photographed by Brian Bowen Smith
On playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything: "Stephen has so much humor. It’s very difficult for him to communicate—now he can only do so using an eye muscle—yet he has the most fiendish timing. I belly-laughed a lot in his presence. That’s something we really tried to bring into the film, to always find the positive. Hearing the audience laugh at that premiere, and to have them feel like they were allowed to laugh, despite the subject matter—a family dealing with gritty obstacles—made me so happy. Because that’s the feeling I had when I left my meeting with Stephen. He’s had a guillotine over his head since the age of 21, yet he lives each moment hopefully, and lives life with humor. When I saw the audience responding to those parts of the film, I was thrilled."
On preparing for the role: "I said to James [Marsh, the director] I’d need time [to prepare], and he gave me four to five months. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS when he was 21. His disease is entirely secondary [to his life] as far as he’s concerned. Similarly, I wanted to make all the physical elements of the performance so embedded and second nature. Some of my favorite moments were improvised. The emotional lines of the film came from reading Jane and Stephen’s books, but also the patients that I met."
On the industry competitiveness: "I was reading an interview with Rachel Weisz a few years ago and she said, “Every time I finish a job, I think I’m never going to get hired again,” and I was like, “Come on, you’re Rachel Weisz.” But I absolutely get it. Because I think if you’re lucky to do this thing professionally, that you loved doing as a child, and you don’t feel like you’re qualified—it’s that old shtick of waiting to be found out. The idea that you do this job and get paid for it doesn’t seem like it should be allowed."
On New York City: "I’m weirdly obsessed. When I was 13 or 14, I had a calendar of black and white New York photos and was endlessly trying to do drawings of them. And then my mum took me to New York, and we were lucky enough to stay in this hotel on the 21st floor. I opened the windows and the curtains, and there was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with all the highrise buildings flying up above it. I kid you not, my knees buckled. I find New York the most electric, enlivening place. There’s something about the theater world, too. In London the theaters are geographically spread out so there’s no sense of community. In New York, the theaters back onto each other so you’d come out after doing the Rothko play, and Lucy Liu would be walking out from God of Carnage, and you were sharing this back alley, all of you together."