Eddie Redmayne Talks Portraying Tom Hayden in “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Throughout his career, Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts franchise) has portrayed several historical characters to high praise: Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Lile Elbe in The Danish Girl, and James Glaisher in The Aeronauts. This year, he’s done it again and worked his magic with a compelling performance as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Like the previous figures whose lives Redmayne played on the big screen, Hayden’s advocacy left a deep impression on him. Although the film only depicts his leadership of anti-Vietnam War protests, Hayden also ardently fought for civil rights, environmental protection, and raising awareness of gang culture. “[Hayden] was an extraordinary man,” he told Screen Rant. “He did many things; he worked within the system and outside of it at moments.”
I feel like in, certainly in myself, there are loads of hypocrisies is [sic] in me about how I think about things and how I act. But this was someone who really put his beliefs and let his actions mirror his beliefs.
Two quotes in particular resonated with Redmayne and were a guiding influence throughout the filming process, so much so that he hung them on the wall of his trailer, the actor revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
[Hayden’s wife, Jane Fonda,] describes how on the day before he died, he whispered to her that seeing people willing to die for their beliefs changed him forever. She also said how he understood that progressives had to be prepared to take power and learn to govern — not just protest.
While some audiences might feel that Redmayne, who is British, is unable to embody a leading American activist in history, the BAFTA and Oscar winner believes that “great writing and extraordinary stories have a rhythm that is universal,” allowing him to transcend cultural differences to bring Hayden’s story onto the big screen worldwide.
There were just so many elements of this film — even though they were very specific to American culture at a very specific moment — that remain universal. It’s been interesting watching this film being seen all over the world now on Netflix and seeing different cultures reacting to it and relating it to moments in their own history. At its core, it is a very human story and therefore relatable.
In fact, Redmayne played an important role in shaping Hayden’s characterization, going to great lengths to fight for an authentic representation of him.
In Aaron [Sorkin]’s take on the trial, [Tom] was very much the policy and ‘within-the-system’ man. But I said to Aaron, ‘In order for an audience to stay with him, he’s got to have charisma!’ Which Tom did, by the way, in real life. He was swimming in charisma. […] So actually, Aaron went in and laced a bit of humor into Tom’s early scenes. […] It was very important that the humor is a way into these characters.
Not only did the actor contribute to the writing process, but he also did an enormous amount of research preproduction to get to know his character well, since he admitted that he was not very familiar with the 1960s period of American history.
One of the wonderful things about the job we do is, you get to immerse yourself in a moment in history, in stories that are extraordinary, and through that immersion, you learn a huge amount. In doing the homework, as it were, I read Tom’s work and found as much footage that I could of him. There were great courtroom sketches of Tom that gave a sense of his physicality — it was almost like seeing him, caught by another artist, revealed something else.
As Redmayne nicely described it, “You want to try to convey a sense of who you believe this person was. Tom is a player in this great ensemble, and it’s a tiny moment in his life.” If Tom Hayden were still alive today, we believe that he would be quite proud of Eddie Redmayne.