Venice Film Fest: 'The Danish Girl' Stars, Director Talk Lessons Learned From Making Film

"Yes, it’s a film about inclusion, but the key to inclusion is love,” said director Tom Hooper.

Eddie Redmayne has already set award columnists buzzing about his role as Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, which premieres Saturday night in Venice. Redmayne recreates the transformation of artist Einar Wegener into Elbe, at a time when the term transgender did not exist. Alicia Vikander plays wife Gerda, also a groundbreaking historical figure in this true-life love story distributed by Focus Features.

While many have criticized the film for not casting a transgender actor, Hooper explained earlier that casting choices were limited when the project begun. And additionally, as much of the film Einar is still a man, he believed Redmayne was perfect for the job. “Instead of it being a process of how Eddie might learn to imitate a woman, it was how he was uncovering a latent femininity, uncovering the woman inside,” said Hooper speaking to international press.

For Redmayne’s part, he said it wouldn’t have been possible to give the performance he gave without the help of the transgender community. He called his research process for the film a “mammoth education,” and was grateful for the openness and honestly in the help he received. He pieced together the role from books about the historic couple and information from modern-day trans-couples spanning multiple generations.

Over the research process, Redmayne was particularly struck by two things said by a transgender woman in Los Angeles. One, that “she would give her everything and anything to live a life authentic,” he said. “And the other thing was in relation to how her partner, while she was transitioning, the question for her was how deep was her partner’s pool of empathy. And those two things sat with me the whole way through the filming process.”

The film is unique in establishing characters for which there is no predecessor, in both sides of the couple. “I think what’s extraordinary about this story is how the emergence of Lili became possible partly because of the space created by art,” said Hooper. “If you look at Gerda’s character, she was extraordinary in challenging gender roles in the 1920s. This is a woman in the 20s who was determined to be a professional artist, who’s overly ambitious, overly driven, who doesn’t allow society to stop her expression as a woman artist. It’s easy now to not realize how radical Gerda was.”

The director continued to say, “We live in a deeply divided world. What happens to transgender men and women when they suffer persecution, when they suffer indignity across the U.S., is an appeal to our hearts. And the extraordinary thing about Gerda as a character and about the love story that Lili and Gerda shares is that it is unconditional, compassionate, sincere love that makes possible change, makes possible acceptance. Yes, it’s a film about inclusion, but the key to inclusion is love.”

Vikander, for her part, also learned a great deal from the film. “I found in [Gerda] a woman who is able to love someone more than herself. I admire her. I wish I had a bit of her in myself somewhere.”