Eddie Redmayne in 'Red'
Washing up after a performance "is like the shower scene from 'Psycho.'”
Hometown: London, England. “I live right by the Tate Modern,” Redmayne says of the museum where many of Mark Rothko’s Seagram’s murals (a central part of Red) are on permanent display.
Currently: Making his Broadway debut in his Olivier-winning performance as Ken, assistant to Rothko (played by Alfred Molina), the difficult but brilliant Abstract Expressionist painter in John Logan's Red at the Golden Theatre.
I’d Do Anything: A middle child with four siblings, Redmayne is from a family in which no one is in show business or even interested in acting. Nevertheless, this self-proclaimed “precocious little runt” was bit by the acting bug early in life. At the age of 12, he’d heard about auditions for a West End revival of Oliver! and begged his mother to let him try out. “I was cast as Workhouse Boy #47,” he laughs about his debut in the musical, which was directed by Sam Mendes and starred Jonathan Pryce. “It was funny because about 10 years later, I was working with Jonathan Pryce on a production of The Goat in London. On day one, we were rehearsing and I told him, ‘We’ve actually worked together before.” He was surprised and asked, ‘Have we?’” Redmayne proceeded to tell Pryce about his performance in the bit part. “He was like, ‘Pardon me for not remembering.’”
Art Isn’t Easy: Redmayne didn’t jump into acting as a career until after college. He studied art history at Cambridge and flirted with the idea of becoming an artist himself. “I did a lot of print-making when I was younger,” he says, “but when you study the history of art, you face the canon and suddenly your pathetic sketches reduce to dirt.” Now that Redmayne is (ironically) starring in a show about a painter, he has a few regrets about his attention level as a student. “There’s that whole thing four years or five years after [graduating], where suddenly you start thinking, ‘I wish I’d been more focused! Why did I sleep through that class? Why was I drunk all the time?’”
Take a Chance on Me: Charmingly self-deprecating, Redmayne chalks up his amazing trajectory from someone who loves acting to full-fledged professional performer to good fortune. “I think I’m an incredibly lucky person,” he says, adding that a series of circumstances led him to his first big movie role in The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. It came down to a casting director in New York reading a Variety review of Redmayne’s performance in The Goat. “She met me out of curiosity, and it led me to this wonderful film. There’s a huge amount of luck involved.” But Redmayne does not naively believe that his destiny is only a roll of the dice: “If it’s something I’m passionate about, I’ll chase pretty hard for it,” he admits.
Passion for Red: When the actor learned that Red would make its world premiere at London’s Donmar Warehouse, helmed by Michael Grandage, the company’s artistic director, he could barely contain his excitement. “A two-hander about art really mattering, with a creative dream team attached? I had to stop myself from leaping across the table and yelling ‘YES!’” But there was more excitement to be had: “Once I found out that Alfred was doing it—and no lie, he has a great reputation amongst actors as being one of the kindest, most wonderful human beings—I could only properly call this a dream job.”
Practical Matters: Red offers audiences an opportunity to witness all of the work that goes into preparing a canvas for the artist. This is why Redmayne always checks out the sides of Rothko’s paintings in museums. “I get mocked for it, but there’s something so otherworldly and spiritual about them. What’s amazing is that when you go behind the paintings, you see that there are staples coming out. It isn’t flawless at all—you suddenly realize the thing is a thing. You can see all that went into it making it.”
Getting the Red Out: Molina and Redmayne prime a canvas at each performance in a mesmerizing scene in which they cover it (and themselves) with red paint. “It looks relatively easy,” Redmayne says, “but we would go through suicidal depressions, Fred and I, because we’d do it and they’d just be these streaky nightmares.” Now that the actors have the scene down pat, they have a different issue with which to contend: getting clean. “I went to the Russian baths in an attempt to steam out the red, but it never quite goes away.” What is it like to wash up after each performance? “It's like the shower scene from Psycho,” he laughs. “I love everything about Broadway except for the showers at our theater. Fred and I have to turn them on at exactly the same time in order for the water to get hot enough. We stand in these two cubicles next to each other, scrubbing away, talking about the show over the top [of the wall]. Every second and a half it goes from being quite a perfect temperature to being scalding hot, and then you have all of this ‘blood’ pouring down. It’s like a comedy act.”