Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why I Like Eddie Redmayne (Even If You Think He's Oscar Bait-y)

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
There is a certain amount of flack that I have received for my opinions on Eddie Redmayne. Mind you, I don't consider him my favorite actor. It mostly came to fruition last year when The Theory of Everything had come out. Most considered it a little too sentimental of a portrait of Stephen Hawking. Meanwhile, I thought that it was perfectly accessible biopic fare that was, at very least, better than The Imitation Game. It was also a moment in which I chose to argue that I was as impressed with his physical transformation as I was watching Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. I still maintain that. With director Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl making rounds at the Venice Film Festival, many are claiming that something unusual will happen. He may get back-to-back Oscars. Without seeing the film, I can honestly say that I hope it works out.

This win wouldn't just be an average win. It would be a far more rare pattern that only Spencer Tracy, Jason Robards, Luise Rainer, Katharine Hepburn, and Tom Hanks have done before. That honor is winning back-to-back Oscars. While many would think that this hat trick is easy, it's not considering the low pool you have to draw from. Most of the best never achieved this, and yet we are already speculating it for Redmayne. Then again, The Danish Girl doesn't promise to be just any awards-baiting movie. It wants to be one that is revolutionary, or at least make transgender stories more accessible to mainstream audiences. That is, if you believe Hooper's comments regarding the representation of transgender performers.

There's a good chance that Redmayne will be called "brave" for this role. It's a remark that actual LGBT actors like Ellen Page have decried because it's inconsequential to call gay actors brave for playing straight. However, there is likely something that drew him to the role of the first transgender woman that will shine through in the final film. He previously worked with Hooper on his previous film, Les Miserables (another film that I am alone in loving), which was probably his biggest role to that point. While his role was deeply flawed, it did have a lot of compelling substance and reflected the actor to come shortly in The Theory of Everything.

I have recently read a review by Indiewire critic Demetrios Matheou, which states that Redmayne is quickly becoming a modern Daniel Day Lewis. While opinions are open to criticism, I do think it holds weight. Even if Redmayne doesn't quite have the discipline of Lewis, I do think that we've seen plenty of diversity from the actor in just the past three years. He has done musicals, physical transformations, blockbusters (Jupiter Ascending), and now a drama about a transgender woman. Even if it's hard to see Lewis in a Wachowski movie, the rest adds up to an actor with a lot of compelling force behind him. Still, I don't know that it's right to call him anything that prestigious, considering that Lewis earned it over decades and limited work where Redmayne slowly made a name for himself, first most notably in My Week with Marilyn.

I think it's premature to raise the enthusiasm for that back-to-back award, even if it does seem rightly possible. Consider that Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump, then immediately won for playing an AIDS patient in Philadelphia. The trajectory feels very similar if The Danish Girl ends up holding its acclaim. Even then, it feels controversial because of its subject matter and thus may not entirely pay off. The one caveat is that Jared Leto recently won for playing a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club. I'm more worried that it will be a novelty win, even if I do think that Redmayne is capable of playing the spectrum necessary to pull off the convincing role. Even then, Steve Jobs' premiere at Telluride has already suggested that Michael Fassbender is a force to be reckoned with. 

So, it is tough to really gauge what to make of Redmayne's potential shot at a rare title. Most are likely going to be annoyed, seeing as most don't think he's as great of an actor as they say. I feel likely to write more defense pieces as The Danish Girl hits wide release. For now, I want to say that he's better than you're likely giving him credit for. He may not be the best, but the fact that he is choosing challenging roles at least shows some dedication to craft. I remain adamant that The Theory of Everything worked because of him. Even if you found it too sentimental, I think that the performance did resonate in some way. Even if Redmayne gets type casted as the Oscar bait actor, it's better him than, say, Benedict Cumberbatch. Redmayne at least challenges himself to be interesting, and I have a feeling that's what we'll be seeing this year as well.

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