clock menu more-arrow no yes

A neurologist explains how she helped Eddie Redmayne play Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.
(Focus Features)

As many predicted, Eddie Redmayne took home the Oscar Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. And there's good reason for his win — Redmayne worked incredibly hard to make sure the portrayal was as realistic as possible, according to a new report in the medical journal BMJ.

To pull off the role, Redmayne had to learn how to portray the 72 year-old scientist, a quadriplegic living with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

This was no small feat. The film shows Hawking throughout several stages of his life, which meant Redmayne had to be able to capture the progression of the disease. This was even more difficult for Redmayne, since the film wasn't shot chronologically. That meant that on any given day, he could be portraying Hawking at several different stages of his condition.

To prepare for the role, Redmayne had four-hour coaching sessions with Alexandra Reynolds, a Hollywood choreographer who also helped come up with the movements of the zombies in World War Z.

He also worked with Katie Sidle, a consultant neurologist at the Queen Square Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases in London. Sidle recently spoke to BMJ about what it was like helping Redmayne prepare for his role. You can listen to the recording below.

Redmayne and Sidle studied photographs of Hawking in various stages of his life to track the progression of his illness. Based on their findings, Redmayne created a chart intricately tracking the progression of Hawking's illness, which allowed Redmayne to know precisely what Hawking's physicality was at each particular moment of filming. The chart tracked the physicist's progression from one cane to two canes, to a wheelchair. It also tracked the dystrophy of his musculature, and his transition to an electronically provided voice.

All of the work Redmayne put into the film has paid off wonderfully for him and the film, which in general has received good reviews and numerous accolades. Even Hawking, who was arguably the film's toughest critic, thought Redmayne's performance was "broadly true."

Redmayne also met with patients who have ALS. As Sidle explains in the clip, each patient that Redmayne interviewed first met with her confidentially to address any concerns they might have had before they met the actor. During these private meetings, Remayne and Reynolds (his movement coach) would sit in the waiting room, which provided them the opportunity to observe patients' natural movements.

According to Sidle, meeting Redmayne — whom she describes as "a very pleasant, modest chap" — was a positive experience for patients. Not only were they happy to spend time with the actor, but they were glad to take part in such an important discussion.

"They felt they were somehow leaving a legacy, to some degree, in helping with the film," said Sidle.