In The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne plays pioneering trans woman Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender confirmation surgery, in The Danish Girl, coming to theaters in November.
“I found [her story] profoundly moving,” Redmayne, 33, tells Out in the magazine’s latest cover story. “I knew nothing about it going in. It felt like it was a piece about authenticity and love and the courage it takes to be yourself.”
The film, directed by The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, tells the story of Einar Wegener, a real-life Danish painter who underwent surgery to become a woman in 1930, when such procedures were still quite experimental.
Based on David Ebershoff’s 2001 novel of the same name, The Danish Girl presents a fictionalized account of Elbe’s relationship with wife Gerda Gottlieb, and her struggle to live her truth.
Elbe died from complications after her fifth and final operation in 1931, a uterine transplant designed to enable her to carry a child.
The Oscar winner believes gender identity is fluid, telling the magazine, “I can totally see that other people see a femininity in me.”
But he admits to being somewhat ignorant when it came to the relationship between gender and sexuality. “That’s one of the key things I want to hammer home to the world: You can be gay or straight, trans man or woman, and those two things are not necessarily aligned.”
Redmayne spoke with a number of trans people in his research, including outspoken British trans activist Paris Lees and his Jupiter Ascending director Lana Wachowski.
“[Lana] told me how important the book Man into Woman [a collection of was to her. And also the art, specifically of Gerda. She very kindly continued my education, pointed me to literature, and where I should be headed.”
Lees says she asked Redmayne what he thought about the criticism surrounding him, a cisgender man, playing a trans woman. “He said, ‘Look, I’ve just played a man in his 50s with motor neuron disease. I’m acting.’ I found that hard to argue with, and it really helped with my thinking on the subject.”
If they made a movie of her life, Lees admits she wouldn’t want a cis man to play her. “Politically, it makes me groan,” she says. “But if anybody’s going to do this justice, then I’m happy it’s Eddie.”
For his part, Redmayne is thankful for how open and unfiltered people were in answering his questions. “Virtually all of the trans men and women I met would say ’Ask me anything,'” he recalled.
“They know that need for cisgender people to be educated. I feel like I’m being given this extraordinary experience of being able to play this woman, but with that comes this responsibility of not only educating myself but, hopefully, using that to educate [an audience]. It’s delicate—and complicated.”