‘The Good Nurse’ Star Eddie Redmayne On Playing A Subtle Serial Killer, Coming Of Age As A Member Of The Brit Pack, And The Time He & Felicity Jones Had A Brush With Death In A Hot Air Balloon
Eddie Redmayne turned in one of the subtler but ultimately shocking serial killer portrayals, starring with Jessica Chastain in the Tobias Lindholm-directed Netflix drama The Good Nurse. In the movie based on actual events, Redmayne’s Charlie Cullen goes from a non-descript night nurse who becomes a lifesaving friend to co-worker Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), until she realized her pal might be killing patients who should be recovering. He would ultimately confess to killing about 40 people, and drew 18 executive life sentences, while the hospital administrators who quietly dismissed him even though they had their suspicions were not punished for the cover-up.
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In Redmayne, this is the kind of versatility you might expect from an actor who’s won the Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe, BAFTA and two Laurence Oliver awards and in turns such as Cabaret onstage, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Here, Redmayne discusses the opinions he formed playing a serial killer who was not at all the cinematic Hannibal Lecter prototype, and which has put him squarely back in the awards conversation.
DEADLINE: We’ve seen many serial killer portrayals, but few as subtle as the one you turned in on The Good Nurse. What was your view of Charlie Cullen going into this when you played him?
EDDIE REDMAYNE: What Charlie did was monstrous and indefensible, but when you’re playing someone who’s done horrific things you have to try not to judge them in those terms. My view on him was massively colored by the real Amy Loughren, who I got to spend time with on Zoom before we started shooting. The thing that she really made a point of reaffirming was, this was two different human beings.
When she met her friend, he was this kind, gentle, compassionate, quite funny, self-deprecating man who saved her life. Later, she twice met a different human being, and something in his eyes made him an arrogant, unrecognizable human. Once was in the restaurant, in a diner, and then once was in the interrogation room. She believed it was a dissociative personality, and that was really interesting to me because that meant that it was about playing the truth of what that friendship was. More tricky was finding this other side, this furious, arrogant side to him. Both Amy and Charles Graeber, who wrote the book, and in Krysty’s script described this moment of one eye dislodging, as it were, going off in a different direction during conversation. That was very disconcerting.
But then, there was also this discussion of when he was in court and the judge was giving out a statement, and many of the families of the victims were there. Charlie started furiously repeating this mantra about the judge’s ineptitude, and he screamed it and screamed it and screamed it and screamed it in the court to the point he ended up being bound and gagged in court. That was an insight into this more violent side of him, which is sort of touched on.
That scene and the interrogation scene, Krysty had managed to whittle down some of the real dialogue from the documentation, and aligned it with this more violent outburst. As I discussed with Jessica and Krysty, so much of the script in the rehearsal period beforehand, we never touched on the diner scene or [the interrogation room] scene because we all believed that if we had done our work, right, if we had filled these characters with a truth, then these scenes would reveal themselves.
The interrogation scene was interesting because Tobias kept me away from Noah [Emmerich] and Nnamdi [Asomugha], so it was like I hadn’t really met them. He also enclosed the scene in a tiny space and he did this thing, which he hadn’t told me. He [handcuffed] my hand to the desk. I went into that scene knowing that we had to reach the…this other place in him that had only been hinted at in the diner scene, but my intention playing the scene was to not let Noah or Nnamdi retain status.
So, I was doing everything I could to try and undermine their status, and that was using the banging of the chain, and so we sort of improvised that, speaking over them, and I noticed this extraordinary moment, when Noah just screamed at me, and it was genuinely frightening. And what you see on the screen, I hope, is the 7-year-old Charles Cullen who was abused by one of his sister’s partners and who tried to kill himself, and also this abuser, at age 7. Even though the film doesn’t lean into his biography that there was this trauma.
DEADLINE: What you say about Cullen seems borne out by the fact that, from prison, he donated a kidney to someone he knew from outside…
REDMAYNE: An ex-partner’s relative, yeah. Very complicated.
DEADLINE: How much is it on your mind, to not make the killer of maybe 400 people sympathetic?
