Ladies and gentlemen, meet a couple of new Oscar contenders: Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy). The duo stars as Stephen Hawking and his deeply devoted wife Jane in Focus Features’ upcoming drama, The Theory of Everything. From the likes of the standing ovation given at the end of the film’s world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it would be astonishing if both of their names didn’t land on Oscar’s short list.
The film traces Hawking’s time at Cambridge and tracks his professional achievements, his personal battle with motor-neurone disease, a condition related to Lou Gehrig’s disease that left him unable to walk and talk, and his long love affair with his first wife, Jane. It was directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire) and adapted from Jane’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Anthony McCarten (Death of a Superhero).
Redmayne, in a bright blue suit, appeared totally overwhelmed by the crowd’s ebullient reaction to the film at the start of the post-screening Q&A. He admitted to spending six months preparing for the part through research on Hawking, whom he called “an icon, a genius and one of the funniest men I’ve ever met,” visits with other ALS patients and their families, and even working with a choreographer who was able to help Redmayne trace Hawking’s gradual physical degeneration over time.
His hard work showed in the controlled performance, which was completely transformative and altogether believable. As Hawking’s loyal companion, Jones also shines in a role that is steely, vulnerable and completely heartbreaking.
Redmayne regaled the eager audience with his first meeting with Hawking, held just before the start of filming, where, as he put it, he “suffered from verbal diarrhea” and “spent 25 minutes vomiting information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking.” He said that he even informed the theoretical physicist that Hawking was born on Jan. 8, Galileo’s birthday, while Redmayne was born on Jan. 6, making both of them Capricorns. Hawking’s retort, given minutes later via his electronic voice: “I’m an astronomer, not an astrologer.”
McCarten said that Hawking, who recently saw the film, called it, “broadly true,” while Redmayne added that the greatest compliment Hawking gave was granting the production the use of his computerized voice in the movie.
Focus opens the film on Nov. 7 in the U.S.