“At times I thought he was me”
When talking about his portrayal of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking in the upcoming Oscar contender The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne encapsulates the essence of a tried and tested method acting technique – saturation.
While he had some documentary evidence and a short audience with Hawking himself to work with, the task of characterising our most famous scientist’s steady physical transformation and filling in the blanks with authenticity fell to Eddie Redmayne.
His total immersion in the character allowed him to use his unconscious to leave himself behind and became Stephen Hawking. Saturation is at the heart of his transformative and brilliant performance, and is why he is being tipped for the Best Actor Oscar in February.
“What you are looking to do is immerse yourself in the role and feed your unconscious with as much information, detail and creativity as possible, so that the mind can fantasise and make imaginary leaps when you are performing.”
“Imaginary leaps” can be the difference between a good performance and a great one. If you can make these leaps, you’ll find that you can deliver a performance that is authentic, believable and unconscious.
Russian theatre director Yevgeny Vakhtangov was a great advocate for allowing the unconscious to do most of the hard work. He wrote that if you can feel the role, dream and fantasise about it, an authentic performance will appear on stage unconsciously.
It is important to allow your unconscious to play with the development of a character. You can saturate yourself in character in a number of ways.
Start by collecting paintings or photographs of what you think your character looks like, where they live, clothing you think they would wear, objects they would own. Obviously, this was easier for Eddie Redmayne, as he was able to meet the man he was playing, and watch videos and news reports. He still had to imagine how Hawking would have been prior to his decline to MND, though.
Next, imagine and listen to what music you think they would like, wear the perfume they wear, spend a day as your character, visiting places they would like, meeting people that work in their occupation. All of these things will help your unconscious assimilate with the character, and when you come to performing, it will be less like you are pretending, rather that you are living the role.
What other ways can you think of to saturate yourself with your character?
The Theory of Everything will be released in UK cinemas on New Year’s Day.