This Charming Man: Eddie RedmayneBy Tracey Llewellyn
“I don’t think I’m capable of articulating quite how I feel right now, but please know this, I am fully aware that I am a lucky, lucky man.” Waving his freshly-awarded Oscar in the air, Eddie Redmayne continued: “This belongs to all of the people around the world battling ALS, it belongs to one exceptional family – Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children – and I will be its custodian. I promise you I will look after him.” After a heartfelt round of thanks to the cast and crew on The Theory of Everything, including his “staggering partner in crime” Felicity Jones and “ferocious yet incredibly kind director”, James Marsh, Redmayne won hearts around the world in March when he ended his acceptance speech with the words: “And you Hannah, my wife, I love you so much. We have a new fella coming to share our apartment.”
Joining the ranks of only a handful of other actors who have been awarded all four major acting accolades for the same role, Redmayne took 2015 by storm, winning not just the Academy Award for Best Actor but also a BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG trophy for his interpretation of Professor Stephen Hawking and his early battle with ALS, a form of motor neurone disease.
The Early Bird
In June, Redmayne was awarded his OBE for services to drama in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. And, as if his year needed to get any better, the same month he was announced as Omega’s latest brand ambassador, a partnership that had been in the planning for many months before The Theory of Everything hit the screens. According to Omega’s President Stephen Urquhart, everything about Redmayne makes him the perfect brand partner. “He is incredibly humble about his success and has remained very grounded despite all of the awards and acclaim he has received,” he says. “Omega is a brand that also has a proud history, particularly with innovation and pioneering spirit. Like Eddie, we accept that achievement comes as a result of hard work and dedication.”
Currently wearing the 2015 Globemaster and enjoying its “slightly vintage feel”, Redmayne is an obvious choice for a watch ambassador. “I am always embarrassingly on time, if not early,” he confesses. “There was a horrific moment about three years ago where I had to sing at the Oscars and I was given strict instructions that I had to be in the car bang on time because the red carpet runs to schedule. All of LA was shut down and the car sailed through. When I called my publicist to say we were just about to arrive, she said we were 45 minutes early and no one was there. We had the great experience of standing outside on Hollywood Boulevard next to a tour bus, trying to look cool as we waited.”
Redmayne is an alumnus of Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and star of films such as The Other Boleyn Girl, My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables. He says that the past year has been beyond comprehension, thanks in no small part to the Hawking biopic. “When I read the script I was just profoundly moved by it. I was astounded by the fact that while at university I had seen this man from a distance. I knew his reputation and that he had achieved these extraordinary things but I didn’t actually know this story – this incredibly passionate love story about two of the most formidable people that have ever lived. The words on the page just blew me away.
“But, that said, the one thing I’ve realised with film scripts is that there is never, ever a guarantee. I’ve accepted roles that I thought were just beautiful, consummate pieces of work with great people involved in the cast and crew and somehow the film hasn’t worked. There’s a weird alchemy in filmmaking that you can never pre-empt. You give everything but you have no idea what the outcome will be.”
It was the reaction to the initial screening of The Theory of Everything during the Toronto Film Festival on 7 September 2014 that finally persuaded Redmayne that he might have just played the role that would define his future career. “The cast came on stage after the film had played and the response was so emotional. It seemed that everyone was feeling what I had felt when I originally read the script. I was so thrilled that I hadn’t screwed it up because the stakes were very high – we had met Stephen and Jane and the family when we were making the movie and we knew they were going to see the film.
“I’m one of those people that when I see a film I think it is true whereas, of course, it’s only really a take on life. But the fear of not depicting their story with authenticity or portraying the disease itself with accuracy terrified me. So many people are living with, and battling, motor neurone disease and I felt a responsibility to do their stories justice. So when Felicity, James and I went on stage in Toronto, we were quite sucker-punched by the reaction.”
A Clean Sweep
In response to his grand slam of the most prestigious acting awards around the globe, Redmayne says he has not quite taken in the momentous events of the past year. Although he insists that he has never aspired to such things “because they were always so far beyond expectation and my life-long love of acting meant that the dream was not about accolades, it was just about being employed”.
