While preparing for his role in this month’s Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eddie Redmayne found himself watching an exotic-animal handler stroke the inside of a rhino’s thigh. “This woman just started rubbing her rhino just above the knee—I was like, what are you doing?” the 34-year-old actor recalls, laughing. It turns out rhinos are into that.
And it turns out Redmayne is into finding out exactly this kind of obscure fact. You could say this part of the process—the months he spends enrapt in detailed, expansive research before he arrives on set—is his favorite part of being an actor. For his Oscar-winning performance as Stephen Hawking in 2014’s The Theory of Everything, he trained with a choreographer and an osteopath and spent countless hours in a London neurology clinic. And for his portrayal of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in last year’s The Danish Girl (for which he received his second Best Actor Oscar nomination) he met with transgender women from different generations to get a sense of the scope of trans life throughout history. Calling from his house in the British countryside, Redmayne speaks with solemnity about the duty he feels to get it right. “When you’re given the opportunity to play someone as amazing as Stephen or Lili, the pressure makes you really buckle down,” he says.
Redmayne brought the same reverence to his role as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts, though, of course, playing a socially awkward, stealthily rebellious wizard toting a tattered suitcase filled with magical creatures presented a new and different challenge. “The first time Newt is introduced in the script, J.K. Rowling had written in the stage directions that he has a Buster Keaton–esque quality to his walk,” Redmayne recalls. “And I was like, Oh my god, what a thing to write! Now I have to go and work out what that is!” Potter fans will recognize Newt from the titular textbook Harry and Co. study at Hogwarts. Newt is the world’s premier expert on beasts, and in the film—the first of a five-picture series that also stars Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Katherine Waterston—he comes to New York to research and rescue magic creatures, but things get hairy when some of his own beasts get loose. Read More