For actor Eddie Redmayne, portraying celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything presented a host of intimidating challenges. Not only did he have to convey Hawking's remarkable intellect; he also had to embody his tragic physical collapse as his body was struck down by motor neuron disease.
"You’re not relaxed, everything is [twisted] and you’re sustaining these things and trying to activate these muscles here and control your breathing pattern and make sure your blinking is slower," Redmayne tells Yahoo Movies. "What ended up happening was that those scenes were the most physically exhausting scenes, the scenes where he can move the least."
Directed by James Marsh, the man behind acclaimed documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim, the film shows an incredible mind taking shape in front of us. We first see Hawking as a wide-eyed student at Cambridge University in the 1960s, balancing his burgeoning scientific theories with a relationship with Jane (Felicity Jones), the woman who eventually becomes his wife.
Redmayne says it was the very inactivity of the scenes where Hawking is confined to a wheelchair that presented a noteable physical challenge. Working with dancer Alex Reynolds, he learned how to change his entire body shape for the role.
"Dancers are not only emotional artists, but they do it again, do it again until they get it right," he explains. "So in the prep for these months, Alex would have me sustain these positions and stretch into places, access places that my body hadn’t accessed before."
Redmayne's physical commitment has already got the attention of reviewers, with many tipping him for a potential Oscar nomination. The Academy does love an actor willing to play a real person, especially one as inspiring as Hawking, and let's not forget that Daniel Day Lewis bagged an Oscar back in 1989 for playing Cerebral Palsy-sufferer Christy Brown in My Left Foot. That was another role in which the lead actor put his body through an ordeal in order to do justice to a real-life figure – is Redmayne on course for similar success?
It remains to be seen. The Theory of Everything is released on 2nd January 2015.