Redmayne’s dream year started in December 2014 when he married his long-term girlfriend, publicist Hannah Bagshawe, flying straight from their Christmas skiing honeymoon to Los Angeles for the Golden Globes where he was announced as Best Actor in a Drama. When he received the Academy Award it was during a weekend break in the filming of his latest project, The Danish Girl, to be released in November. After shooting wrapped on the night of 20 February, Redmayne and his wife jumped on a scheduled flight to the US where, a day after landing, still suffering from jet lag, they arrived at the “weird and wonderful circus” that is the Oscars.
Post-ceremony, the Redmaynes enjoyed a star-studded night out, but the following morning found themselves back on a plane to Heathrow where Redmayne was whisked straight back to the set to resume filming. “I say ‘set’, it was actually the parking lot of a huge Tesco on Cromwell Road where our unit was based,” he laughs. “I was straight back into a scene from the film and it was as if the whole LA thing was just a dream.”
After reflecting on recent success, our conversation turns to Redmayne’s earlier acting days. His first professional acting gig came in 2002, while he was still studying History of Art at Cambridge. “It was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” he says. “Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a play originally commissioned by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple – one of the four Inns of Court. And then 400 years later the Middle Temple, which is still based in Aldwych – asked the Globe Theatre to put together a commemorative production. As was intended by the author, it was an all-male cast and they were looking for a guy to play Viola alongside Mark Rylance’s Olivia. Thankfully, Trinity allowed me to take a term off.”
More stage work followed in the form of Edward Albee’s play The Goat in 2004, for which he won the Evening Standard Outstanding Newcomer Award and 2009’s Red by John Logan, which won Redmayne both an Olivier Award and, when the show transferred to Broadway in 2010, a Tony. Unsurprisingly, Redmayne says he would love to do more plays, although he does not subscribe to the theory that theatre is where the real acting muscles are used.
“What I love about film and theatre is how both mediums feed into each other,” he muses. “I started in theatre and, at that time, I knew nothing about film. It was only after several years of theatre when I went and made my first movie and had a camera right up in my face scrutinising everything, that I realised I had been doing far too much with my gestures and expressions and the truth dawned on me that what a camera can see an audience can also see when you are on stage. I like jumping between the two because I think each informs the other.”
When I mention his stratospheric rise to superstardom and the public recognition this has brought, Redmayne is typically nonchalant. “It’s so weird. When you are filming you are in a bubble, working intense hours – at the time I started to win the awards I was shooting in London, Copenhagen and Belgium and only now am I beginning to settle back into normal life. I haven’t really got a sense of what has happened to me.
“I’ve got pals who are actors – some hugely successful – and everyone can see how their lives look from the outside but you never really get a sense of your own life and where you are at, how you are doing and so on. What was lovely about The Theory of Everything is that people were so in admiration of Hawking that when they came up to me they only ever said lovely things about the film. It was always Stephen and Jane’s story so it doesn’t feel like my fame.”
And so the man hiding behind the veil of other people’s fame still walks around London and indeed still uses the Tube, surprised when an inner feeling alerts him to the fact that another fan is surreptitiously grabbing a sneaky shot with their mobile phone. “I’m fine with it,” he shrugs. “Although I do prefer it when people ask me first. But, that said, it’s a very small price to pay for getting to do a job that I love.”
No stranger to the paparazzi as well as enthusiastic fans, Redmayne laughs as he recalls the day of the photoshoot featured in this article. “It was lots of fun until we realised we’d been papped,” he says. “They were very clandestine and we had no idea they were there until pictures sneaked out online. It was hugely entertaining though. It was in Belsize Park – a part of London I love – and it was really incredibly relaxed. It also felt a very English day. What was hilarious is we did one rain shot and they brought a rain machine in. I said ‘guys, it is actually raining’ but they said the drops weren’t big enough – as they huddled under their umbrellas. Fortunately this is water-resistant,” he smiles pointing at his Globemaster.
