English actor Eddie Redmayne plays the role of fashion mannequin very well. His angular bone structure and long, lean frame are catnip for photo studio lighting and slim-cut designs from the likes of Thom Browne, Prada and Gucci. And his comfort in front of the camera — mussing his own hair, pushing up his own sleeves, slouching into his own un-posey poses — leaves the stylist and groomer on the set of a recent shoot with enough time to leisurely enjoy their breakfasts (while he, in good form, consumes only a latte and a Diet Coke).
“Oh my god, Eddie, you could be a model,” teases a fashion editor.
“F--k you,” Redmayne shoots back with a grin.
No matter how good his performance is, it’s clear Redmayne doesn’t hanker after a mannequin’s life.
“I’ve been pouting hard,” says Redmayne, after the shoot has wrapped, clearly no longer in fashion mode as he devours a Big Mac-size ham and cheese sandwich.
Though he’s had a crack at modeling before — a “hilariously unsuccessful” stint with an agency in college to make extra pocket money; a spot in the spring 2008 Burberry ad campaign — it is the acting world that has occupied him.
Redmayne’s current focus is his Broadway debut in John Logan’s “Red,” which had a hit run at London’s Donmar Warehouse last year and opens at the John Golden Theatre on April 1. (Earlier this week, Redmayne picked up an Olivier award for his performance in the London production.) The play zeroes in on Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) circa 1958 to 1960, the period during which he was painting the famed Seagram murals, commissioned by Philip Johnson for his Four Seasons restaurant. Set in Rothko’s dark, dungeonlike Bowery studio, “Red” pits the famed artist against a young, initially lightweight assistant Ken (Redmayne) in a 90-minute theatrical boxing match that has the two men duking it out over topics from Nietzsche’s aesthetic philosophy to the rise of the Pop Art movement.
For Redmayne, who read art history at Cambridge, “Red” has proven to be a serendipitous marriage of his two early passions.
“It’s everything that I’m interested in about art — the physical aspects of the creation of art, but also whether art matters, which is something I spent three years doing a degree in, so I believe it matters, clearly,” says the actor, who was born red-green color blind. “Because it’s an American play about a quintessentially New York artist, bringing it back to the city where it takes place is, as a Brit, kind of a daunting notion.”
Understandably so, though, according to his director, Michael Grandage, Redmayne has little to fear.
“Eddie’s process is forensic, which is great for me. He needs to access the emotion in order to be able to deliver it and he searches for ways into his character in a very quiet, methodical way,” says Grandage of his star. “He’s a joy to direct in that respect. He shouts for help, takes lots of guidance and is hugely collaborative.”
Indeed, Redmayne and Molina studied together with a scenic artist to learn how to stretch canvases, staple them to frames and prime them, all of which they do onstage. But when it came to the acting component, Molina claims he had very little to teach his younger co-star.
“My only contribution to his education was to alert him to what he might expect when we took the play to New York. And having been here before, I was able to point him in the right direction of some really good pizza,” he says. “Eddie’s obvious good looks are matched by a talent and a grasp of the craft of acting that are both spectacular to witness in a young actor. I was nowhere near as developed an actor at his age.”
Born and raised in London, Redmayne, 28, grew up one of five kids (two of them half-siblings) to a corporate banker father and relocation worker mother. He was drawn to both the visual and performing arts while at Eton College, but decided before university that his talents lay with the latter.
“The more I studied history of art…you realize how much you have to learn and how pathetic your little sketch is in comparison to what’s gone on before you,” he says. “I quickly moved into theater.”
He opted out of drama school in favor of Cambridge and got his professional start when Mark Rylance handpicked him to play Viola in the 2002, 400th-anniversary production of “Twelfth Night.” He has gone on to add a wide range of stage and screen roles to his repertoire, including the gay son of an adulterous father in a West End production of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?,” an assassin in the film “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and the troubled (and homicidal) Antony Baekeland in the movie “Savage Grace.” If there’s any common thread to be found in his work, it’s the sheer variety of oddball characters he’s managed to channel.
“I don’t know if it’s because once you start the ball rolling people are like, ‘Oh, right, we need an incest, gay, New Yorker — let’s ask Eddie if he’s available,’” says Redmayne. “I think with acting, a lot comes down to the way you look. I’m sort of a freckly, skinny, quasi-ginger.…I don’t fit every casting type.”
That said, Redmayne seems adept at moving easily from a more modern character, such as Ken in “Red,” to deeply period fare. Take, for instance, his upcoming projects: He’ll appear as a master builder in the TV miniseries “The Pillars of the Earth” and, later this year, as a monk in the British film “Black Death.”
“It was one of the most hilarious moments with my agent,” he says. “He called up and went, ‘There’s a film. It’s called the ‘Black Death.’ It’s about the plague. It’s very dark.’ And I went, ‘No f--king s--t, Sherlock! It’s not exactly a rom-com, is it?’”
Nevertheless, he was more than game.
“I’ve had a year of being covered in mud and now I’m covered in red paint every day,” says Redmayne with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve spent more of the past year in a shower than I have doing anything else.”
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