“It Was a Mistake”: Eddie Redmayne Regrets Playing a Transgender Woman in “The Danish Girl”
While Harry Potter fans now identify Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Redmayne has had a prolific career in TV, film, and even theater. And after being away for nearly ten years, Redmayne is finally making his return to the stage playing the Emcee in a revival of the classic musical Cabaret, which opened on November 15. To promote the play, Redmayne recently sat down with the Times to discuss his involvement with developing the production before touching upon the controversy surrounding his role as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.
The interview examines Redmayne’s and his costar Jessie Buckley’s (who plays Sally Bowles) stage careers as young adults, the prolonged six-year development, eventually leading up to the opening night, and what audiences should be expecting once they enter the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre. While Redmayne seems quite excited to finally be bringing Cabaret back to the stage since he’s been heavily involved in its development, his casting as the Emcee has been met with some criticism. Historically, the role of the Emcee has been played by LGBTQ performers. When asked for comment regarding the controversy, Redmayne simply explained that this character “defies pigeonholing” and asked for “people to come and see it before casting judgment.”
Doors open tonight. #KitKatClub
📸 Marc Brenner pic.twitter.com/7gZz6tneBw
— Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (@kitkatclubLDN) November 15, 2021
Because the situation bears a resemblance to the controversy regarding another one of Redmayne’s roles, the conversation eventually shifted to touch on The Danish Girl. In 2015, Redmayne was cast as Lili Elbe, one of the first individuals to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, in a biopic based on a novel of the same name. While the movie itself was controversial for its historical inaccuracies, Redmayne’s casting as Elbe was highly criticized because Redmayne was a cisgender male playing a transgender woman. The prevailing opinion was that the role should have gone to a trans person.
When asked if Redmayne would have taken the role today, he said he would refuse it.
No, I wouldn’t take it on now. I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake.
It seems that the script for The Danish Girl remained unproduced for years until Redmayne was cast, which helped kickstart production. At the time, Redmayne was coming off his highly praised performance of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, a role that won him an Oscar and a BAFTA award. When the interviewer made mention of this to Redmayne, he chose to emphasize underrepresentation as a problem in casting.
The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table. There must be a levelling; otherwise, we are going to carry on having these debates.
Though misguided at the time, it seems that Redmayne did have good intentions when signing up for the role because while preparing for it, he spoke with several members of the trans community and learned a lot, a fact that he mentions frequently. Though now, he believes that playing Elbe was a mistake, it seems he only came to this conclusion recently. In a video produced by GQ and posted to YouTube in November 2018 where Redmayne discussed his most iconic roles, he reflected on the backlash:
It’s a complicated experience because I learned a lot and I met extraordinary people and I still haven’t necessarily reconciled whether it was the right thing to do.
In the video, he also mentions that when the controversy became known to him, while he understood and agreed with what was being said, he had already committed to the role, so we have to take into account what was likely a contractual obligation. This means that even if he did consider leaving the production, he might not have been able to.
Currently, you can catch Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee in the new revival of Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre in London, England. Tickets are on sale now.
How do you feel about Redmayne’s regret at taking the role of Lili Elbe? Do you think he should have resigned once he learned of the backlash? Let us know in the comments.