How did Eddie Redmayne decompress in between his Oscar-winning performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and playing transgender artist Lili Elbe in the forthcoming The Danish Girl? Four words: Thomas the Tank Engine. More specifically, the British actor voiced a train called Ryan in the new animated movie Thomas & Friends: Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure (out Tuesday on Blu-ray and DVD).
“Theory… had been quite intense and so I took some time off,” says Redmayne. “One of the things I did was channel my inner 7-year-old. I got asked to do it, and I loved Thomas the Tank Engine when I was a kid, and I have lots of nieces and nephews who are obsessed with it. I thought it would be a fun thing to do. And it was!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us about your character, Ryan.
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Well, he’s a bit green.
Although he’s actually purple, correct?
Yes, exactly! He’s quite eager to please and rubs Thomas up the wrong the way to begin with, but they’re friends by the end, you’ll be pleased to hear.
No, no, I don’t want to give away spoilers.
What were the recording sessions like for the film?
I’ve never ever voiced any form of cartoon character in my life and it was an extraordinary thing. It’s all the weirdness that you hear it is. You stand by yourself in a booth, and you have a Thomas voice coach, who specifically coaches everyone on how to adhere to the Thomas world. What was interesting was, having never really done a voice, I started by playing it quite naturalistic. I started off doing it quite simply, and quite close to my voice, and in the end I think I was about 17 octaves higher. [Laughs]
I got to meet my engine, which is amazing. When you go there, they sort of introduce you to a model of him. Your inner 6-year-old is having a disco. It’s amazing. Absurdly excited. But I was kind of upset that I didn’t get to act alongside other actors. I know Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) was doing it. We crossed paths in the green room.
It has got a hell of cast: Olivia, yourself, John Hurt. That’s three BAFTAs, an Oscar, and I can’t even imagine how many awards John Hurt has received.
Many! For me, it’s Ringo Starr — that was the old school Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s woven into our upbringing and it’s got such a unique heritage that it felt like a fun thing to be a part of.
Did you play Ryan as a person? Or did you try to enter the headspace of an actual train?
[Laughs] No, I didn’t. I didn’t get hyper-Method on it. I remember one of the notes the voice coach gave me was, Your eyebrows have to be in a constant state of surprise. And that was where I headed with it. I definitely sound surprised quite a lot of the time.
I think that’s the note Scorsese always gives De Niro.
Exactly! Exactly! [Laughs] “Do that whole think with your eyebrows where you look surprised!“
You can see the trailer for Thomas & Friends: Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure below.
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