Eddie Redmayne says trans role in The Danish Girl was 'a mistake'

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Photo credit: Samuel de Roman - Getty Images
Photo credit: Samuel de Roman - Getty Images

It was an Oscar nominated-role that won him critical acclaim, but Eddie Redmayne thinks he made a ‘mistake’ playing the lead in The Danish Girl. The actor, 39, wouldn’t take on a transgender role like Lili Elbe again following criticism that he was the wrong person to play a pioneer of gender reassignment surgery.

Eddie told The Sunday Times this weekend: “No, I wouldn't take it on now. I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake," he said. "The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don't have a chair at the table. There must be a levelling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates.”

Photo credit: Working Title
Photo credit: Working Title

The Danish Girl portrays the real story of Lili Elbe who married fellow artist Gerda Gottlieb in 1904 and began identifying as female after modelling her clothes. When The Theory Of Everything star was announced to play the lead, some people felt like a trans actress would have been better suited to the role – and Eddie was totally open to the discussion.

He told The Telegraph in 2014: "There is an incredibly valid discussion for why a trans actress isn't playing the part, because there are so many brilliant trans actresses, and I'm sure there are many who could play this part sensationally.”

The actor added: "But one of the complications is that nowadays you have hormones, and many trans women have taken hormones. But to start this part playing male you'd have to come off the hormones, so that has been a discussion as well. Because back in that period there weren't hormones."

The Netflix documentary Disclosure examined Hollywood's depiction of transgender people from the perspective of trans activists like Laverne Cox and it's no surprise that The Danish Girl was a hot topic.

Writer and trans actress Jen Richards explained it well in the doc when she said: “If I’m playing a trans woman, I don’t have to play the ‘transness’ of it. When someone like Eddie Redmayne plays it – who admittedly might give a really great performance as a trans woman – what’s remarkable about his performance is the transness. [It’s] the way that he’s been able to manifest those feminine parts of himself into a trans performance. But it reduces that person (who, in this case, was a real person) to a performance of transness, to a performance of femininity, rather than as a whole person, of whom transness is one aspect.”

The conversation has come up again as Eddie prepares to play Emcee in a West End revival of Cabaret. A heterosexual man’s casting as the Master of Ceremonies has again been met with criticism because in director Rebecca Frecknall’s words, “The history of that role is one of queer portrayal.”

Defending the part, Eddie recently said to British Vogue: “I hope when people see the performance, the interpretation will justify the casting. The way I see the character is as Mercury, as shape-shifting and a survivor.”

He was 19 when he last took on the role of Emcee at Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a student production in 2001, long before he became an award-winning Hollywood actor. Getting ready to reprise the stage role after 20 years, he added to the magazine: "If I don't do it, then perhaps I'll just live with regret."

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