point: I attended a private reception for the upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything last night--which coincided with some nasty Chicago rain. After ten minutes of waiting in the Showplace ICON theatre's empty VIP lounge, I wondered if I'd made a horrible scheduling mistake.
Fortunately, I was soon joined by fellow critics/new friends Erika Olson from Redblog, and Jeanne and David Kaplan of Kaplan vs. Kaplan. We snacked, sipped, and collectively wondered where the hell everyone was. Twenty minutes into the event, star Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) strolled up to our group and plopped down in a black wooden chair (refusing to let anyone surrender one of our comfy white leather seats).
In total, Redmayne held court with six people for forty minutes--and not in a "ninetieth-stop-on-the-press-junket" way. He was casual, humble, open, and inquisitive, asking the group as much about our craft as film critics as we asked him about his amazing acting career. We also talked about the weather, and he marveled at The Windy City's eerie, rolling storm clouds (which, he remarked, are different than the ones back home in London).
I was recorder-free at the time, and can't offer up any quotes--but a few anecdotes stand out:
- Both Hawking and Redmayne attended the University of Cambridge. The actor once saw Hawking in person, from afar, but never imagined playing him in a movie.
- Redmayne's interest in science peaked at age thirteen. He was drawn to The Theory of Everything both by Hawking's genius and by an extraordinary life story he felt deserved wider appreciation.
- In preparation for filming, Redmayne spent over four months studying with doctors and patients at ALS treatment centers in the UK. The degenerative disease, he said, affects each person uniquely. He worked with a specialist to map out the particulars of Hawkings' movements, based solely on photographs taken at different phases of his life.
- Due to scheduling conflicts, Redmayne and Hawking couldn't meet in person until five days before shooting began.
- While on a break during filming of The Other Boleyn Girl, co-star Scarlett Johansson made a reference to The Big Lebowski--which Redmayne didn't understand. The theatre geek had spent his formative years not engrossed in classic cinema (he'd hadn't seen The Godfather, either). Johannson made a project out of asking everyone on set for their top five favorite films. She compiled a list that remains part of Redmayne's ongoing movie homework.*
A little after 7pm, Redmayne headed downstairs to introduce an advance screening of The Theory of Everything, and to participate in a Q&A hosted by The Chicago Sun-Times' Bill Zwecker. He posed for some quick pictures beforehand and warmly wished us a great evening. I didn't get to tell him what I thought of his performance afterwards (you'll have to wait 'til November 14th to read my review of the film).
Suffice it to say, the Oscar drum beat isn't just awards-season noise. Eddie Redmayne is the real deal, a bona fide force of nature.
* Turns out this is not a new story, but Redmayne's delivery was as fresh as if it had happened last week.