Watching a biopic of yourself must be a strange experience. Seeing what is ostensibly your story, played out by actors and actresses, all of whom are much better looking than you are in reality, seeing key events form your life rendered dramatically, that all sounds quite surreal. Do you get sucked up into the story like every other audience member (ideally anyway), or do you sit there mutter “that’s not how it happened” to yourself for two hours? In most of these cases, the subjects in these films are long dead, so this is a moot point, but sometimes they’re still with us, as is the case with the new Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. If you wondered how the renowned physicist responded to this film, the answer is, he was moved to tears.
James Marsh’s (Man on Wire) film recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned a ton of praise, specifically for Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending) in the lead role as Hawking. Based on a memoir of the same name by Jane Hawking (played by Felicity Jones), Stephen’s wife, the film depicts the life of the two from their early days at Cambridge through Stephen’s deteriorating health and some of his most important work.
In advance of the TIFF screening, Hawking was able to see a sneak peek, and what he saw on screen left him in tears by the time the credits rolled. As a filmmaker, you probably have to take that as a sign that you did something right in your movie. This piece of information dropped during a Q&A session that followed the festival screening, and Redmayne shared some of his thoughts on what it was like playing one of the most brilliant human beings to ever live. That doesn’t sound like there’s any pressure or anything.
When Redmayne first met Hawking, he said the cosmologist was less than impressed with what he saw before him. The actor was so nervous that he just started rambling and spewing nonsense. At one point, he even noted that the two share an astrological sign, they’re both Capricorns. Given that Hawking is a hard scientist, you can imagine how he might react to that, and he said, “I’m an astronomer, not an astrologer.”
Redmayne also shared how went about preparing to depict the man’s life on screen. Not only did he study Hawking’s story in great detail, but he met with ALS patients to better portray the physicality of his struggle with the motor-neurone disease, and also employed a choreographer to map out Hawking’s gradual physical decline as it played out throughout his life. Hawking even granted the production the right to use his voice synthesizer, which, over the years, has become so instantly recognizable.
The result is, as Hawking reportedly said after the screening as a nurse wiped the tears from his eyes, “broadly true.”
If you haven’t already, check out the trailer for The Theory of Everything, which opens in a wide release on November 7. If the early buzz out of Toronto is any indication, we could be seeing more of this one come awards season, especially for Redmayne.