‘Theory of Everything’: How Eddie Redmayne Was Transformed Into Stephen Hawking

Theory of Everything Still - H 2014
Liam Daniel/Focus Features

Theory of Everything Still - H 2014

In Focus Features' The Theory of Everything, which opens Friday, Oscar frontrunner Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking, the renowned astrophysicist who continued his work while battling a motor neuron disease.

Behind the scenes, costume designer Steven Noble and hair, makeup and prosthetic designer Jan Sewell teamed up to allow moviegoers to see Hawkins start as a healthy, 21-year-old Cambridge University student, and then slowly transformation as the disease progressed into more advanced stages, paralyzing his body and eventually leaving him unable to speak without the help of a vocal-activated device.

The story was inspired by the memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen Hawking, written by Jane Hawking. Sewell relates that when they started work on the film, Jane (played by Felicity Jones in the movie) made herself available for interviews and also provided many photographs of Stephen at various stages in his life.

“I was looking quite closely at how to change the shape of his face and what the disease did to his body,” Sewell related, adding that she suggested to director James Marsh (who won on Oscar for his documentary Man on Wire) that they do very early makeup tests. “[Those with motor neutron disease] don’t use their muscles so they don’t age in the same way. It was important that we knew what he would look like at 21 and in the last stage. Then I would be able to work out the timeline."

“I immediately had Eddie’s face and mouth cast, and head shape taken. I had some very fine prosthetic pieces made — for instance, ears, because I had to change the scale of his face,” she continues. “In the beginning Eddie always had clips behind his ears to make them come out a bit. Halfway through we added ear lobes and different mouth pieces."

“For the end, I had a head shape made so you got the visual effect that the face was starting to slope, and had his ears made bigger so it looked like he was starting to shrink.” To make Redmayne appear boney, by this point he also had prosthetic shoulders, kneecaps — even hands.

This transformation was completed with the costuming. Again, there was plenty of documentation of what Hawking looked like, particularly as he aged, which helped Noble.

“It was a major collaboration [with hair and makeup], and I think it helped tremendously,” the costume designer said. “To make him look more emaciated, we made his costumes much bigger so he would shrink into them. We also made the wheelchair oversized so he looked smaller.”

His style changed — but not dramatically — with the times. In his later years, “he wore small checkered shirts with open collars; he couldn’t do buttons after he’d had his tracheotomy," Noble said. "We had colors from blues to greens to browns. And knitwear. It was a cozy, comforting texture."

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA