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‘Daunting’ role in The Danish Girl was an education for Eddie Redmayne

Eddie in The Danish Girl (Universal)
Eddie in The Danish Girl (Universal)

Only two actors — Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks — have ever won the Best Actor Oscar two years in a row, but Eddie’s given himself a chance of doing the same — even though he’s playing a woman.

The 33-year-old actor, who won the Academy Award last year for his performance as Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, takes the title role in The Danish Girl.

It’s the story of Lili Elbe, who found notoriety in the 1920s by becoming one of the first people in the world to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Directed by Tom Hooper, Eddie first became aware of the story when the two were working together on Les Miserables.

“I was at the Les Misérables barricades, and Tom said: ‘I would like you to read something,’” recalls Eddie.

“Tom then got me the script and I sat down to read it, knowing nothing about it.

“I was profoundly moved, it blew my mind, and I wanted to be part of it.

“Was I daunted by it? Yes, I was, but I’m daunted by everything.

“But I have begun to realise that fear of not doing a character or a story justice is a galvanising thing — it pushes me forward and makes me work harder.”

Beginning in Copenhagen in 1926, we first meet Lili as artist Einar Wegener, in a loving marriage to Gerda (Alicia Vikander) and revered for landscape paintings.

Wife Gerda is also an artist and while working to make a deadline on a portrait, she asks her husband to fill in for a model by putting on a dress.

It’s a transformative moment, as Einar realises being Lili is an expression of her truest self, and begins living her life as a woman.

Despite society’s disapproval, Gerda stands by her woman, moving to Paris so she can fulfil her journey as a transgender pioneer.

“At its heart, it’s a love story and how, as a duo, you overcome the hurdles of life,” muses Eddie.

“It’s also dumbfounding, almost 100 years on from Lili, how little has progressed for what is a civil rights movement.

“There’s a huge amount of work to be done.

“Meeting people from the trans community and hearing about their lives and their realities made it very important to me to get this message out there.

“Every trans story is unique and individual but every single trans person I met talked about knowing, from their youth, that their assigned gender was different from their own identity.

“I started this experience being deeply ignorant.

“I didn’t realise that gender and sexuality were not related — I didn’t understand the notion of fluidity in both gender and sexuality.

“Every day, everything about the process was an education.

“The people I’ve met, and their experiences they have shared with me, have changed me. And I am so grateful for that.”

The Danish Girl is in cinemas now.