Movie stars hardly come more charming than Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the extraordinary young British performers who star in The Theory of Everything. They’ve earned best actor and best actress nominations from the Academy this year for portraying the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane Wilde. Redmayne, a tall and chiseled Cambidge grad, and Jones, a pretty and petite Oxford alum, made a very polished and likeable impression on the crowd at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday night, handling the evening’s clips plus question and answer format with grace and humor. The Hollywood Reporter’s Lead Awards Analyst Scott Feinberg conducted the interview, and Theory screenwriter Anthony McCarten gave a funny and generous speech about the young and talented pair before presenting them with their awards.
The red carpet heated up early with the arrival of McCarten, whose screenplay is also nominated for an Oscar. In an interview on the way in to the tribute he described how he won the rights to Jane’s autobiography, saying, “I needed to demonstrate to her that I was the right person and that I could do justice to not only the story, but also the concepts involved, so instead of sending her a traditional treatment, I sent her a diagram of how I thought the movie should go that was in the form of a double helix. That got her attention.”
Redmayne seemed remarkably calm and self-possessed as he made his way through the throngs of reporters and photographers outside the theater. When I asked him if he knew that after his Golden Globe and SAG awards he was now the odds-on favorite for the best actor Oscar, he shook his head and said, “I’m not thinking that far ahead at this point, but I am delighted by the recognition from my peers in the Screen Actors Guild. That was a special night and I’ll never forget it.”
Once inside and seated comfortably onstage, the pair opened up considerably, sharing their experiences as very young performers — Redmayne started his professional career at age 12, and Jones began when she was only 11. Both cut their teeth on the stage and in important, high-level productions of Shakespeare, and both completed their undergraduate degrees before moving on to full-time acting careers, with Redmayne taking a degree in art history at Cambridge and Jones studying English literature at Oxford.
Two of the evening’s funniest bits revolved around Redmayne’s penchant for being cast as the son of glamorous female stars. He explained away the fact that he was chosen to play Angelina Jolie’s son in The Good Shepherd with the self-deprecating crack that it was because he has “big lips,” and later, when it came up that he played the son of Julianne Moore in the 2007 drama Savage Grace, he said, “that time it was because I had freckles.” Redmayne is no stranger to high-level acting awards, as he won both the Olivier Award and the Tony Award for his role in the Mark Rothko bio-drama Red.
Jones, pale and radiant in an elegant black and white gown, seemed to be enjoying herself, especially when recalling the attacks of nerves she experienced as a young actor doing her first film work. Her funniest moments came when she recalled how a tech person once approached her to reposition a microphone because her heart was pounding so hard that it was audible on her voice track, and when, swept up in the excitement of holding the Cinema Vanguard Award in her hands for the first time, she called out to the audience, “Enough of listening to us, it’s time to get a drink!”
For those interested primarily in the craft of acting, there was much to be learned in hearing these two describe the painstaking process through which they researched and created this duet performance. Jane Wilde Hawking’s near-symbiotic care for her husband, and Stephen’s extraordinary ability to communicate despite a near-total lack of mobility were both enormous challenges that were met with teamwork and precise organization. In what was perhaps Scott Feinberg’s best question of the night, he asked about how Redmayne stayed on target with the progression of Hawking’s disease despite the fact that films are rarely if ever shot in the order in which the actions occur. The answer was that Redmayne created and relied on a detailed map of Hawking’s condition based on specific developments in two distinct sets of neurons. This map of the progression of his ALS symptoms was then linked to the shooting script, providing Redmayne with a set of instructions allowing him to portray the gradual onset of Hawking’s paralysis.
The Theory of Everything is clearly one of the year’s most interesting and innovative films, and, in addition to making a perfect entry in the SBIFF’s Cinema Vanguard series, which reaches out to acknowledge the work of young artists, it will also likely remain with us until the very end of this exciting Oscar season.