Tag Archives: The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne winning raves for role as transgender pioneer in ‘The Danish Girl’

In a pivotal scene early in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, the 1920s Copenhagen painter Einar Wegener, as played by Eddie Redmayne, sits in for a portrait his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is painting of a ballerina. Breathlessly caressing the stockings and slippers, something stirs in Einar.

It’s a moment that cues a coming transformation: Einar will gradually become a woman, finally undergoing one of the earliest known sex reassignment surgeries. Einar becomes Lili Elbe, a celebrated trans pioneer.

“I didn’t want it to be an epiphany,” says Redmayne of the scene. “It felt like she had been born, and society and herself had encased herself in this masculine exoskeleton. The important thing for me was the film should see that unraveling.”

Redmayne, the best-actor Oscar winner earlier this year for his Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, has proven to be an immaculately technical actor and an expert of metamorphosis. A year after charting Hawking’s physical degeneration, his conversion from Einar to Lili in The Danish Girl again has the 33-year-old British actor being hailed as a likely Academy Award nominee.

It’s the third film together for Hooper (The King’s Speech) and Redmayne, who had a small part in the director’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) where the queen sentences him to death. “I remember in that moment thinking: I need to find a leading role for Eddie,” Hooper says.

It was while filming 2012’s Les Miserables, in which Redmayne played the tender revolutionary Marius, that the two began plotting The Danish Girl, based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the true-life events. On the film’s Paris barracks, Hooper slipped Redmayne Lucinda Coxon’s script.

“Tom just said: Will you have a read of this?” Redmayne says.

It was the first role Redmayne was offered without an audition. When Redmayne and Hooper convened for an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was also their first time sitting together for an interview. At times, their combined Britishness made for extreme humility.

“The dream to get to play interesting and in both those cases extraordinary people, it does not come along,” says Redmayne of Hawking and Elbe. “And I also have no question: I don’t think it will come along again. I realize that I’ve been very lucky in a couple years to play two formidable people.”

Reviews for The Danish Girl, painterly and stately, have singled out Redmayne’s performance, which caps what the actor calls a “head-spinning” period in his life. He wed Hanna Bagshawe last December, and, two days after winning the Oscar, was back on set making The Danish Girl, still groggy from the partying.

“My instinct was Eddie from the beginning,” Hooper says. “I was truly open to any route. I know in a previous incarnation there had been talk of a woman playing the role, which is also equally valid because you’re saying Lili is a woman underneath.”

Some, though, have questioned casting a man as a transgender woman. Sean Baker’s Tangerine, released earlier this year, by contrast, has drawn raves for its transgender actresses, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.

“There’s something in Ed that’s drawn to the feminine, maybe,” says Hooper of Redmayne, who also played Viola in a stage production of Twelfth Night. “In the movie, Lili presents as Einar for two-thirds of it and the transition is quite late, so that also fed into my thinking.”

The Danish Girl is nevertheless an outlier. Earlier this year, the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism studied the 100 top-grossing films of 2014 and found zero transgender characters.

“There is a serious problem not only in our industry but within many industries of trans men and trans women and discrimination in the workplace,” Redmayne says. “In the United States, you can be fired in 32 states for being trans.”

“When I first thought of doing the movie, it was considered a hard film to finance,” Hooper says. “I must admit there were people around me who were happy to tell me I shouldn’t do the film. And now people see it as an obvious film to have done, and I think that’s indicative of a wonderful shift that’s begun to happen in the culture where trans stories have become more acceptable.”

Redmayne did extensive research and met with many generations of transgender people to understand Lili better.

“I was incredibly ignorant at the time. It was several years of meeting people from the trans community and educating myself on Lili,” Redmayne says. “To be comfortable in your own skin is a term that’s thrown around, but it’s actually incredibly complicated.”

As played by Redmayne, Lili’s gradual revelation is a knotty mix of emotions — an increasingly confident awakening where a swelling rapture overpowers apprehension.

