News and Commentary

Eddie Redmayne: Playing Trans Character A ‘Mistake’

"There has been years of cisgender success on the back of trans stories.”
Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for “The Theory of Everything” and played a biological man who believed he was a woman in 2015’s  “The Danish Girl,” now believes it was a “mistake” to play the latter part because “there has been years of cisgender success on the back of trans stories.”

Redmayne told the U.K. Sunday Times, “No, I wouldn’t take it on now. … I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake.”

“I hope there’s a day when there are more trans actors and trans actresses playing trans parts, but also cisgender parts,” he added. “And I hope — as an actor one hopes — that one should be able to play any sort of part if one plays it with a sense of integrity and responsibility.”

In “The Danish Girl,” Redmayne played Lili Elbe, “a painter who in the early 1930s became one of the first trans women to undergo gender confirmation surgery,” The Washington Post noted.

In summer 2020, famed author J.K. Rowling stated in a series of tweets:

If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. … The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women — ie, to male violence — “hate” trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences — is a nonsense.

Redmayne criticized Rowling to Variety:

Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process. As someone who has worked with both J.K. Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.

One member of the transgender community criticized Redmayne’s performance in “The Danish Girl” as follows:

“The Danish Girl”s struggle to portray Lili Elbe’s story magnifies not only the most glaring weaknesses of both Redmayne and (Director Tom) Hooper, but also the cisnormative gaze of the transgender community. You get this in Redmayne’s performance, of course, only instead of approximating a single individual, he’s approximating femininity itself, ratcheting his exaggerated, nervous physical ticks to 11 when playing both Einar and Lili. As Einar, he’s doing a proto-Stephen Hawking, with shaking hands, sad eyes, a sickly complexion, and a breathy voice. As Lili, he performs womanhood by way of stereotype. 

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