If there's a surprise name called out as one of the Best Supporting Actors this year on Oscar Nomination morning, might it be Eddie Redmayne? The rapidly ascending 30 year-old actor, a recent Tony winner for "Red" on Broadway, stood in as surrogate for our enduring communal crush on Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) in My Week With Marilyn just last season but the spotlight is even brighter now. Les Misérables' entire second act romantic structure spins on his swooning revolutionary Marius. In one of the quirks of movie awardage, male actors aren't generally honored for their facility with romantic drama, but Redmayne's secret weapon could well be his rendition of the grief stricken show-stopper "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" in which he mourns his fallen brothers who died at the lonely barricades... at dawn. He'll undoubtedly jerk at least some tears from the Academy's acting branch this week as they finalize their ballots (due on January 3rd).
I asked Redmayne about the massive pressure he must have felt approaching this famous number in Les Misérables and our conversation stretched back to Oliver! The Musical on stage and on through his non-musical duets with Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Michelle Williams in his young but vivid filmography. [More...]
NATHANIEL R: As a hardcore fan of the stage musical I was so nervous about this movie. Each casting announcement, every name, I was like 'Are they going to be able to pull this off?'
EDDIE REDMAYNE: Oh god. Trepidation.
NATHANIEL R: Including yours! I didn't know you could sing.
EDDIE REDMAYNE: [Laughter] Convert or not?
Your voice is beautiful! Do more musicals.
Thank you, mate.
But now I learn you've been singing for a long time. You were even in "Oliver!" as a kid on stage.
I did a play with Jonathan Pryce a few years ago, Edward Albee's "The Goat". On my first day of rehearsal he was like 'Nice to meet you'. I told him 'We've met before. I was in Oliver.' 'What were you: Oliver? Artful Dodger?' 'No I was urchin #46!' He was like 'Forgive me for not remembering.' I clearly didn't make much of an impact as 'Orphan to the left'!
But you sang!
I got to sing one song -- or part of one song. I've always enjoyed singing. I did it a bit in school and college. You sort of let things go as you get older. A great thing about film is you have to learn to horseride you get the best teacher in the world. If you have to learn to sing.... Mark Meylan who is a great West End singing teacher. You know how actors do that training thing for losing weight or putting on weight? It was two months of training the muscles, all this weird stuff like holding my tongue out to strengthen the back of the tongue.
By the time I arrived on set -- it was a bit like doing a dialect. You work with a coach for months. You do vowels and listen to your iPhone. By the time you come on the set it's in you.
So you don't have to even think about it.
You play the thought by that time.
When we think of Marius we think of "Empty Chairs" Since you know that that's your big moment to make your mark on the material, did you feel a lot of pressure?
Hell yes! You feel 30 years worth of pressure. That's what I had to audition with. I've done theater and film and it felt like the amazing thing about this was these two worlds meeting and extraordinary things came from that. I've heard Michael Ball sing THE version of that song for years. But with the greatest admiration and respect for that version I need to find a way to play through this medium which I've been working. The discovery of that was interesting.
But the stakes were high. On set it was a great community. You'd come in and hear the crew going [whispering] 'Did you hear Annie's 'I Dreamed a Dream'. It was breathtaking.' And lying there when Hugh sang "Bring Him Home" with all the students asleep, most of whom had been in the West End production. After he did it 14 times, these guys -- hardened West End performers -- were like "14 times?!?". Tom kept pushing "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" further and further towards the end of the shoot. It got to the point where I was 'Tom, we have to do it! I can't deal with the pressure any more.'
It was a closed set, very simple blocking. After seven takes he said 'I think we've got it.' I said 'No, no no no no. I have to keep going until I can't do it anymore.' With a play you can sort it the next day, on a film -- that's it. It's done. I just wanted to know that I'd given every ounce I could. Tom told me the other day that it was the last one, the 21st take of the song that he ended up using.
God! Could you speak the next day?
No, but that was the technical aspects of it. The first day we shot was when you first see us, when the horses come up and we're shouting. Of course you have to play that for real as well. I turned up on set the next day and genuinely didn't have a voice. We were all learning that as we went along. 'I have a love song the next day so I can't speak this day.' It was the very bizarre technical side of it.
I like to do a little game in interviews sometimes. I'm going to name three scenes from your filmography that pop into my mind and you have to choose which of them you'd film again right this second.
- Threatening Cate Blanchett with a gun in Elizabeth the Golden Age
- Skinny-dipping with Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. Or...
- That threesome with Hugh Dancy and Julianne Moore in Savage Grace
[Laughter]. You've chosen three crackers! That's amazing.
Which will it be? You have to do it again.
The threesome with Hugh & Julianne... there's a moment in it. You always think with those sorts of scene 'How do actors do it?' The answer is it's as awkward as if you were to do it. There's a moment at the end of the scene where Tom Kalin keeps the camera on top of us and we all sort of all kiss each other and burst into hysterics. That was completely natural hysteria "What just happened?!?" [Laughter]
The one with Michelle was shot in November in England. It was meant to be a bucolic summer's day. Michelle ended up on oxygen. I quite enjoyed running into Ely Cathedral and shouting the word "WHORE!" really really loudly at one of the most beautiful women. I actually loved filming with Cate Blanchett. So, that.
I was going to say 'wrong answer!' [Laughter].
I hope she doesn't take that offensively.
I love Savage Grace and no one ever talks about it!
You know what was interesting in relationship to this? What I was so proud of with Savage Grace is that it's a director's vision. I'm in a Tom Kalin film and that's his take on the world. And to Tom Hooper's absolute credit on a film of this scale with this many producers... He had to fight battles to get to do it live. I feel really proud to be in this -- it's Tom Hooper's vision of it.
You've been on stage with theatrical giants like Mark Rylance and worked with a few genuine movie stars now. Do you get intimidated. How do build rapport with them?
It always depends on how much you respect them as an actor. I still get totally starstruck -- if I were to meet a single member of The West Wing !!! It's not necessarily about status but about the people you admire. Certainly on this film, the cast was such an extraordinary lineup but the great leveler was that we were all doing something new. None of us knew how to do it. That coupled with nine weeks rehearsal meant it was a proper ensemble in the theatrical sense. Casts always talk about camarederie...
You hear that so often that...
...'is it actually true?' I do mean it! We were also bound by the fact that we were all put through these huge audition processes. We were content and exhausted by the time we arrived on set.
Did you sing any songs other than Les Miz numbers on set?
There was this infamous night of everyone going around to Russell's but I was working. The other night Sam and I were in San Francisco and Annie and Amanda were in Japan and they went and did a karaoke night. I feel slightly left out that I never get to join in.
I'm one of those hideous people with karaoke. I'm sort of all 'I can't I can't' and then I get a few drinks down and you have to literally rip the microphone away from me -- the most irritating type of person!
What about your own taste in music?
I have filthy test in music. It's quite embarrassing. Am I giving you the list to say to pretend I have taste or the real list?
The real list!
Anything that's in a chart! Whenever I am in Los Angeles I turn on the sort of cheesy radio and get mocked by my friends for humming along to whatever's playing. I'm definitely a Rihanna fan.