Actor Eddie Redmayne on The Danish Girl, His Approach to Trans Role

Redmayne plays trans icon Lili Elbe - Courtesy
Redmayne plays trans icon Lili Elbe

In the British-American drama The Danish Girl, a “fictional account” of the life of landscape artist Einar Wegener, one of the first recipients of sexual reassignment surgery, Academy Award-winning actor Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) portrays Wegener during his transition into a woman in the mid-1920s. The film also explores the relationship between Einar (now known as Lili) with wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who helps her

spouse confront the struggle she faces during her change in identity.

During an interview with the Current, Redmayne, 33, talked about how Lili and Gerda’s love story resonated with him and how he approached the role though extensive research. 

The Danish Girl is currently playing exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Theater.

LGBT films have been considered more of a niche market in the last few years. Do you think a film like The Danish Girl can help more of these movies get out into the mainstream, especially with the way the societal landscape is changing?

I suppose I hope so in some way. When I read this script I was making Les Misérables about four years ago and [director] Tom Hooper gave it to me. What blew me away was the love story at the center of this film. For me it was a film about love, not being defined by gender or by bodies or by sexuality, but love being about souls. I hope that we’ve retained that in the film.

Did any of the research you did for this role include speaking to transgendered men or women? If so, what did you learn about them that helped you create Lili's character?

A large amount of prep for playing Lili was meeting men and women from the trans community and hearing their stories. Across the board, everyone was staggeringly generous and opened their hearts. They expressed their story to me so I could try and play Lili as authentically as possible because she is an icon within the trans community. The amount I learned was formidable. One of the great things about being an actor when you’re preparing to play a part is when you meet people and they become friends. I’ve made some great friendships through prepping this film.

This film is described as a "fictional account" of the real story. You've been part of a handful of biographical films in your career. Do the ones that take more creative license feel as genuine as the ones that try to stay as close to the original narrative as possible?

What a great question! I suppose whenever you’re condensing someone’s life into an hour and a half film, there is always license that has to be taken. With Lili’s story specifically, there is a story of what Lili and Gerta went through and then there is a book (“Man into Woman”) that was published after Lili’s death that, in theory, is her writing, but people question how reliable that source is. And then there is a fictional book called “The Danish Girl” (by David Ebershoff), which is based on that book. For me it was about taking all that information, particularity the paintings that Gerta did of Lili. Looking at those paintings and scrutinizing them, you see such love in those canvases. That’s kind of how I approached it – reading about how transwomen live now and trying to relate their experience to what was happening in the 1920s.

There are some parents today who have a child and decide not to identify them at birth as either a boy or a girl because they want the child to make that decision on their own. Do you think this practice could help or hinder the child in any way?

I see gender as being fluid. I feel we all have elements of, I suppose, what is called masculine and feminine in us. We shouldn’t be defined by it. What blew my mind about this script is that it’s about two souls meeting. That’s what the love is. It’s love between two souls.

Since winning the Oscar earlier this year for The Theory of Everything, how has your life changed professionally?

(Laughs) Since February, I’ve been working on [author and screenwriter] J.K. Rowling’s new film Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them]. So, my head has been pretty immersed in that world. So, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not so sure much has changed, but I’ve been lucky enough to work with her on this extraordinary film Fantastic Beasts, so that’s been enough for me. That’s been a wonderful thing.

My last question will be more of a comment. To help promote the film, the studio, Focus Features, sent me a bouquet of lilies. That day, my wife came home and found them on the counter and asked me if I had bought them for her, so I lied and said yes. So, I just wanted to tell you thank you for the lilies.

(Laughs) I hope she enjoyed the lilies!


Since 1986, the SA Current has served as the free, independent voice of San Antonio, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming an SA Current Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today to keep San Antonio Current.

Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles

Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.