“The Theory Of Everything” is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. The film is now playing.
Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) received an earth-shattering diagnosis at 21 years of age. With Jane (Felicity Jones) fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of – time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed. Read our roundtable interviews with the film’s star Eddie Redmayne, Director James Marsh, and Writer/Producers Anthony McCarten below:
Can you talk about how you trained physically for the part. You said you worked with vocal coaches and a dancer?
So basically when I got cast my instinct was that everything would affect everything … because we weren’t shooting chronologically, how do you lose the weight that Stephen drastically does during the illness, when you can’t actually lose any weight during filming, so that involved working with the makeup designer. In the end for example, I lost like fifteen pounds before we started filming and then working with the costume department, the colors would start tight and I would be made up to look healthy and in the afternoon if I was playing ill … the clothes would be more oversized and where Benoît shot from [would change], and whether we got the props department to oversize the wheelchair so I looked smaller within it and all of these things.
Jane was conducting and getting everyone to communicate with each another which is slightly rare on a film set. For the physical aspect, I visited ALS patients for four months every two weeks and with a specialist, she and I with Alex who is an amazing choroegrapher and dancer I decided to work with, we would take photos of Stephen when he was younger before the 80’s because there was no documentary material and by looking at those photos and what date they were, the specialist would go, “By the way his hand was holding Jane, you could tell the hand was gone by this point” … and by looking at youtube videos of Stephen recently in zero gravity, you see him out of the chair and you can see which parts of his body are rigid. So trying to work out and project what his decline would have been and then working with the dancer to try to access muscles I haven’t used before to try and put that in my body, and then a lot of time in front of the mirror by myself with documentaries literally trying to replicate. And then I went to the Queens Square Neurology Clinic in London. They have speech therapy department to help people with ALS … and I worked with a vocal coach to try to put that in my body.
How did you shake off your role emotionally?
I’ve got to say it was a pretty intense seven or eight months. I haven’t worked since, it did take a while. I’m not a method actor, I don’t quite understand what that is, but certainly the amount of time that had gone into that prep in particularly and the physicality – spending all those months before, so the physicality was so embedded that I could jump between different periods in the same day, and also not be thinking about the physicality just to play with Felicity, playing the human story. There was a physical [aspect] and it just took a while to come out, and I’m still trying to make sense of it. I suppose I would have long baths at the end of the day.
Can you tell me how symbiotic the acting was with Felicity?
Well symbiotic is probably the word that I feel that Jane and Stephen had for a long time. And Felicity she’s an old friend, we started at … theater in London. Michael Grandage had directed there, he was a great supporter of both of ours and I admired her hugely from afar, so when I found out that she was doing it, it was great because we leapt into a level of trust already. It was rancidly hard for her because … every scene I would come with limitations … So much of the heavy lifting was her work … And also Jane is less known that Stephen, so she could have chosen to take her and play her any way that she wanted, but she was rigorous about finding the truth of Jane credibly with amazing strength and fragility, and her voice work and physicality was really extraordinary to watch.
Has there been a moment in your life when the concept of time struck you personally?
I think this film was so all so encompassing. Yesterday, was Felicity’s birthday and I remember the day when we were shooting the beach scene, and it was her birthday and we were having dinner in this hotel and I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, how come it feels like nothing has happened and now everything’s happening.
Do you see love in a different way now?
Reading Jane’s and Stephen’s story the idea love being pulled – yeah, for me I describe it as an analysis of love in all of its guises, so young love, passionate love, family love, but also passion and love for the subject matter … the boundaries of love and what fails, so it’s been an education.
Director James Marsh
What are the basic elements that turn a basic love story into a classic?
I think all love stories, as I begin to understand it, end in failure – either death or an actual failure between the people that’s just a given. So they’re all tragic and this has very specific details that made it interesting, the obstacles and impediments between the characters are so both unusual and trying for them. That does end in a failure essentially, so I think a classical love story tends to end badly, a romantic comedy does not. This isn’t a romantic comedy … In this case there’s so many interesting aspects of it, given their characters, not just the disability, not just their academic life, not just the physics. Jane is a very strong woman. I’ve met her, she’s a staunch woman and Felicity caught that so beautifully. It’s a unique love story, but aren’t they all?
