Eddie Redmayne Returns to Modeling as Trans Pioneer

The Danish Girl Still  - H 2015
Courtesy of Focus Features

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Lili Elbe's groundbreaking transgender transition is one that The Danish Girl aimed to capture both onscreen and on canvas.

Actor Eddie Redmayne begins the film as Einar Wegener, who is beloved throughout Denmark for his meditative but impersonal landscape paintings.

"What's fascinating about the Einar paintings is how little they reveal actually about the painter," director Tom Hooper tells The Hollywood Reporter of the 20 re-created landscape pieces. "[Trans filmmaker] Lana Wachowski. who shared her wisdom on the story early on, described them as little coffins in which Einar keeps burying his secret, and the idea that they're actually statements of some kind of repression. I thought that was really interesting. That art dropped away as Einar became Lili almost because the paintings weren't emotionally authentic."

Therefore, the pieces truest to the title character are those painted by wife Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). When the struggling portraitist asks Einar to pose for her in stockings and slippers, Lili begins to emerge, and Gerda churns out hundreds of well-received works starring her newly-discovered muse.

Showcasing paintings of Lili in the film was a journey of a task. "For a long time, I was a purist and said, 'You have to use the real paintings of Lili,' until my production designer [Eve Stewart] pointed out, quite sensibly, 'But they're not Eddie Redmayne!'" Hooper laughs. The two tried digitally superimposing Redmayne's face into replicas of the original works, "but it still wasn't quite right. In the end, we only cracked it when we got Eddie to actually pose as Lili."

Hooper and Stewart worked with British muralist Susannah Brough and two other artists at painting sessions, which had Redmayne on site as Lili at Elstree Studios UK to recreate over 40 poses from Gerda's expansive archive. The process took two months, since all of the pencil drawings were also produced. "Each painting correlates to a real Lili painting," says Hooper. Where are they now? "I think we're gonna plan to exhibit them with some of the screenings."

Afterward, Redmayne won't be nabbing any artwork from the production for himself, especially if it's of himself. "I think it'd be a bit surreal to have paintings of me in Lili guise," says the Oscar winner.

Instead, he'd prefer an original Einar landscape, which surrounded him while shooting at The Royal Opera House in Copenhagen.

"Rather than being in a trailer, I was in a room by the Opera and the production team has found some of Lili's paintings from when she was living as Einar that were on my wall. It was amazing to have that as inspiration," says Redmayne. Also on his wish list: "I'd love to own some of Gerda's real paintings of Lili, but I think I'm probably behind the times! I should have invested early!"