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Artisans Turned Eddie Redmayne Into Stephen Hawking for ‘Theory of Everything’

Multiple artisans helped to transform actor Eddie Redmayne into scientist Stephen Hawking for Focus Features’ “The Theory of Everything.”

First and foremost: the makeup, which evolves over the course of the film as Hawking’s ALS disease progresses, and his body degrades.

“Hawking starts film as an able-bodied, fresh-faced, young man of 21, with whole world in front of him,” says Jan Sewell, hair, makeup and prosthetic designer. “I needed to express what the illness had done, the wasting, how much his face changed in shape. We made Eddie’s jaw look like it had dropped down.”

Prosthetics artist Kristyan Mallett also contributed. Among the effects: larger ears to make the face look like it had shrunk. Wigmaker Alex Rouse created three hairpieces for different stages of Hawking’s life, and movement director Alex Reynolds coached Redmayne on Hawking’s limited motions — at the end of the movie he can only twitch certain muscles.

The impression of Hawking’s diminishing body was reinforced by costume designer Steven Noble, who clad Redmayne in larger garments as the film advanced, and by production designer John-Paul Kelly, who provided increasingly bigger wheelchairs.

Here’s an edited transcript of the interview with Sewell:

How was “The Theory of Everything” different from other film’s you’ve worked on?

I did a lot of prep and referencing. Once (director) James Marsh offered me the job I suggested we do tests very early on.

Why?

Often makeup tests come close to shooting, but I was very keen to find the end look for Eddie – the very extreme, absolute last look in the film, where he’s in his mid-to-late 40. He starts film at 21, an able-bodied, fresh-faceed, young man with whole world in front of him. Then he gets diagnosed. James agreed, and (Working Title executives) Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan agreed to pay for the early tests. From that point on I took Eddie away, got his face cast, got his head shape taken for wigs, got his mouth cast for mouthpieces.

What materials did you reference?

I looked at lots of photographs through the years. But I literally stayed away from anything (on film or video) that had been made about Steven Hawking. I didn’t want to know, didn’t want to be influenced at all.

What did your research tell you?

How far I needed to age him, how far I needed to impress what the disease had done, how much wasting had gone on, how much Steven Hawking’s face had changed in shape. I wanted to make Eddie’s jaw look like it had dropped down, and achieved that through working with Chris Lyons, who does lots of teeth for the film industry. I’ve worked with him for 20 years. I also had three sets of wigs made for three stages in Hawking’s life. Wigmaker Alex Rouse made me three beautiful sets of wigs. The third wig, for the final look, would fit over a distorted head shape, giving the impression that Eddie’s face was shrinking and twisting slightly, and it helped with the visual look of the dropping of the jaw.

What about the prosthetics?

Before I came on board Eddie had already done a massive amount of work with movement coach Alex Reynolds. Toward the end of the film Hawking can only twitch muscles. I didn’t want to come into the way of that. I didn’t want my makeup to be derogatory to what he was doing. So I went to prosthetics artists Kristyan Mallett, whom I’ve know many years. He makes all my prosthetics. I was very aware of scale. I got Kristyan to make me some ears. For the final look the ears gave the impression that his face had shrunk.

Which other departments did you work with?

I worked very closely with Steven Noble who did the costumes. Likewise he was increasing the size of his clothes to give the impression that Eddie was shrinking. And we made prosthetic shoulder pieces and knee pieces, pulled on under clothes, to make it look like he’s getting bonier.

John-Paul Kelly did the production design. He was equally upscaling Eddie’s wheelchair, so by the time you get to the last wheelchair, it was 30% or 40 % bigger than the first. Most brilliant about the whole thing is way all the departments worked together, and because James is such a sensitive director he made us aware how carefully we had to do this transition, which goes from the 70s through the 90s. We wanted it to be seamless.

How long did it take to apply the makeup every day?

It depended. The last look took the longest. For the actual prosthetic days it took as long as three-and-a-half hours between Kristyan and me. We worked closely and applied together.

What was Eddie like during these applications?

It was total banter. First thing he does, he comes in and kisses everyone good morning. He a gorgeous, intuitive and funny man. But some mornings he knew he had a very heavy scene to do and he would say, “I’ve got this scene today, I’ve got to get to this emotional point, and we should do a bit more of this, bit more of that,” so he was totally aware of every moment he was going to be this person. Those days we were a little quieter, and he was concentrating on what he had to do and say.

You’re teaming with Eddie again.

I’m so lucky, I’m going to be working with him on his next project, “The Danish Girl.” Tom Hooper is directing. We’ll start prepping soon and will start shooting in January.

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