As Redmayne continues to talk about handling his new level of fame, he spots the June issue of Revolution UK lying among a pile of magazines on the table between us with Hugh Jackman, his co-star from Les Miserables, on the cover. “God, I love Hugh! He is truly the most wonderful man and possesses such kindness and grace. Because I didn’t go to drama school, when I started making films I felt a little insecure, so tried to learn through osmosis and kind of just looked a lot at others.
“I have been very lucky here. As I said, the first stage production I was in, I was playing opposite Mark Rylance, and from early on in films I acted with some amazing people like Julianne Moore [in Savage Grace]. I would look at people to see not only how they worked, but also how they lived – does that make sense? How they organise the work/life balance. I always had this opinion beforehand that actors just stood in front of a camera and then turned up on red carpets. But then you see the rigour that someone like Hugh goes through – in the gym from 5am and leading an almost a monastic life while working that intensely.”
A little like all of us when we see ourselves on home video and cringe at the way we sound, Redmayne finds watching himself on screen difficult. But playing Hawking was different: “I had all the footage of Stephen that I could get my hands on and, because the aspiration was to be someone else, the scrutiny when watching the film back was not about how I looked or sounded. I had make-up artists and costume designers to make me look the part and my job was to sound the part. I had to get to that place where you look at yourself in a very different way, hoping to disappear and become another person.”
But while the day job is all about becoming another person, when it comes to dressing as himself, Redmayne says that he knows what suits him and what he feels comfortable in, insisting that outside of film wardrobe departments he would rather not work with stylists. “I don’t see the point or value,” he says. “Everything about a premier or red carpet is intimidating in a pathetic way. People are shouting at you from every angle and being comfortable in what you are wearing is just a small part of feeling normal in an abnormal situation. Making the choice of what I wear is important to me. I will always take counsel from people who know what they are talking about – the designers at Hardy Amies and, of course, my wife – but I don’t like the idea of being consciously styled.”
And Redmayne’s confident look is a huge part of his fit with the Omega brand. “You only have to look at his style,” asserts Stephen Urquhart. “It’s no secret that Eddie is a very well-dressed man – typically English, elegant and cool. And again, it’s so natural and something he says he inherited from his father. Obviously, as one of the world’s leading watchmakers, style and design play a big part in our brand.”
And for Redmayne, when it came to working with a watch brand there was only one. “I have loved Omega since I was a child,” he enthuses. “Every kid looks up to their father and mine had this beautiful vintage Omega De Ville. The story behind the watch is that it was a gift through work. It was it was clean and elegant and so simple, gold with a black leather strap and he viewed it as a real prize possession, something that he treasured.
“My father is an incredibly snappily-dressed man and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. He always treasured that watch and, as I grew up, a timepiece became something I lusted after – it was something I knew I would get when I was old enough to look after it. And it was my father’s watch that I really aspired to. When I told him the other day that I was working with Omega he was delighted.”
Although the Omega catalogue is open to him, Redmayne, like so many visitors to this year’s Baselworld, currently favours the red gold Globemaster with silvered pie-pan dial originally seen in the 1952 Constellation. The 39mm case houses the Co-axial Master Chronometer automatic calibre 8900/8901. And thanks to its balance of vintage-inspired design and cutting-edge technical achievement, Omega has made the Globemaster the first watch to carry its new certification created in conjunction with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). In a unique design element, the sapphire caseback has a medallion set into it bearing an image of an observatory surrounded by eight stars referring to the eight points of METAS certification, as well as the eight chronometric records Omega set in the 20th century.
The other watch Redmayne cites as a favourite – especially for evening wear – is his 40mm white-gold De Ville Tresor. His love of the De Ville family – perhaps due to memories of his father’s watch, is further exhibited by his choice of a De Ville Hour Vision Blue, a 41mm stainless-steel piece with striking blue dial and strap that celebrates Omega’s partnership with the charity Orbis International and its Flying Eye Hospital, which promotes aye health in remote and developing parts of the world. Naturally, he is also the proud owner of two Omega classics: the instantly recognisable Seamaster Aqua Terra and a Speedmaster “First Omega in Space” edition based on the watch that astronaut Wally Schirra bought in 1962 and wore during the Mercury Atlas 8 mission.