Although this was successfully a love story, there is still an underlying presence of science. How did you go about crafting the science?
We tried to make it very simple in a way. I felt if I got it, then you would … So I put myself as a fairly ignorant person but interested in some of this stuff. Obviously, the universe is a big question and Stephen’s inquires are about that – the origins of our very existence in a very profound way. But my idea was to make it simple and playful and visual and I remember thinking about Isaac Newton and his apple, that anecdote and Archimedes and his bathtub. I can understand those, that really works for me, so I tried to bring that kind of playful anecdotal quality to the visualizations of the ideas … there are maybe three or four of them in the film overall, but it really was always a portrait of a relationship, not an exploration of scientific ideas.
Both of them are very strong, but very different characters.
What I liked about the screenplay was the equality of point of view between Stephen and Jane, that’s what really drew me to it, was this female perspective. What would it be like to be the wife, the lover, the mother in this situation. And that’s why Felicity’s performance was so important to me and to give her a strong voice. The first screening of the film, everyone’s take was, “Oh my gosh, it’s about Jane!” Oh, how did that happen? … I’d been so intrigued by [her]. Then of course as you work through it, it became more balanced between the two of them, but it’s definitely a joint film with two characters and that’s what I liked about it. Felicity played it so beautifully and it was so enjoyable to see what she did with the character. It was great to have this quality of point of view in the story.
What was the last thing you cut?
We didn’t lose a lot actually. The screenplay, by the time we got to do it, we all worked on it quite a bit. Eventually, the actors also had a contribution to the screenplay. Eddie would bring things that he was learning from this research and Felicity to shape the screenplay, so we lost maybe half a dozen scenes. I guess there were one or two. I think the scene that causes the most trouble is the break up scene in terms of how to get that right. It was a very long intense day of shooting and there were options in that we took a long time to get the balance correct. It’s such an awkward scene. One person in the separation can’t even talk and so how do we show this very profound moment in their lives in one scene. And that was difficult to get right, but there were no painful cuts actually.
Writer/Producer Anthony McCarten
What do you think are the basic elements that turn a love story into a classic?
It’s gotta resinate with you, it’s gotta be truthful, it has to tell you something about love that you knew, but never saw expressed before, so it has to have something new about it to be a great love story. And yet it has to be timeless as well. It has to have that universal aspect, which I hope this does. I hope that there is something universal in there about the give and take that’s sometimes necessary to allow a relationship to last because we’re all so black and white. Usually in our love affairs – we have such hard lines and if someone steps outside those hard lines it’s over. Just look at the divorce statistics, we’re not very flexible, and I think it’s because we’re not generally sophisticated in dealing with it. Perhaps the French are.
How much research did you have to do to capture the physicality of that role?
I did a little research, but not as much as Eddie did. I knew the stages because I studied Stephen’s story in high detail, but I didn’t have to show it, I just had to say what stage he’s at. He was either walking unaided, he was walking with one walking stick, two walking sticks, he was in the wheelchair, but could speak, then he could be in the wheelchair but couldn’t speak … and then Eddie and James had to work out the fine details of that.
Did you have to rewrite some stuff for Jane’s approval?
Not for the approval. Jane came in and would say stuff like “Stephen wouldn’t say this word. This song wasn’t playing in 1968, not in March 1968. That record came out in October 1968.” She was great! She is Dr. Jane Hawking, she has a PHD in Poetics. She is very smart. We also hired a physicist from King’s College in London to just check that my layman analogies about the movie, that the physics was right. Yeah, so changes were made in that regard. We made some changes in terms of the economics. There were scenes in Russia, San Francisco, etc. Steven was a big world traveler, and there were scenes here and there in their traveling, but we realized that we would be spending too much to budget on that and not on what really counts, so we made changes like that.
After all the time you put into this, how do you feel seeing it finally on the big screen?
The little child in me wants to say “I told you so.” I knew it was going to be good, but it was so hard to get people to believe that for so long. I think they thought wheelchair, physics, sure he’s an extraordinary character, but come on! This is cinema, this is Hollywood.