Since welcoming his second child earlier this year, London-born actor Eddie Redmayne has been deep in the throes of parenting. He tells Karen Anne Overton how having children has steered his career
He wowed as a singing French revolutionary in Les Misérables, won an Oscar for his immaculate portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and showed the full breadth of his talent playing Lili Elbe – one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery – in The Danish Girl, scoring a Best Actor Oscar nomination in the process. And yet, there is nothing that seems to fill Eddie Redmayne with more child-like glee than his role as Newt Scamander in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series, even with the pressures that come with entering such a prestigious cinematic universe.
“I feel a responsibility that comes with every role I play, but since I’ve always loved the Harry Potter films it’s intimidating to be part of that world,” he begins. “There’s the pressure that comes with feeling very close to these stories and not wanting to screw up, and that makes you want to do your best work. So I ended up feeling inspired and incredibly happy to dive into that magical world, and having children makes those child-like things so much more amazing and real.”
Of course, the charming 36-year-old needn’t have fretted – the first instalment of the five-part Fantastic Beasts franchise proved a global box office smash. And this November the second chapter hits cinemas, by which time new arrival Luke – born 10 March this year – will be eight months old. He joins big sister Iris, who is two in June, in the Redmayne household – the actor is married to his wife of three years, Hannah Bagshawe.
So, it’s possible we might be witnessing a slightly bleary-eyed leading man at the premiere for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Indeed, when asked if there was a magical power he would most like to have when it comes to parenting – given his status as a fully-fledged wizard – Redmayne replies: “I would like a spell cast to be able to sleep through the night – that would be perfect… just that!”
This isn’t the first time the star has extolled the exhaustive joys of fatherhood, for when his first-born was four-and-a-half months old, he made a memorable appearance on The Ellen Show. “Iris is heaven,” he began, “but before you’re a parent you hear people talking about sleepless nights, and then suddenly you’re the guy who’s floating in constant jetlag with an IV of caffeine! I’ve become that person.
“But occasionally there’s that amazing thing where it’s three o’clock in the morning and you’re sort of gently furious, yet you get a little smile, your heart breaks a bit and it’s all totally worth it,” he added.
When contemplating the father of two, one has to marvel at how Redmayne got it so right. Born and raised in London, a love for the theatre was established early on thanks to his family’s frequent trips to the West End. And though he never attended theatre school, he did embark on acting lessons, and at Eton was taken under the wing of drama teacher Simon Dormandy. “He inspired me to continue acting and I owe him so much. Simon treated us like professionals and that kind of respect and guidance makes you want to take things very seriously,” says Redmayne of his former tutor.
Following graduation from Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read History of Art, the prolific Redmayne immediately began making waves on the theatre scene, before landing the sorts of breakthrough roles every actor dreams of. Notably, on the big screen, he starred in 2011 opposite Michelle Williams’ Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and now, having had phenomenal critical success across an eclectic mix of movie genres, is experiencing commercial satisfaction with what could well be one of the biggest franchises of the decade in the form of Fantastic Beasts.
And yet, on the subject of his work, the actor is consistently hard on himself. Explaining that everyone else in his family has ‘a proper job’, Redmayne admits he’s still prone to bouts of stage fright, and also has a self-destructive habit of Googling reviews. “I never want to allow myself the luxury of feeling so self-confident that I don’t have to worry or prepare just as hard for the next role as I’ve always done in the past,” he says matter-of-factly. “I think it’s healthy to have enough self-doubt that keeps you on edge and makes you want to work as hard as possible. That’s the pressure that comes with every film, and it’s that adrenaline that pushes you to the next level.”
Yet, despite his professional phobias, in his private life Redmayne is the epitome of contentment. “Marriage is the most wonderful achievement of them all for me, because that has given me this platform to be a dad – the best dad I can be.”
And returning to the theory that being around young people is beginning to influence his choice of roles, he’s accepting of the point. “The further I go on the less of a coincidence it seems,” he smiles. “But I certainly feel more justified in reading children’s stories, on CBeebies, for instance. It feels natural and children’s books are such works of art, it’s a real pleasure.
“I’m at the point now where Iris is beginning to understand what it is her dad does,” he continues. “So she knew it was me in Early Man [Redmayne lent his voice to the film’s lead character, comedic caveman Dug], and that amazed me.
“I want now to carry on an amazing portfolio to look at. I just need to scrabble through this hectic, incredible new world first… and get some sleep!”