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Monday
Oct272014

Does Eddie Redmayne in "Theory of Everything" = Daniel Day Lewis in "My Left Foot"?

A consistent yet elusive golden thrill: that moment in each year's Oscar race wherein everyone disagrees on who and what is the frontrunner in this or that category.

There are a few different schools of thought out there about who might win Best Actor. I have always believed and probably will continue to believe that the race for Oscar nominations is a very different and altogether more interesting contest than who will eventually win them. Because of this I like to focus on that before I get to "who will win" but I'll make an exception today for fun. Most experts (see this handy Gurus of Gold chart) currently name Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as the leading threats to win the statue. I agree wholeheartedly with this and actually believe that they're the only three who could pull off a win in this particular year (unless American Sniper is some sort of late breaking Oscar stampeding Million Dollar Baby for Bradley Cooper... but I personally doubt it). Who will fill the other two 'not-in-it-for-the-win' slots is anyone's guess. I've returned again to the unpopular notion that Channing Tatum and Steve Carell will both win Best Actor nominations for Foxcatcher but I've mostly done so under the file labeled "Why Not? Who knows?" The competition for those two final slots is where the action is right now and there are about twelve guys who, with the right combo of precursor support, smart campaign moves, media approval, film heat coattails, and/or old fashioned luck could still pull it off. Any of the 12 who aren't out there fighting for it are, frankly, crazy.

Eddie at an AMPAS screening of THEORY OF EVERYTHINGBut, jumping ahead... who will win? 

On twitter today I was briefly discussing this with Kris & Jenelle and found them both sympathetic to my notion that Redmayne has a rather underdiscussed but considerable advantage in that he is enormously charming in person. When races are tight, charm counts for a lot. I've seen him in public thrice, met him once, and this charm is highly visible. What's more his charm never tilts toward cockiness but toward genuine-feeling humility. That's quite a trick if you stop to think about how actors build successful careers...

Enormous self-confidence is a key ingredient in big careers. The humility is also a very good trick if you're a young male actor in a town that prefers their male actors to be firmly established before they're worthy of large honors. Too cocky and people think 'you haven't earned it yet, upstart!'

I'm currently of the belief that Eddie Redmayne will win though I know a lot of people, like Daniel who I also spoke with on twitter today, think this is crazy and that he's too young and underfamous for Oscar's Kind of Hollywood annual prize. Daniel's contention, which I'm sure is shared by many, is that Daniel Day Lewis -- the most common reference point for a Redmayne win since DDL was Redmayne's same age and also played a severely disabled man who made impressive contributions to the world -- was considerably more acclaimed and famous then than Redmayne is now when he won.

I'm hear to argue, as someone who lived through the rise of DDL and was there from the ground floor, that this is not really the case. 

Daniel at Eddie's age

Like Redmayne now, Daniel Day-Lewis had fans before his Oscar win but he wasn't anything like a household name. He had won early critical plaudits but, here's the long forgotten point, they did not come from one defining performance. Most of the enthusiasm about his future stemmed from the totally coincidental fact that My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View opened in US arthouses within three weeks of each other in the spring of 1986. Back then, without the internet, things didn't happen instantaneously and as the year progressed more people began to realize that sexy dangerous gay punk Johnny and stuffy offputting intellectual Cecil were played by the same actor and they were frankly, and with good reason, kind of freaked out about it. I saw both performances that spring (I snuck to Laundrette because it was gay and my parents would have never let me see it and I saw the Merchant/Ivory with my parents) and I couldn't believe it either. By the end of the year everyone realized that there was a new chameleon in town but this did not result in major awards traction nor major media coverage. He won the NBR and the NYFCC for both performances, one of those shared awards to honor an actor having a good year, but in both cases he wasn't the chief takeaway from the film and no larger awards followed. His buzz was entirely due to how different the characters were and the realization that "wow, this guy is an excellent actor". Other actors and elements of those films won Oscar and BAFTA heat. DDL followed up that double whammy but quiet breakthrough with two leading roles in Stars & Bars (which no one went to see) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (which critics cared about but mostly for the actresses surrounding him.)

In short when Daniel Day-Lewis made his Oscar arrival with My Left Foot he was essentially a 32 year old sudden sensation that people already thought of as a respected actor based on previous work on stage, television and the big screen but not one individual performance who had led a few films (most notably My Beautiful Laundrette which won a small degree of Oscar attention) but who was best known for his participation in a previous Best Picture nominee (A Room With a View) which won 8 Oscar nominations including two for his co-stars (not him) and 3 Oscar wins. But he was not in anyway, already an iconic hugely beloved star or even the consensus choice of Best Actor of His Generation. Time has a way of altering perceptions fo the past to conform to current truths but Daniel Day-Lewis was not yet DANIEL DAY-LEWIS at the time if you know what I mean.

Which is, roughly speaking, exactly where we are in the career of Eddie Redmayne. He is 32 years old and already respected as an actor based on previous work (including a Tony Award) on stage, television, and screen but no defining role yet who has led a few films (most notably My Week With Marilyn which won some Oscar attention) and is best known for delivering an acclaimed performance in a Best Picture nominee (Les Misérables) which won 8 nominations including two for his co-stars (not him) and 3 Oscar wins. 

Eddie's first big showbiz prize: The Tony. Can Oscar follow?I don't mean to suggest that My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables are future classics in the way that My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View became but the similarities in the careers to date are kind of spooky- crazy if you ask me. 

Were Eddie to win the Oscar he'd be a young winner but not "too" young as many on the internet have claimed. Redmayne turns 33 the week before Oscar nominations so if he does win he'd be older for his historic moment than past recipients by the names of Adrien Brody, Richard Dreyfus, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Stewart, Maximilian Schell, Marlon Brando, and Daniel Day-Lewis. Whether or not Eddie Redmayne can have the kind of future that Daniel Day-Lewis enjoyed as he entered his Jesus year (33) remains to be seen but Eddie's off to a pretty grand start. 

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Reader Comments (35)

But there are also some dissimilarities to DDL and his career.
1 (and most important) DDL reads older, both on screen and in person. Eddie reads younger than 32. He reads younger than Brody did when he won.
2 Eddie does not have a range of roles as widely diverse as Laundrette, Room and Foot under his belt. DDL, was a force to be reckoned with once Left Foot opened. Eddie is really good, but this is his first real transformation.

I like Redmayne (I even watched Pillars of the Earth), but I think this one goes to Cumberboy or Birdman.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

EVERYTHING about this post is awesome and illuminating. Great job finding those eerie parallels Nathaniel. It's stuff like that that makes this site unique among film/Oscar blogs.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

Redmayne visually reads too young. There is a male voter bloc who gravitate to men not boys. Keaton and Cumberbatch are men. And in the case of Cumberbatch his first Oscar nomination is inevitable. He has Weinstein backing. And his raves are only overshadowed by Keaton not Redmayne.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I thought Redmayne was in his mid-20s until I looked it up a few weeks ago, but he looks even younger than that. It feels especially weird that he's older than Cage was when he won.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

But, if best actress goes to Julianne Moore like most seem to suspect at this point, maybe voters will choose to go younger in the actor category, which is uncharacteristic but an excuse is an excuse. While there was only 6 years between Nicole Kidman and Adrian Brody, there was 18 years between Susan Sarandon and Nicolas Cage, 26 years between Geraldine Page and William Hurt, and 58 years between Jessica Tandy and Daniel Day-Lewis. There would be 20 years between Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne (or 15 between Moore and Cumberbatch). Both Keaton and Moore would seem to steer a slight too old - and not only that, but both would be gunning for "well it's about time" awards. Moore obviously more than Keaton, but he'd be trying for the Mickey Rourke style comeback upswing.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I know nothing about campaigning and how it affects awards. I remember reading some years back that Marion Cottilard's charming and thorough campaigning helped her awards chances.

And both Redmayne and Cumberbatch are extremely charming in current media (and apparently in person). That's on top of a reportedly great performance in a movie that has some box office appeal.

One of the things I've liked so much about Michael Keaton's performances is his abrasive and prickly persona. Can you imagine asking Beetlejuice why he isn't more likeable? Or Ray in Jackie Brown?

But the immediately post Batman print media sometimes didn't work well for Keaton. He came across as self centered, irritable, and ungrateful. But new media is a different thing, and maybe Keaton will look like a more complex and mature person as he campaigns (although I wish nobody had to campaign),

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

It's all very depressing when I read posts like this and I haven't even had a chance yet to see the films we're talking about. What gives?

