Stephen Hawking’s brilliant mind has always been his most famous and celebrated attribute, but the actual man behind the science has often remained a relative mystery. In the new biographical drama The Theory of Everything, out Nov. 7, viewers are given a rare glimpse at the astonishing personal struggles one of the world’s most renowned scholars endured throughout his journey toward professional triumph.
While Hawking’s academic accomplishments are astounding, the tenacious devotion of his longtime partner and first wife, Jane, is noteworthy in its own right and depicted with unblinking allegiance and realism in the film. Based upon Jane Hawking’s 2008 memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” The Theory of Everything showcases the variables behind one extraordinary relationship no mathematical equation could create or ultimately solve.
Surf & Sunshine attended the Theory of Everything red carpet premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills Oct. 28, and talked with stars Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Misérables) and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy, The Invisible Woman) about bringing Stephen and Jane Hawking’s incredible story to the big screen. For both actors, the chance to portray such dynamic figures was both enticing and intimidating, considering the high levels of emotional and physical dedication required.
Redmayne, in particular, was faced with the difficult challenge of demonstrating Stephen Hawking’s debilitating battle with ALS alongside his groundbreaking work in astrophysics. The actor discussed the rigorous discipline and open mind needed to approach such a multi-faceted role.
“For me, it was about time, really. James [Marsh], the director, allowed me four months to prepare, and it was about educating myself on everything around the subject matter,” Redmayne began. “What was a wonderful and great lesson for me was really learning about the physics, but also learning about the intricacies of this brutal disease and seeing the ramifications it has on real families.”
Redmayne went on to reveal he worked with a dancer to help incorporate his diligent research into the crucial physical elements of his performance, saying his objective was to “find a way of putting that [knowledge] into my body.” The results are undeniable, as the actor is already generating notable Oscar buzz for his work.
As Jane, Jones was tasked with portraying a complicated character facing agonizing decisions no one could imagine, let alone a wife and mother with intellectual aspirations of her own. Having met during their respective collegiate studies at Cambridge, Jane and Stephen married in 1965 and had three children despite Stephen’s grim diagnosis just two years earlier. Jane also embarked upon a doctorate in medieval Spanish poetry, a remarkable feat considering the bleak odds stacked against her and her family.
“There’s no way that she’s ‘just the wife,’ that’s for sure,” Jones said, commenting on the misconception that The Theory of Everything is primarily a Stephen Hawking biopic. After all, she noted, the story is adapted from Jane’s own published perspective. “It’s a film about two people. It’s a film about their relationship, about this incredible, fierce love that they had, and how they did everything that they could to survive very difficult circumstances.”
Jane remained fiercely loyal to Stephen, and vice versa, as his health only continued deteriorating. However, the devastating aftermath of Stephen’s condition eventually caused an inevitable rift as the couple entered middle age. Both Jane and Stephen pursued relationships outside their marriage and ended up divorcing in 1995, but have maintained a respectful friendship in the years since. For Jones, this personalized twist on the traditional happy ending made The Theory of Everything an even more important story to tell.
“That’s what I loved about the film. I thought it was extraordinary, this unconventional relationship at the heart of it,” Jones gushed. “This woman who is love with two men and decides to live with both of them, I thought that was tremendous,” she chuckled, before discussing her inspiration in greater depth. “I read the script and I was just blown away. It’s this strong woman who’s also a mother, also has a career in her own right, and [is] a caregiver trying to juggle those roles. And also, it’s about this woman’s sexual identity, a woman having an affair as well. So, it was a great opportunity for an actress.”
Producer Lisa Bruce marveled at the film’s two vibrant leads, saying both actors were considered front-runners even at the production’s infancy.
“Eddie and Felicity were always on very, very short lists for a lot of obvious reasons,” Bruce confirmed. “They’re both the right age, the right look, and Eddie sort of has characteristics that are like Stephen. And, he’s an amazing actor. In that process, I think they’d both come to a place in their careers where they could really take this on.”
In addition to their individual talent, Bruce emphasized the importance of Redmayne and Jones’ believability as an onscreen duo. Luckily, she said, their compatibility as performers was the last thing the filmmakers had to worry about.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’d have a movie without that amazing chemistry that they have. If you’re making a love story you have to have that. It’s not just something you can produce, it’s something they bring to the table,” she declared.
Redmayne also stressed the magnitude of Stephen and Jane’s relationship as the film’s driving force. Despite considerable focus on his character’s physical traits and limitations, Redmayne explained how he prioritized his responsibilities as an actor to mirror those of Stephen Hawking himself.
“What was really important to me was that the film wasn’t about a disease, but it was a love story, really,” he said. “When you meet Stephen, the disease couldn’t be less important. It’s entirely secondary to him.”
Those looking for a detailed examination of Stephen Hawking’s unprecedented scientific contributions might be surprised to learn The Theory of Everything is considerably more concerned with matters of the heart than of the head. Despite the movie’s emotional ties, Bruce pointed out how Stephen and Jane’s life together still illustrates appropriate themes of celestial grandeur.
“It’s such a unique love story in that they face challenges that most able-bodied people will never face,” she said. “They were able to reach beyond where most of us ever go. It’s this impossible life they took on, and yet they reached outer space.”
The Theory of Everything opens in limited release Nov. 7.