Tag Archives: theory

Playing Stephen Hawking a complex equation for Redmayne

Time is relative, especially for young actors tasked with playing brilliant theoretical physicists.

Eddie Redmayne estimates that the euphoria of being cast as Stephen Hawking for the film “The Theory of Everything” lasted a millisecond. Then came the overwhelming fear.

“And that fear remained the whole way through the process,” Redmayne said in an interview earlier this fall.

The gentle, freckled 32-year-old British actor was asked to not only lead a film for the first time, but to play a mathematical genius across decades of physical degeneration — all under the watchful gaze of said mathematical genius. Ahead of screening “The Theory of Everything,” Hawking ominously told Redmayne: “I’ll tell you want I think, good or otherwise.”

With such pressure, Redmayne could be forgiven for quietly slipping into the nearest black hole.

But in the year’s most technically complex role, Redmayne gives what’s surely the performance of his young career, one that seeks to capture not only the step-by-step disintegration of ALS that led Hawking from healthy youth to paralyzed adulthood, but (and more importantly) the scientist’s unvanquished spirit, the unimpeded expansion of his imagination. 

“He was given a death sentence,” says Redmayne, referring to the diagnosis given Hawking as a 21-year-old, when he was expected to live only a few years more. Now 72, he went on to father three children, marry twice and author significant discoveries in cosmology as in the best-selling “A Brief History of Time.” “So you live every single moment to the full, and that’s what I wanted an audience to leave with. That’s what I left this experience with.”

Director James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) remembers well his first meeting with Redmayne, a London native best known for his Tony-winning turn in John Logan’s “Red” and his tender revolutionary Marius in “Les Miserables.” One pint turned to five, the conversation going into the night.

“He was just full of ideas and passion for this,” says Marsh. “He knew somewhat what this might entail in terms of preparation and physicality. Eddie’s crazily ambitious. He’s not ambitious for money or fame. He’s ambitious to do great work. He’s fearless, too. It was a real leap into the dark for him.”

“The Theory of Everything” is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s 2007 memoir “Traveling to Infinite: My Life With Stephen.” Aside from a biopic, it’s a portrait of an uncommon marriage. Felicity Jones pays Jane, whom Hawking met at Cambridge University in the early 1960s.

The film begins with their early courtship, which coincided with the discovery of a motor neuron disease in Hawking. Redmayne plays each stage of Hawking’s increasing disability, going from a lame leg to a walking stick, to two sticks, to a wheel chair. Gradually he loses his voice, his body language, his facial expressions.

“It felt like solving a puzzle,” says Redmayne.

Redmayne spent four months researching, working on the physicality and feebly studying Hawking’s physics. He trained with a choreographer, met with academics (Redmayne also went to Cambridge), visited with many ALS sufferers and had an expert study old photos of Hawking to trace the disease’s effects.

“There were moments along the way where I know he felt really, really defeated,” says Marsh.

To guide him, Redmayne posted three photos in his trailer: Albert Einstein, James Dean (since Hawking was, Redmayne says, “a ladies man”), and a joker playing card, to capture Hawking’s playful side. “If you’re in a room with him, he’s definitely running the room,” says Redmayne.

But aside from all the technical challenges, Redmayne imbues Hawking with a sly mischievousness. Much of the performance is in a glint behind his eyes.

“What emanates from him when you meet him is this kind of wit and humor,” says Redmayne. “Even though he can move so few muscles, he has one of the most charismatic, expressive faces you’ve ever seen, which is a weird irony. There were many things I found out from meeting with him, but one of the overall things I took away was finding he does not live a disease. He lives forward and has done since he was 21 years old. There’s an unerring optimism to him. That meant every single scene, even when obstacles are being through, find the funny, find the glint.”

When Hawking saw the film a few weeks before its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, he judged it “broadly true.” But he offered a personal endorsement, giving Marsh his unique computer-generated voice to use in the film.

Redmayne, widely considered a lock for an Oscar nomination, has plans to star in the next film by Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables,” “The King’s Speech”). But he hasn’t worked since filming “The Theory of Everything.” The gravity of the part, for which he lost some 20 lbs., is slowly falling off him. 

He sighs. “I had many glasses of wine after.” 

Big Bang a big question for many Americans

While scientists believe the universe began with a Big Bang, most Americans put a big question mark on the concept, an Associated Press-GfK poll found.

Yet when it comes to smoking causing cancer or that a genetic code determines who we are, the doubts disappear.

When considering concepts scientists consider truths, Americans have more skepticism than confidence in those that are farther away from our bodies in scope and time: global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and especially the Big Bang from 13.8 billion years ago.

Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine.

On some, there’s broad acceptance. Just 4 percent doubt that smoking causes cancer, 6 percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and 8 percent are skeptical there’s a genetic code inside our cells. More — 15 percent — have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines.

About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority – 51 percent – questions the Big Bang theory.

Those results depress and upset some of America’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.

“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.

The poll highlights “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

And scientists know they’ve got the shakiest leg in the triangle.

To the public “most often values and beliefs trump science” when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Political and religious values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change.

Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.

“When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith,” said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. “It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable.”

But evolution, the age of the Earth and the Big Bang are all compatible with God, except to Bible literalists, said Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biology, philosophy and logic at the University of California, Irvine.

Beyond religious belief, views on science may be tied to what we see with our own eyes. The closer an issue is to ourselves and the less complicated, the easier it is for people to believe, said John Staudenmaier, a Jesuit priest and historian of technology at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Marsha Brooks, a 59-year-old nanny who lives in Washington, D.C., said she’s certain smoking causes cancer because she saw her mother, aunts and uncles, all smokers, die of cancer. But when it comes to the universe beginning with a Big Bang or the Earth being about 4.5 billion years old, she has doubts. She explained: “It could be a lack of knowledge. It seems so far” away.

Jorge Delarosa, a 39-year-old architect from Bridgewater, N.J., pointed to a warm 2012 without a winter and said, “I feel the change. There must be a reason.” But when it came to Earth’s beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, he has doubts simply because “I wasn’t there.”

Experience and faith aren’t the only things affecting people’s views on science. Duke University’s Lefkowitz sees “the force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact” as a more striking factor, citing significant interest groups – political, business and religious – campaigning against scientific truths on vaccines, climate change and evolution.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

Third of Americans, 48 percent of Republicans reject idea of evolution

A Pew Research Center survey released on Dec. 30 shows that six in 10 Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time.” And a third of Americans reject the idea of evolution, saying “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

Pew, on its website, said those percentages are about the same as they were in 2009, the last time the center asked about evolution.

About half of those who expressed a belief in evolution said it is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” and 24 percent of those who expressed a belief in evolution say “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

Evangelical Protestants were most likely to say humans have existed as they are now since the beginning of time and reject the idea of evolution.

By party affiliation, about 43 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats expressed a belief in evolution. The gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009 and Republicans are less inclined today than in 2009 to express a belief in evolution.

Evolution again at issue as Texas mulls new books

Texas is bracing for another clash over how to teach evolution and climate change as the board of education approves new science textbooks.

A final public hearing on proposed books was Wednesday, with a vote by the board’s 10 Republicans and five Democrats coming today.

That will determine textbooks approved for use statewide for at least eight years, beginning September 2014. School districts are no longer required to use books approved by the board, but most still do.

For years — including at an emotional September board meeting — some religious conservatives have argued for deemphasizing lessons on evolution and climate change. They say many see God’s hand in the universe and argue evolution and global warming are only theories.

Experts, though, have warned the board not to let religious beliefs and ideology trump facts.