Eddie Redmayne on the trans women who helped him with his role in “The Danish Girl”

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Eddie Redmayne has won Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Tonys, among others, including last year’s Oscar for Best Actor in last year’s The Theory of Everything. Considering his film career began just nine years ago, the star of The Danish Girl has proven he has the talent and dedication to play just about any kind of character on-screen. Still, the film about a real life trans woman who underwent the first ever gender reassignment surgery spawned debates over the casting of a cisgender to play the role. While completely understandable, as trans women deserve accurate representation and the opportunities to play roles about themselves on screen, the film was made and results will likely divide the community still, but what could not more apparent is Eddie’s desire to get it right.

danish-girl-3photos via Focus Features

“I had such an education in learning about everything that this film,” Eddie told me during an interview in London earlier this month. “I did a play about Mark Rothko—I played his assistant—and his real assistant wrote this beautiful thing about pictorial artists, which is being an artist is not about talent and all that; it’s about the aspiration for perfection with the acknowledgment you’ll never get there. And what was so interesting in this process [of preparing for The Danish Girl], was meeting women from the community and hearing their stories. And virtually every trans woman I met would [say], ‘There is no question I won’t answer.’ The need for cisgender people to be educated was so [important], and the generosity of their experience—that was more what I learned than anything sort of craft-wise.”

The Danish Girl, opening in select cities this weekend, first introduces us to Einar (Eddie) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander), an artist couple living in Copenhagen. Their love for one another is apparent, and they share a workspace in which Einar paints his intricate and dark landscapes while Gerda works on large portraits that aren’t nearly as respected as her husband’s work.

“Because hers were more forward-thinking,” Eddie said. “Einar’s paintings were quite conservative. They were landscapes, they were based in a sort of tradition whereas Gerda was sort of illustrating for fashion magazines. It was art and fashion meeting. It was much bolder and more pioneering, and avant-garde in its take. When you look at Lili’s work when she was living as Einar, there was something boxed in about it. If you see [Gerda’s] corner of the studio, it was messy and it was alive, whereas if you see photos of Lili as Einar painting, she is in this starched, high-throated-collar and a suit and painting in this meticulous way and you felt like there wasn’t a happiness in those paintings.”

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It wasn’t until Gerda found true inspiration from Einar’s true self, Lili, that she began to truly flourish, though. After a fateful day of Einar sitting in while Gerda finished a portrait of a ballerina friend, Einar begins to shed the male body they inhabit and let Lili come to the surface. She begins to borrow clothes from Gerda and shyly attend parties as Lili, eventually building up her confidence to spend more of her time as the woman she truly is inside.

“For me, playing Lili was always about finding out who she was and then to pull, as it were, work backwards to who she was when she was living as Einar,” Eddie said. “There’s an amazing image or drawing of Lili when she was living as Einar. She has this incredibly high starched collar and this very tight tailored suit. For me, I always saw it as being a kind of exoskeleton in some ways, like this sort of scaffolding that she had put up and society had sort of forced her to put up against herself to offer masculinity.”

Because of that, Eddie said it was more difficult to play Lili when she was living as Einar in this “great turbulence and discomfort.”

“One of the interesting things, if you look at Lili’s paintings when she was Einar, they were very often small and accurate; it’s almost like there’s a sort of—there’s a restraint on who she was,” Eddie said. 

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