“The key balancing act of directing the film was balancing shame and joy, balancing this idea that the transition was both a release into anxiety and a release from anxiety,” Hooper says. “It was terribly important to me that we could always feel through Eddie’s performance of Lili the promise of the happiness that lay in committing to the journey.”

Fall movie season brings a wealth of quality LGBT feature films

Ellen Page was first approached about the true-life gay rights drama Freeheld when she was 21, just coming off her breakthrough in Juno. It was seven years before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right, and six before Page, herself, came out.

“It really did align with an internal process I was going through with my own identity, with my own struggles of being closeted,” says Page of Freeheld. “It’s lovely to be part of a film that’s reflecting upon why we need the Supreme Court ruling and why we need to continue to strive to equality. I think the film is reflecting a time when that change is happening.”

As much as change is in the air in 2015, it’s also on the screen. Though Hollywood’s track record when it comes to telling the stories of LGBT lives is far from gleaming, this fall season boasts one of the richest and most varied batch of films yet to dramatize the struggles of gay and transgendered people.

Freeheld (in theaters Oct. 2) is about Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page). When Hester, an Ocean County, New Jersey, police officer, began dying of terminal lung cancer in 2005, she appealed to the county Board of Freeholders to allow her pension to go to Andree. Though it would have been automatic for a married couple, the board initially refused.

Eight years after a documentary short on Hester won an Oscar, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) has penned the dramatization, directed by Peter Sollett and co-starring Steve Carell and Michael Shannon.

Todd Haynes’ Carol (out Nov. 20), based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, is about the illicit love affair between two women (Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara) in the conservative 1950s. A lushly detailed period film, thick with an atmosphere of socially enforced repression, the film rides a wave of praise from the Cannes Film Festival, where Mara shared in the best actress award.

Blanchett, in an interview at Cannes, said that while love between two lesbians is of course central to Carol, it’s ultimately about love, regardless of gender.

“There’s something Romeo and Juliet-esque about it,” Blanchett said. “There’s a universality to the love story that moves it out of the niche. It’s about the perspective or the feeling of being in love for the first time. And, yes, it’s not immaterial that there are two women at the center of it. But at certain moments, it kind of is.”

Also in November is The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). Based on the 1920s Copenhagen novel by David Ebershoff and starring Eddie Redmayne, it’s a fictionalized account of Lili Elbe, among the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

While that trio of films is expected to play major roles in awards season, there are others in the mix, too.

Roland Emmerich, taking a break from the disaster spectacles like White House Down and The Day After Tomorrow, depicts one of the most pivotal moments in the gay rights movement in Stonewall (Sept. 25), a drama set around the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots in New York’s Greenwich Village.

And months after the celebrated transformation of Caitlyn Jenner, About Ray (Sept. 18) is about a teenager’s (Elle Fanning) transition from female to male, and how her family reacts.

It can be overly optimistic to take any seasonal trend as a sign of wider industry progress. Studies have confirmed that Hollywood continues to lag in representing the diversity of its audiences. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school recently found that among the 4,610 speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing films in 2014, only 19 were lesbian, gay or bisexual. None were transgender.

Many of these films also struggled to make it to the big screen. It took Carol almost two decades to finally get made; screenwriter Phyllis Nagy wrote her first draft in 1996.

Equality for LGBT people also, of course, continues to be a divisive issue for some across the country. Page recently confronted presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz at the Iowa State Fair on his views on gay rights.

But in a year marked by significant advancement for gay rights, many, like Page, are buoyed by the upswing in this fall’s films — a crop of movies that add more lesbian and transgender stories to the indelible, but largely male movies (Philadelphia, Milk, Brokeback Mountain) that have come before.

“I wish there were more gay stories and I do think that that’s happening,” she says. “That does seem like something that’s getting a lot stronger, thankfully — a voice that’s getting stronger, a community that’s getting stronger.”