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

I just realized that if Redmayne and Julianne Moore both win, it will be a Savage Grace reunion backstage for the acting winners' photo. That would be deliciously disturbing.

October 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Could a Savage Grace reunion be in the cards.... Moore and Redmayne?

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

I'm curious--your parents wouldn't let you see Laundrette, so how did they feel about Room's rather shocking for the time full frontal swim scene?

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbiffboff

Henry took the point behind a question I was going to ask: do you think that Eddie Redmayne's youthful appearance will hurt him? (For example, I was shocked to learn a month ago that Redmayne is 32.)

I'm also left wondering if Redmayne and Cumberbatch may split votes. I know that we're not supposed to say that 'Imitation Game' and 'Theory' are similar films, but...

Despite all the praise that this year's Actor contenders are getting, I must say that none of them strike me as a potential winner at this point. I'm still hoping for a transcendent performance by O'Connell, Oyelowo, or whoever.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I think Eddie is third behind Keaton and Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is already a star outside the US so I think he has easy wins at BAFTA and the Globes (assuming Keaton is Comedy/Musical, though you never know). At this point, I think if Birdman or TIG win BP, then the lead will also win Best Actor.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSid

I know that sometimes this is not that important, but does Redmayne really compares to DDL in terms of performance? Because I get the feeling that his work in My Left Foot was SO undeniable that his age became less important. Today, playing disabilities is not that impressive as a skill, and, in anytime, playing disabilities never was as impressive as made by Daniel Day-Lewis.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I'm with you, Nathaniel, on Foxcatcher's double citation for Carrell and Tatum, but ONLY if the movie opens soon and they both win EQUAL amounts of praise. I believe if they garner exceptional praise they might just make the impossible possible.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

The equation "play Stephen Hawking and win an Oscar" is as boring as the one with Thatcher, but that's the world we live in, so I think you're absolutely right. Plus I like Eddie very much since I discovered him in Savage Grace. Wouldn't it be great if Julianne also wins? They could recreate they're infamous scene on stage.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

The thing for me is Benedict played Hawking before and if that starts getting talk going Redmayne won't win and Benedict wil,there will be lots of factors the schmoozingthe power house behind you,reviews,age,timing,strange too how all 3 are first timers who are going to win on their 1st nod unless like you say Cooper makes a late breakthrough and I have to disagree and think he might,

Could you do a piece now on Actress,i'd love to hear those thoughts!!!

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Great write-up, Nathaniel.

I think Benedict will win only if Imitation Game wins picture.
I just don't see Cumberbatch winning solo.

If Boyhood (or Unbroken) wins, Keaton (or Redmayne) will win.

It would be awesome if the winners were different throughout the Globes, SAG, BAFTA, etc.

I'm rooting for Tatum in the Best Actor 5 as well.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

cal -- i'm the wrong person to ask because I am never all that impressed with phsyical stunts like playing disabled (or mimicry). I have never quite understood the fuss over DDL's My Left Foot turn which is a strong performance but not a patch on his two subsequent Oscar winning performances if you ask me.

October 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel, Lewis played a Disney hall of presidents animotronic for his third win. Hardly something to celebrate as a crowning achievement of acting.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I didn't like Day Lewis in Lincoln and think it's his weakest nominated turn,they ust had to give it to him 3 times for some reasonMweryl giving Daniel the Award proably factored in toostange enough yes but all the hoopla matterlook at Streisand giving in Bigelow,no ones telling me that they didn't have some sort of idea..

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

There are indeed many similarities with these two career paths. But a big difference is that DDL had a lead in a major movie that won acclaim (Unbearable Lightness). Eddie has never led a film before, right? This would kill his chances. JMO.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I haven't seen Theory of Everything, but from what I've heard from other people or read in reviews, it doesn't sound like the same quality/type of performance as DDL's, even with physical disability as similarity. And Nathaniel, I too am not much of a fan of DDL in My Left Foot either, but at the very least it's a defiant, sometimes angry, complicated character.

Whereas with Redmayne, I'm reminded of Manohla Dargis' assessment "lovely, toothy"..."Mr. Redmayne’s genius endures bodily ordeals without experiencing any commensurate dark days of the soul" And a friend of mine says Felicity Jones actually does the most heavy lifting in terms of emotional work in the film.