The Last Letter in Watches
But despite his sophisticated taste, the actor confesses that his first ever watch was a Flik Flak. He asks me if I know the watches before bursting into an animated rendition of the brand’s theme tune, singing it from start to finish. When I stop laughing I point at my phone, which is taping our conversation, he giggles, blushes and makes me promise to never release the recording, before swiftly moving on. “My first grown-up watch though was a Swatch – I’m of that age where it’s gotta be, right? It was a Swatch Skin and I thought it was great – super thin and water-resistant.”
Already a Swatch Group devotee, it is no surprise that Redmayne had already progressed to Omega before becoming an ambassador. “The relationship came about because I was already wearing their watches and when they approached me it just felt right,” he says. “I love that the brand doesn’t scream and shout – it has faith in its own capabilities and skills and is made up of a group of people who believe in what they do.”
“There is this legacy of history that they look back into. In the First World War the Royal Flying Corps wore these watches, the first watch on the moon was made by Omega and the Olympics is timed by them. The idea of being able to mine a staggering history but to make modern products using contemporary cutting-edge technology is interesting to me. I find the science of watches dumbfounding. I look forward to visiting the museum and factory and finding out more. I am developing a huge desire to learn about watchmaking.”
And this genuine synergy is something that is not lost on Urquhart and Omega, with the President stating: “Eddie shares our interest in history and appreciates where the brand has come from. Speaking with him early on, he was able to touch upon some of Omega’s greatest stories and he seems to have genuine respect and enthusiasm for our heritage. When we meet someone suitable who shares in that enthusiasm, then the first part of our job is done. We don’t approach someone simply because they are sought after or popular, we have to ensure the person fits with the Omega brand. Clearly, Eddie was that person.”
“It is similar to what I do when I get a period role,” Redmayne continues. “I will always go to the National Portrait Gallery – they have such an extraordinary history. I had a stage of doing endless Elizabethan films and I would go and look and admire the costumes and how they were interpreted so when I went to costume fittings or started creating a character I felt that, not only had I mined from a primary source, but also that I had educated myself in the process. And I think Omega is similar.”
Urquhart concurs: “Well, as Eddie says himself, the Omega brand has been in his family for years. He speaks very fondly about the vintage gold piece that his father wears. So you could say the relationship began from an early age. But I suppose more recently, Eddie had attended several Omega events and we’ve connected with him on various occasions. So the partnership grew very naturally and his genuine love for the brand has made it a delight on both sides. His character and accomplishments fit so well with our brand, it made absolute sense that we would offer him an ambassador role. We are definitely open to him visiting our factory in Switzerland and will undoubtedly plan something for the future. As you imagine, finding time in his diary is not an easy thing for someone so in demand.”
As with most actors, Redmayne finds that the whole notion of time has shifted since becoming famous, with its meaning varying between when he is working and when he’s not. “The weird thing about being an actor is you have incredibly intense, rigorous periods in which time is not really yours, it’s owned by other people,” he explains. “And then suddenly you have freedom and its always interesting trying to readjust each time. When I go on holiday it always takes me a few days to kind of calm down into it and to become indulgent with time because I am so used to having to fit in as much as I possibly can. I enjoy painting and playing the piano – I’m not great at either but they are a great way to slow time down because you are focusing on something else.
“It doesn’t happen often but if I could create my perfect day I would go to my local café run by a guy called Austin and have a fry-up. We would have a good natter and then I would go to Borough Market followed by a trip to Tate Modern or the Design Museum and then maybe I’d go to the theatre and have some fish at J. Sheekey’s in Covent Garden.”
An incredibly normal day, and one that anyone who has met Redmayne would want to experience with him. And that is why he is the perfect representative – because he is the epitome of all-round British, down-to-earth, nice-guy fabulousness. As Urquhart himself puts it: “Everyone at Omega, myself included, has remarked on how nice Eddie Redmayne is. I’ve talked about his integrity, his humble attitude and his elegance, and this is who he truly is. Building rapport with him was so easy and he speaks to people like a friend. Sometimes you can understand why people in the media spotlight might be guarded or reserved, yet Eddie is able to retain his privacy while still opening up and letting you into his world. He speaks from the heart and is a wonderful person to spend time with.”