Oscar season officially launched for Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and director Tom Hooper on Saturday night in Toronto with the North American debut of
, which focuses on the lives of Gerda Wegener (Vikander) and Lili Elbe (Redmayne), a painter who was assigned male at birth (and given the name Einar Wegener) and became the first person to undergo gender confirmation surgery.
“I was sucker punched by the emotion of it,” Redmayne said during a post-screening Q&A on Saturday night. “This idea of two formidable people going on this journey together. The notion of love not being defined by gender, not being defined by anything other than two souls meetings really. As I started to research and meet people from the trans community, who were so overwhelmingly generous with their stories, the notion of the great privilege to play someone like Lili, the stakes just got higher and higher and higher.”
Vikander plays Lili’s wife, Gerda, and is given her own agency and arc by the film’s script (written by Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff’s novel) — a fact she highlighted as “quite rare” following the screening.
“In meeting the wonderful people who helped me prepare for Gerta, who had been the supportive one, the loved one, they also to me wanted to explain they were as much going through a transition too,” Vikander said.
As Redmayne explained, research was of utmost important to the entire film. He prepared to play Lili over the course of several months, and spoke with trans women from many generations to get a full understanding of the experience (including director Lana Wachowski, whom both Redmayne and Hooper thank in the film’s closing credits). “What was extraordinary was meeting people from the trans community, who were so open and generous with their counsel. Every single woman I met, bar none, said ask me anything,” Redmayne said. “The need for cisgender people to understand what trans people have gone through is huge and incredibly important.”
Redmayne has said previously that playing Elbe has taught him a great deal — “My greatest ignorance when I started was that gender and sexuality were related,” he told Out in an interview earlier this year — and on Saturday night added how his eyes were opened up to the many challenges still faced by trans women today.
“The abuse, when she was beaten up,” he said when asked about his toughest scenes to play in the film. “I had no idea how rife discrimination and also violence is against trans women, particularly against trans women of color.”
•‘The Danish Girl’ director Tom Hooper: Trans actors need more access in Hollywood
•See Eddie Redmayne become ‘The Danish Girl’ in film’s powerful first trailer
•TIFF 2015: Oscar hopefuls kick off awards season at EW’s Toronto party
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