I'm not a fan of Cumberbatch, but it does seem to me like he has an easier path to Oscar, with a more tragic character and a film that he carries on his shoulders.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

/3rtful -- most of the world would disagree with that assessment. Not that it's not okay to have a contrarian opinion. But it is important to know that it is a completely contrarian opinion.

Kate -- that's a great point Manohla makes. But at least in Toronto the fervor for that performance was way above what i heard for Cumberbatch's. I heard a millino Redmayne IS Stephen Hawking which is my least favorite assessment of any biographical performance but which often proves Oscar winning when that assessment is widely shared.

October 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Great write-up. I've long felt like Redmayne or Keaton would win. Also, not to take away from the intelligent discussion of it all, but how beautiful and lustrous is Daniel Day-Lewis' hair in that photo?

Since 1998 there has been not a single year in which there was not at least one acting win for playing a real person.
Could this year break the "streak"?
I'm not thinking Redmayne will win, but if he starts to sweep the television awards, I might overthink it.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I'm not a fan of Lewis in Lincoln either. I get why people love it, but I would have voted for Joaquín in a category inexplicably without Trintignant.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

That pic of DDL shows an eerie resemblance to Finn Witrock--Dorian Grey perhaps?

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Sonja -- god i would so love that streak to be broken. It's so incredibly boring since original characters are so much more exciting.

October 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

DDL has aged very well. I saw him on the street recently and he is a very fine looking man.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Nice assessment of the race. I would love to see Ralph Fiennes in there as well. Maybe too light for the Academy, but I still think it is one of his finest. And IMO, Redmayne was the single greatest thing about "'Les Miserables." He should have scored a nod for his work then. And there are so many possibilities for those 3rd and 4th slots. Teller, anyone?

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Ooh... if your nomination predictions are right Michael Keaton would be the only nominee playing a fictional character. Maybe that might give him an edge? In the thinkpiece wars at least. Michael Keaton as Birdman: more than an Imitation Game or some such like. Especially since Cumberbatch and Redmayne and their roles seem to be at least surface similar. And there can be no hit-pieces saying they've whitewashed Birdman and that he was actually a torturer or something.

Did anyone see Benedict Cumberbatch on Graham Norton at the weekend? The Imitation Game people have definitely been drilled for campaign mode. I heard Keira Knightley being interviewed and she was very careful to say that her character was not completely true to life-a pre-emptive strike against those backlash pieces!

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersvg

I'm excited that this year we seem to be looking at a Best Actor line-up with all first-time nominees. Some are veterans, some are up-and-comers, but they'd all be nominated for the first time if Nathaniel's predictions are correct. That's exciting and I'm looking forward to calling these people "Academy-Award Nominee ....".

I saw The Theory of Everything last week at the Morelia Film Festival and Eddie Redmayne is terrific. Not sure he's Daniel Day-Lewis terrific, but he manages to take the clichés of the disabled genius biopic genre and make them feel fresh, mostly because he has the brethtaking Felicity Jones as his screen partner and she does do a lot of the heavy lifting (it's a co-Lead movie if I ever saw one), but Redmayne manages to carry plenty of it as well. I'm seeing Birdman this weekend and I'm not sure when I'll see Imitation Game. I saw Foxcatcher in Morelia as well, and I kind of agree with Nathaniel on this one. I really liked Channing Tatum in it and it would be great to see him nominated, though I think they'll go with Steve Carell first and while I think Steve Carell should have been a nominee by now (his performance in Little Miss Sunshine is among my absolute favorites), this one feels very labored and showy in the worst way and I'm not entirely sure it's all Carell's fault (the film's pacing doesn't help).

Anyway, that's my take on it. For the record, I love all three of DDL's Oscar-winning performances, all for different reasons. I love how DDL can make Oscar bait feel fresh and inspiring (not sure how to explain that, but I've always felt it)...

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I live in Houston. NONE of these movies have played here.

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

Redmayne is great, but I didn't think the movie was particularly fab (biopic, biopic). Which could work against him.

(I almost take it personally when people diss DDL's Lincoln, one of my favorite performances in a Hollywood film this century. But I don't.)

October 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

nice post

April 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterlatest govt jobs

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