At a moment when the zeitgeist is turning towards transgender acceptance more than ever before, The Danish Girl brings us back to the beginning. Based on David Ebershoff’s historical novel and directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), the movie stars Oscar’s reigning Best Actor Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) as the real-life Lili Elbe, who was assigned male at birth in 1882 and transitioned to female in the 1920s with the support of her wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander).
“When I first read the script, I wept three times,” says Hooper. “It connected to me in similar ways to The King’s Speech, where a man is locked in his body by a stammer and he’s helped by a tender friendship. With Lili I was moved by the power of love as an agent of transformation, even when the world was against it.”
Vikander (Ex Machina) also identified with the story, despite its uniqueness. “We see the trans civil-rights movement unfolding at the moment,” she says. “And we see how it’s very relatable. With any big change in life, anyone you’re close to goes on the journey with you. I read a book called My Husband’s a Woman Now by Leslie Fabian, who I’ve been on the phone with. It’s amazing how much it’s about two people who go through that change together. And I really like how we show both sides in our story. It’s about being able to love yourself, truly and honestly, but it’s also a love story between two people.”
Nicole Kidman had been attached to play Lili for years as the film was struggling to get made. But when Hooper came on board to direct (after Kidman had dropped out), he always knew that Redmayne, whom he’d directed in 2012’s Les Miserables, was his choice. “In fact, I slipped him the script during the shoot of Les Miz,” says Hooper, “and he had a powerful emotional reaction to it, like I had. He connected to the journey that all us humans go on to be the best versions of ourselves. Lili’s journey poses a challenge of quite a different order, particularly in the period she was living in, but a lot of us have blocks, whether its shyness or insecurity or anxiety or stress.”
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When Hooper first read the script, only a few years ago, it proved especially difficult to finance. “Even in the last five years, I welcome the fact that the environment had begun to change,” he says. “It’s exciting that there’s been a shift in public perception and acceptance. But my God, there’s a long way to go, because there has been such a history of persecution of trans men and women. I think America is in many ways ahead of any other countries around the world and I hope America continues blaze a trail to allow other people to follow her.”
As with Redmayne’s portrayal of ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, the actor relied on his craft in creating the character rather than extensive makeup effects. “Eddie has this astonishing emotional translucency,” Hooper says. “For him the concern was always about Lili’s emotional journey. He put so much work and time into that, which led to getting the physical stuff right. Everything flowed from the inside out.”
The Danish Girl opens on Nov. 27. See Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar speech from earlier this year, below.
To read more of EW’s Fall Movie coverage, and to see more exclusive photos from The Danish Girl, pick up the new issue ofEntertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.
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