James Marsh On His Stephen Hawking Love Story
Everybody knows Stephen Hawking. The physicist in the wheelchair with the computer simulated voice is one of the most recognisable people on the planet and often the go-to when a conversation requires a reference to the smartest person living. Many will also have seen 2008’s Man On Wire, the Oscar winning documentary on Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the New York World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
Most people however would not know that the man behind the acclaimed film, British director James Marsh, has worked on a biographical Hollywood feature on Hawking’s youth and first marriage with young countryman and rising talent Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables, My Week With Marilyn) in the starring role as the famous scientist. Titled The Theory Of Everything, the film is based on the memoirs of ex-wife Jane Hawking who is played on screen by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman, The Amazing Spiderman 2). It is already generating Oscar buzz and we were lucky to have a quick chat with Marsh ahead of its release today.
What was it that drew you to directing The Theory Of Everything?
When the screenplay came my way I thought it was a biopic of Stephen Hawking and I wasn’t sure if that was something I could do or would be good at. I quickly realised it was not a full biopic but a portrait of his first marriage which was very intriguing. I didn’t know any of his story previously but when I finished reading the screenplay I was very drawn to the emotional complexity of the story. The fact it was Jane’s perspective was part of the reason I liked it so much, the female point of view was so strong and important.
Were there many options in the in the casting process for the roles of Stephen and Jane?
We’re not short of great actors in the UK but Eddie quickly became my personal choice. I was convinced he had both the fortitude and talent do this. It’s a role not many people could do. He knew what this was going to take, months of countless physical and mental preparation. He stood out because he had the grasp of the work that was entailed. I had known about Felicity for a while as an actress and was very intrigued by her previous work so she also became an easy choice for production.
What was Stephen Hawking’s involvement in the film?
We came to Stephen late in our pre-production more or less asking for his blessing for going ahead with the project. He gave it to us in a gracious but not enthusiastic way. The relationship developed more when he came to set one night and it was like a spaceship landing. It was quite a moment for Eddy and Felicity. They had only been filming for two days and then had this test to pass with him watching.
When it came to showing him the finished film it was a very nerve racking experience. It was hard to discern whether he liked it or not while he was watching it. Later on he told us it felt like he was watching himself on screen which was an amazing compliment to Eddie.
He then offered the use of his voice and that changed the film in a very mysterious way last minute. Before that we were using our own contrived version. It felt like he had given us his approval through a gift.
Are you aware of the Oscar attention surrounding the film ahead of its release?
I’m not really the right person to ask. You never expect it when you begin a project and it goes beyond my purview. You make a film and once it’s finished you put it in front of an audience and after that you’ve done you’re job. Whatever happens after is really beyond my control or influence. It would be great if it weren’t.
Do you know what project you’re are working on next?
As we speak I’m shooting a TV show here in New York. It’s called Crime, a new show for HBO with John Turturro and a young British actor Riz Ahmed who’s fantastic. They’re both fantastic.
Stay tuned for our feature on the in demand Eddie Redmayne. The Theory Of Everything is out in theatres today.