REDMAYNE: That’s almost the epilogue to Charles Graeber’s book, about the kidney donor and the complications of that, this idea that for some of the families there’s this man from prison who’s seeing himself as a savior. The thing that I found intriguing about the piece was that it didn’t try and say, this is why he did it. Tobias talks about this most beautifully. When I read the script I was like, why did he do it? But the more you realize that answers as simple as that, a reason, this happened to him, so he did this, is our way as human beings of going, okay, well, it happened because of this reason, and that’s something other and therefore, of course, he was a monster and there’s something that I can’t relate to. It’s our way of ‘othering’ people. Human beings aren’t that simple. That’s a way of making ourselves feel safe somehow. There’s an audience going, well, he did it because of this and therefore, he’s a monstrous human being.
With Charlie, we don’t know why. I don’t believe he knows why. He talks about…you know, early he talked about it being, having worked in burns units and it being mercy killing, but very quickly that became, you know, that was clearly proved false by the fact that he was killing people at random and people who were on the mend. For me, there was something in his mother, the closeness of the relationship, and the fact that when she died in a car crash, the hospital lost her body. There was something disrespectful about that, but linked into the fact that when he chose to be a nurse years later he trained at that same hospital. There was something about exposing the hypocrisies or the failings…his fury at the system. I’m not saying that was my motivation, but it was definitely an insight.
Certainly in those scenes when Charlie’s being fired, my intention in the performance there was going to the bureaucrats who were firing him. You know I did it. I’m giving you every opportunity for you to admit that you know I did it. Are you going to admit it? You’re not going to admit it. It was like it was a sort of challenge in some ways to them. That felt like part of it was a fury at the system.
DEADLINE: The movie is an indictment of these medical professionals and bureaucrats who were clearly afraid of lawsuits and reputational damage, and they just got rid of Cullen quietly, knowing he might be killing patients. We see this in schools, with clergy, and it always rears up because these people don’t change. If you had your own thing in your mind as to why he was basically poisoning these bags, I’ve love to hear it.
REDMAYNE: I have no specific reason other than I think he was very, very mentally damaged and had a traumatizing childhood. So, after his mother died he went and joined the Navy and he passed all the psychiatric tests, and he ended up working on a submarine where he was massively bullied. But he was only fired when they found him standing over the Poseidon missiles with his finger on the Poseidon missile. It was then that he went to train to be a nurse. I just found it so astonishing that this man who had tried to kill himself first at 7 years old, tried to kill someone else at 7 years old, had been in and out of institutions, and had to have this experience in the Navy, was ever allowed near vulnerable people.
But the other thing in this period, which is slightly touched on early on in the film, is it was a struggle to get nurses, a period of great shortage, and it’s something that we’re seeing more of, certainly in my country. It’s an incredibly hard job being a nurse, and it’s underappreciated and underpaid. So, someone who was willing to work any hours, was very competent, who would be happy to slip into other people’s schedules, there was a certain…I’m not going to say laxing of rules, but they just needed people, so that in itself was a thing.
DEADLINE: Cullen becomes invaluable to Jessica Chastain’s Amy Loughren character. He helps her shield her heart condition until she can qualify for benefits and get it fixed. Serial killers are usually depicted as calculating sociopaths. Was his motivation to help her, bonding with her kids? Was he creating a diversion and trust with the person he worked most closely with while he was doing his awful things, after he’d been quietly exited from a succession of hospitals?
REDMAYNE: I believe that he really adored her and that he found great comfort in her. I can only take Amy’s words for it, but the friendship was just strictly real. Amy didn’t realize at the time, but if you read in Charles Graeber’s book it’s that Charlie had had several of these friendships with other female nurses before. One of them had turned into a kind of a stalking and he’d become a stalker too.
He often had this capacity to be so self-deprecating and almost invisible and self-mocking, and seemingly fragile that other nurses would befriend him with almost a sort of comforting quality, and seemingly he would misread those signs. There was one time when he found this nurse sort of attractive, and he thought he was getting on very well with her on the ward, and then he sent an anonymous Valentine’s card, and everyone on the ward was talking about it, who it was from, and she was going who do you think it’s from. Eventually [it became known] it was him and she found that very unnerving and he couldn’t understand why she was so sort of shook by it, but the way he presented versus sort of his real behavior was always quite complex. There was definitely a power in Charlie’s anonymity. He did this thing where in the hospital wards there would be those coffee pots that would get filled all day. It always used to frustrate him that no one would refill them, and so he would refill them silently without making a fuss…and then he would watch people drinking their cups of coffee that he had anonymously made, you know, for the rest of the day, and he would take great sort of arrogant pleasure in the fact that he had been the good enough human being to make that for people and he was going to get no thanks for it. There was a sort of power in anonymity and a power in, I suppose blankness, that was important to him.
DEADLINE: When I spoke to your director Tobias, he thought Cullen started doing euthanasia and then he just became addicted to some God complex…
REDMAYNE: That’s interesting, but often he wasn’t there when the people were dying. There are nurses that get energy and the adrenaline rush from saving people’s lives. They like to be the first person in to say, I saved them. But he wasn’t sending these saline bags in to be there, to be the one to save them. Often, [the bags] were injected in the storage room, so he wouldn’t even be on call when it happened. So, you know, definitely having spoken to people who worked in burns units, I see like that is so extreme that one could imagine that initially there was a euthanasia quality to it, but it so quickly became other than that, that doesn’t hold up for me.
DEADLINE: Through Netflix, the movie has been watched all over the world. Have you gotten any input that surprised you? I don’t know if they carry Netflix where he will spend the rest of his life, but any reactions?
REDMAYNE: I haven’t heard from Charlie. Charles Graeber spent a lot of time with Charlie. It was never an option for me to be in touch with him. I asked the real Amy Loughren this question and she said that she didn’t think that they had Netflix in prison. She doesn’t have a relationship with him anymore, and she retains a very complex, sort of memory of him which she says, this was two different human beings.
But it was interesting, you know, through Amy, her friend, Donna, who worked with Charlie, and when we were at the Montclair Film Festival, where we took it to and we did a little Q&A with Stephen Colbert and that’s very local to where this happened, and a load of the nurses from the hospital were there. Everyone has been supportive about the film from the sense it’s not in any way, fantasizing or glorifying. It’s telling a story that is about a flawed system. These infrastructures, as they become bigger and bigger and when it’s purely for the profit human beings, the problem is cogs and it’s very hard to retain your individuality when those cogs are in motion and they’re moving, and there are people above you.
And I thought Kim Dickens’s performance was so extraordinary in the film because you know that what she is doing is abominable, but you also see all the suits behind her who are kind of pressurizing, these sort of faceless suits. So unless you have the power that the real Amy Loughren did of your own moral backbone and using the power of the individual, if we don’t interrogate these systems the consequences can be terrifying.
DEADLINE: I gather that the woman she played ran that hospital, after Cullen’s crimes were discovered.
REDMAYNE: I heard that was true.
DEADLINE: Enough serial killing. What sparked your decision to be an actor?
REDMAYNE: I don’t come from a theatrical movie obsessed family at all and yet I showed an interest in theatre and in films when I was younger, and to my parents’ credit, anything that any of their kids showed passion for they kind of supported and encouraged. I remember being taken on a tour of the National Theatre in London. You could do these behind the scenes tours, and age about sort of 10 or 11, and there was a production going on of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Timothy Spall was playing Bottom and it was this amazing sort of circus performer who was playing Puck, and when Bottom turned into a donkey the circus performer leapt up onto Timothy Spall’s back and her feet became the ears of Bottom, and I just remember being completely blown away by it. I think that was the moment having seen behind the scenes and then watched this experience and been completely transported that I sort of dreamt of being an actor.
DEADLINE: Your grandfather was an engineer. You dad was in corporate finance. Your mom ran a relocation service. All very sensible professions. How do they respond when you pronounce hey, I’m going to be an actor.
REDMAYNE: To their total credit, and what I’m trying to do with my two young children is they were sort of okay. I remember about that same age when I was nine or 10, there was a production of Oliver with Jonathan Pryce in the West End, and I managed to get a part as one of like the thousands of urchin children. They said okay, provided you’re doing okay at school, you can go and do that. And so, basically every day I would leave my math class about sort of two in the afternoon and I would say bye to my classmates. They’re like, where are you going? I’m going to the theatre. I would go on the tube to the London Palladium, and get to work with Jonathan Pryce. And my parents would pick me up. As long as my schoolwork was going okay, they supported me. And to me it’s a great example of how to parent. Finding your children have a passion, even if it’s a passion you don’t know about or that scares you in some ways, having the confidence to really not only support that but encourage it is a wonderful thing.
DEADLINE: Who did you play in Oliver? Was it a major role?
REDMAYNE: I played Urchin Number 23. I don’t know how much you remember Oliver the film and musical, but if you’re a young actor and in Oliver, you would expect at least to be one of Fagin’s gang. I didn’t even make it to be in Fagin’s gang. My very important part was called the book boy. And the book boy comes on, delivers some books and then he leaves. It’s an incredibly unimportant part but it serves one purpose which is to leave these books and then he runs away quick enough that it means that Oliver has to be sent out to go and take the books back and then Oliver gets recaptured.
So, the one thing playing the book boy that you have to do is come on, deliver your lines, and get off the stage quickly. At the London Palladium my first night I sort of came on, delivered my books, sauntered off, and that completely screwed the entire plot point and absolutely sent the show…I got a very stern talking to by the director. That was a learning curve.
DEADLINE: Well, you have to learn. You attended the Jackie Palmer Stage School as a youth and it sounds like that sealed the deal for you. Alongside James Corden. Now, first of all, was he always a nice guy or did he go through a diva or a bully stage?
REDMAYNE: I feel like James deserves a bit of public humiliation given…the first time I properly met Jessica Chastain who I’m in the Good Nurse with, she was on the James Corden show, and when you go on these shows in America they often humiliate you with videos. They find stuff from when you’re younger but usually they’ve sort of pre warned you that something might be coming. James and I met as kids and we were both at this agency and auditioning for things like Oliver and things and the agency would have a showcase every year at this theatre called the Wickham Swan, and every year I would go and normally sing Memory from Cats or something like that because I was sort of a little singer. And James would do a street dance, and James was a very, very good street dancer.
Anyway, when I did his show with Jess a couple of years ago, he brought up a head shot of us both at this stage school with your kids which was quite funny and embarrassing, and he had found a video that I didn’t know existed of me singing Memory from Cats. Rather than just playing it for like three and a half seconds, he played like a full two and a half minutes. He had the camera on my face as I squirmed. Total public ritual humiliation. The other person who was at this school, younger than me was Aaron Taylor Johnson. There was a group of us who emerged from this place in Wickham.
DEADLINE: Was there a moment and maybe it was in the stage production because it didn’t sound like it happened in Oliver. The moment you realized yeah this is it.
REDMAYNE: I always dreamt it, but I also didn’t believe that it was possible. The statistics around actors and employment…I think it was made to believe that things you dream sometimes are for other people. When I was at university I got an audition to do the 400 anniversary production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance who was playing Olivia and they were looking for an actor to play Viola, and when I got that and the university let me off for a term and I was rehearsing with Mark, who was extraordinary, that for me was like a training. Through that I got an agent and I really felt okay, this is my passion. It’s what I want to do. I get great joy from it even if I’m lucky enough to get work in original theatre this is where my heart lies, and I would love to try it.
DEADLINE: You came up with some interesting young actors. I’ve always been fascinated by how it must have been when Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall knocked around and roomed together as unemployed actors. Who were your audition buddies? Who were the ones you grew up with as you were all basically as you said you were going against the odds and trying to make it?
REDMAYNE: There was a bunch of us in London and we were always auditioning for the same things and occasionally someone would get a break and that would take them to Los Angeles. And then someone else would get a break and it was a wonderful, glorious time of hustling and we look back on it all with rose tinted spectacles but there were definitely doubt in SoHo in London, just all of us having poured out of an audition. Fortunately, that group of actors, we’ve all been really lucky, really lucky.
Tom Sturridge, who’s in the Sandman, Will Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, Ben Wishaw, Jamie Dornan. When you go to Los Angeles or to America and try to make work there it is a completely new world, and having your friends who’ve done a bit before you like Charlie Cox, getting sort of counsel from them but also being able to share the oddness and the wonder but also I suppose the toils or the pitfalls. Those moments when you get something, and you think it’s going to be great and it ends up not being good, or the other way…there was real joy, and we look back on it with great fondness.
DEADLINE: How did you make ends meet in those lean years, between auditions?
REDMAYNE: I worked in a pub in London in a place called the Builder’s Arms and I was a waiter at events. Going from theater to film where I had no training was challenging. I went on auditions for six years and I would get no sort of feedback and definitely no recalls. Because I was projecting to the back of the stalls.
DEADLINE: Who among your pals hit first and how did that make you feel?
REDMAYNE: The first person was Charlie Cox, a wonderful actor. He did the Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, and he then did Casanova with Heath Ledger. He was living in Venice for like a year. I was like, you bastard, you get to live in Venice for a year! But the amazing thing about this group of friends was when success came there was great sympathy and empathy for the people that it wasn’t quite going well for. We all learned as we went through ups and downs and that’s the nature of this industry. It is a competitive business but with this group we were lucky enough that we’re all still doing it. There are definitely moments when you walk out of audition, something you desperately wanted, and your best mate gets it and you have like a moment of fuck!, followed by, at least someone I love got it.
DEADLINE: An early break for you was playing the tragic son of Matt Damon’s CIA chief in The Good Shepherd. An underrated classic to me. Directed by Robert De Niro. What’s it like to audition for an actor you probably revered?
REDMAYNE: An amazing moment. It was a process. I was doing an Edward Albee play in London called The Goat, and there was a review in Variety about the Goat, and the casting director was in London with DeNiro meeting all these British actors for the British parts. There were two British parts. A spy, and then Michael Gambon’s part, and the casting director had seen the play on Broadway in a different production and had read this review and thought there might be a match.
She called me in for a general meeting under the guise, there is no part for you in this. I just want to meet you. She’s an amazing, amazing woman who died very recently called Amanda Mackey. I have a huge amount to thank her for. I’ll never forget it. It was on Oxford Street and she then called me in the following day. It was a casting couch unlike anything I’d ever seen because all these actors were coming to meet De Niro and all for different parts but it was like every extraordinary British actor you have ever seen of two generations, slightly older than me generation and then the sort of Michael Gambon age generation. To watch these actors to audition all sort of sitting there because they’re waiting to see De Niro was extraordinary.
I went into see Robert DeNiro and he looked at me and he gestured toward his hair. I was like, what? He said can you just…And Amanda Mackey said, I think he wants you to go brush your hair. He goes, come back this afternoon. I went outside and Amanda was like, you go out and find a hair brush and come back this afternoon with your hair in a side parting. I was passing these extraordinary British actors. You open the lift and it’s like oh my God, it’s you. I went down to Oxford Street spun out after having just met Robert De Niro. Went and bought myself a comb, came back later that afternoon and was waiting outside to meet him. I’d now been given a scene that I’d had to learn, and I saw the door open and someone came out and in there was DeNiro and I caught a glimpse of someone. I said to the assistant, who is in there. They were like well, Bob is in there. Amanda is in there and Leo. I was like Leonardo DiCaprio?
At the time Leonardo DiCaprio was such a thing. For the part that Matt Damon eventually played. Anyway, two minutes later I was doing this scene with Leonardo DiCaprio playing my dad. Like, I was having a breakdown into his armpit and with Bob De Niro giving me direction. I had a full-on time-out-of-body experience. I was just like looking down on this scene like, what the fuck?
That was the start of it and then it was about six months flying myself back to New York again and again and again. Robert is amazing but puts you through the paces, and his way of directing is something I’ve taken and actually we’ve used a bit in this film, which is, if there are emotional scenes, he’ll keep you playing through the emotion and then Robert will call cut and he’ll tend to sort of embed it in you and start the scene again. Just go straight back in the scene.
So, there were things that I learned on that film that I will never forget. I was standing on Seventh Avenue in New York and Amanda Mackey, this casting director who had been a real champion. I got the call from her and my legs sort of buckled. I remember I was standing next to a building and I was like oh my. I was basically only cast because I was playing Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon’s son, and I had big lips. So, that’s the same way when I was cast in Savage Grace. I was playing Julianne Moore’s son and I had freckles. There is moments in my career where things like that have been really useful.
DEADLINE: De Niro, people who’ve acted with him have said, what’s the big deal, he’s not doing anything? Then they see it and go, now I get it. He does a lot with an economy of movement. What do you learn when that guy is directing you?
REDMAYNE: That’s a really good question because he’s very economic in direction as well and what he does is, he makes you feel safe.
DEADLINE: You won your Oscar playing Stephen Hawking alongside Felicity Jones in the Theory of Everything. Such a complex figure who became famous when he was a big brain in an incapacitated body. What was the biggest challenge finding your way into this skin of that man?
REDMAYNE: There’s something when you spend a minute with Stephen Hawking, he emanates charisma like a…I mean, it’s an overwhelming weight from a man who was when I met him really unable to move. The notion of humor and charisma that can just emanate from someone was pretty extraordinary and that was the thing that I observed within seconds of meeting him. And it was also the biggest challenge and fear, finding that humor coming from someone who’s not really able to express it.
The answer is the expression is in the minutiae but there were interesting things. I mean, that whole film was an extraordinary experience. The four months beforehand I spent going to motor neuron clinics. Families let me into their lives to see what living with this disease was, what it was like for the families around but also I remember one of the specialists saying they call it the happy disease, which is ironic given how brutal a disease it is.
For some people with motor neuron disease, there can be a smile that comes with it. That’s not saying it’s easy but there’s something…I mean, it’s horrendous for the people around them and for themselves but there’s still often finding a moment of some sort of joy and certainly with Stephen you saw that. I was trying to capture that, really.
DEADLINE: Did you meet him to prepare for this role or when did you meet him?
REDMAYNE: It was complicated because the film was based on the book written by his ex-wife Jane, this amazing woman and she was a big part of the process. Her family, her children were all wonderful and were also part of the process. I only met Stephen late into it. I said he emanates humor and charisma, but he also doesn’t suffer fools and it became clear that it wasn’t just going to be like, good luck. It was going to be like, I look forward to seeing it.
If the pressure wasn’t high enough, that was the biggest pressure I think was knowing that this man was going to watch this film and it always is when you’re playing real people. With the Good Nurse it was knowing that the real Amy Loughren was going to watch her story being played. And I’ll never forget the moment when he came to see the film. They held a screening for him, and I was actually preparing for the Danish Girl, so I nipped in. I said, hey Stephen. Hope you enjoy it. Trying to do that thing where, if I can make you in a good mood perhaps you’ll be more generous.
By this point he could only move this muscle in his eye, and he had his glasses on and a sensor with the alphabet on a screen and as the cursor moved across the alphabet he just twitched this eye and that would be one letter. So, if you were speaking to him live and you said how are you it would take him 20 minutes to say, I’m fine. So, that economy was interesting. Anyway, he spent a few minutes writing this thing out and he said, I will let you know what I think, good or otherwise. Thanks Stephen. If it’s otherwise, can we just leave it at otherwise? Little details.
DEADLINE: He shed a tear and he said, at times I thought he was me. What did that mean to you?
REDMAYNE: It meant a lot. That part was so much fear. From the second I got that part, you’re so elated followed by the gut punch of fear and with that film, I seem to remember it was on your website actually that they were like this is sort of the film that wins. I was like, oh, so you’re screwed if you don’t win an Oscar basically. You failed if you haven’t. Mixed with the fact it was Stephen. And his family. So, hearing that he approved was everything. It is a hard thing to watch your ex-wife’s depiction of your life, and both Jane and the family and Stephen were really generous.
DEADLINE: We were talking about Robert De Niro, who was going to play Don Corleone’s driver in the Godfather. He got an offer for the lead in the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, and Francis Coppola said, you got to go do that. He’d have been the punch line in the ‘leave the gun, take the cannoli’ as opposed to the Oscar winning work he did as young Don Corleone in The Godfather Part II. You got your franchise with Fantastic Beasts. It seemed like every Brit actor got a role in Harry Potter films. What happened there?
REDMAYNE: This is an open wound. The truth of that is while I was at Cambridge, they came round auditioning for people to play Tom Riddle. I auditioned. I don’t even think it was the casting director. It was like one of the 30 assistants that had been sent around the country to look for actors and I think I got through about three and a half lines before being gently dismissed. No. I definitely thought there was a period where you have sort of ginger hair and definitely a period where there are a ton of Weasleys, and I wasn’t getting an audition, and then Game of Thrones came and Sean Bean and half the cast of Black Death which I’d done, were in Game of Thrones. Not even a sniff for me. I had to play the long game there.
DEADLINE: And you got Fantastic Beast. You got a couple young ones.
REDMAYNE: A son and a daughter.
DEADLINE: What was it like to make a movie they could see?
REDMAYNE: It didn’t predate them, but they were very, very little and only now are they beginning to hear people talk about Fantastic Beasts, or they see the posters on the bus. And the question has come up. Daddy, you’re a wizard? That is your parenting dilemma, which is, do you lie to your children? I hope they don’t see this. Do you lie to your children or are they going to get bullied at school if they say, he is a wizard actually. So, I answered yes. Kind of.
They said, well do some magic. I have one magic trick. I can make a penny disappear and so I did that and, okay. Do it again. I showed them the trailer. They said, you made that building disappear. I said, is it bedtime already? They’re now at the age of six and four and hearing about Harry Potter, and I don’t know what they’ll think. I was talking to my friend Jamie Dornan about it, and they’ll probably just think this is really lame or embarrassing. My daughter already finds me very embarrassing. She hasn’t seen half my films.
DEADLINE: Have they seen any?
REDMAYNE: No. But straight after I’d done Theory of Everything, I was getting married and I didn’t have much money, and I was trying to pay for the wedding, and I got an offer to voice Ryan the Train in a straight to DVD episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. I was like, yes, please. I’d never done like a voice performance before. I was like oh, I imagine my character Ryan walked in and I was I thought you could talk like this [puts on a high voice]. They were and they were like no.
This is the voice of Thomas. I’m the voice of Thomas and in Thomas what you have to do is you have to put your eyebrows in a very high expression like this, and talk two octaves higher. Suddenly I went from talking like this to yeah my name is Thomas. As I walked in, there was a music stand with the script and a little note from Olivia Colman, who I’d never met but who had been playing another train just before. So the two of us played trains in this straight to DVD episode and the day after the Oscar for Theory of Everything, I got a call from my publicist saying so they’re releasing the DVD for Thomas the tank engine and they wonder if they can put a sticker saying, starring Academy Award winner. There’s a part of you that dreams maybe one day there will be a trailer with your name and, Academy Award winner. Then to have the British press going Redmayne follows up Theory of Everything success with a straight to DVD.
DEADLINE: It is a moment of great confidence where you can say all right, I whiffed on Harry Potter and Game of Thrones but not Thomas the Tank Engine.
REDMAYNE: Exactly. It’s an institution.
DEADLINE: Warner Brothers is under new management and particularly blockbuster hungry. Is there more Newt for you?
REDMAYNE: That’s not a question for me, but rather David Heyman, JK Rowling and David Yates. I’ve had an amazing time inhabiting Newt. It’s an interesting thing jumping into that world, into the world of franchises because you’re giving your life over to something, but you don’t know what that thing is. You know what the first script you read is, and you know JK Rowling has one of the greatest imaginations of our generation and it was a wonder to get to swim in it. But I don’t know.
DEADLINE: One last one for me. The Aeronauts. You reteamed with Felicity Jones. I got to say I hate heights and watched that one convulsed. Any near death experiences to share?
REDMAYNE: I genuinely very nearly died on that film. Aeronauts was about these two people who go up in a gas air balloon. Not a hot air balloon, a gas air balloon in the 19 century and they go up to the stratosphere and very nearly die. They recreated one of these 19 century balloons, this extraordinary helium balloon. It had ropes around it attached to a basket and you’re attached to ropes, and they let the balloon go off and you have lots of sand bags, and when you want to land you pull this rope that allows the gas out and slowly you come down.
Of course, the winds, the thermals, all of that effect it, so it’s not in any way precise and you don’t have the hot air to sort of raise again. The only way you can raise yourself is by throwing out ballasts, throwing out sand bags. They have one man who knows how to fly it. We’re shooting. Our first day of shooting Felicity and I are in costume. They’re coming on helicopters and drones to film us, and we go up and we shoot the scenes. It’s breathtaking. It’s silent.
The guy who is the pilot as it were, is hiding in the basket while we do the scenes shot from these helicopters, and we finish shooting and the helicopters go away. The drones go away and we come in to land, and as we’re coming in to land we’re getting a bit close to hitting a forest but that’s okay because the guy says to Felicity and I, you know, throw out the ballast, throw out the bags! So, we’re throwing out the bags and we rise a bit, we miss the trees.
He goes, you’ve thrown out all the bags! We said I know we’ve thrown out all the bags. You fucking told us to throw out all the bags. He’s like, I didn’t mean all the bags. So, basically we had lost any capacity now to rise again. And so, what happens is we’re now totally held to the life of the Gods, and we come down and we hit these trees and with this gigantic basket comes crashing down to the ground from about 30 meters in the air. We smash to the ground. We’re in our 19 century costumes. Felicity’s head smacks and hits this bar and there’s this silence.
I just remember total shock and hearing Felicity go, I’m not sure I can move my neck. Horrifying moment. Turned out she was totally fine. We got in the cars afterwards and we both looked at ourselves and we’re like the whole film was about the fear of this technology. Even in the 19th century when they were doing it all the time people died a lot. We’re like, how on earth did we allow them to let us go in that thing? It was exactly the same technology from the 19th century. It just happened that the pilots aren’t as versed in it as they are now. So, that was the closest to death I’ve come. Yeah.
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