Les Misérables star Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, a film that tracks the famed theoretical physicist’s relationship with his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), and the struggle they faced after he was diagnosed with the crippling degenerative illness ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). “At age 21, he was a vibrant, funny young man, and he fell deeply in love with this woman,” Redmayne says. “Our film is about how they defied all the odds.”
To prepare for the film, which is released Nov. 7, the actor met with Hawking himself. “Even now, when he’s unable to move, you can still see such effervescence in his eyes,” he says.
Redmayne describes portraying Hawking onscreen as a “hefty” challenge. “The real problem with making a film is of course you don’t shoot chronologically,” says the actor. “So it was about having to really try and chart his physical deterioration [so] you can jump into it day-to-day, whilst at the same time keeping this spark and wit and humor that he has.”
Director James Marsh, best known for directing the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary Man on Wire, studied archival images to give the film authenticity, including photographs from the Hawkings’ wedding in 1965 such as the one you can see above. “When we had photographs and documentary footage of Stephen that related to our story, we tried to reproduce them as best we could,” says the filmmaker. Hawking had been diagnosed with ALS just a few years before his wedding, but the photos revealed that he was already severely affected physically. “His choice to have a walking stick even in that staged photo mean that the decline was strong enough that he couldn’t stand by himself for that moment,” says Redmayne.
But the archival shots showed the actor something else. “There are some photos where he is incredibly smiley,” says Redmayne. “It was a great moment of happiness.”
Find out about 87 other new movies in this week’s Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly.