​eddie redmayne opens up about being cast in transgender role

The Oscar winner praises Caitlyn Jenner, speaks to Paris Lees and embraces a role that comes with a lot of responsibility.

by Felicity Kinsella
12 August 2015, 8:49pm

He may have won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, but Eddie Redmayne's latest endeavor is set to spark even more discussion and controversy. Cast as the lead in The Danish Girl, Redmayne is playing one of the first known transgender people to have undergone sex reassignment surgery, 20th century artist Lili Elbe. He's not the first cisgendered male in Hollywood to have played a transgender woman - think of Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club - but in an interview with Out Magazine he admits he's fully aware of the responsibility that comes with taking on such a role.

An Eton and Cambridge graduate, Redmayne's research into transgender history was extensive, and his first port of call? Transgender activist, journalist and i-D contributor Paris Lees. At first critical of his casting, Lees says, "I asked him what he thought of people criticizing him for playing a trans woman. He said, 'Look, I've just played a man in his 50s with motor neurone disease. I'm acting.' I found that hard to argue with, and it really helped with my thinking on the subject." She continued, "As a trans woman, I don't think that if and when they make a biopic of my life I would want a cisgender man playing me," Lees says. "Politically, it makes me groan. But if anybody's going to do this justice, then I'm happy it's Eddie. We had a good chat about everything."

The film couldn't come at a more relevant time, with transgender rights becoming more visible in mainstream media: Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black, Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, and Elle Fanning playing a transitioning teenager in About Ray, and Redmayne also spoke about his own need to use this opportunity to spread the word even further on transgender issues. "Virtually all of the trans men and women I met would say, 'Ask me anything'," Redmayne told Out. "They know that need for cisgender people to be educated. I felt like, I'm being given this extraordinary experience of being able to play this woman, but with that comes this responsibility of not only educating myself but hopefully using that to educate [an audience]. Gosh, it's delicate. And complicated."

And ultimately, Redmane said: "My greatest ignorance when I started was that gender and sexuality were related. And that's one of the key things I want to hammer home to the world: You can be gay or straight, trans man or woman, and those two things are not necessarily aligned."

Eddie Redmayne
Lili Elbe
the danish girl