In February, Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor prize at the Oscars 2015 for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. His next project, The Danish Girl, sees Redmayne star as trans pioneer Lili Elbe – a role originally earmarked for Nicole Kidman. The film will be directed by Tom Hooper, who previously worked with Redmayne on Les Misérables and also stars woman of the moment Alicia Vikander.
Since the first official still for the film, showing Redmayne in character, was released, a debate has raged over whether trans actors should be hired to play trans roles. A similar discussion caught fire on social media last year when Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club (pictured below).
"It’s good for everyone that awareness of gender identity is being raised by the film and the attachment of Redmayne will obviously help that," says writer and critic Dr Karen Oughton, who writes and lectures about trans issues in cinema. "He has the kudos of being an Oscar winner and is also young and popular so appeals to different audiences.
“Casting cisgender actors (especially popular ones) may mean audiences who may not be used to gender diversity issues feel more able to interact with the story. The level of attention this will generate shows that gender diversity is important to everyone and needs to be discussed in mainstream cinema in a nuanced way that acknowledges triumphs and trials of life."
| "Gender diversity is important to everyone and needs to be discussed in mainstream cinema."
She says: “Ultimately, whether or not an actor is right for a role comes down to whether or not that individual has what it takes to represent the character in the manner the director intends.
“However, I also think an actor has an obligation of truth and realism to the characters they play, and potentially to the community that character represents. You don’t have to have grown up in London to play a character from London, but that also doesn’t release you from your obligation to authentically represent that aspect of the character.”
Focus Features, responsible for distributing The Danish Girl, have announced a November 2015 release date for the film. This positions it right in the heart of awards season, with Redmayne prospectively in the hunt to be the first man to win successive Best Actor Oscars since Tom Hanks in the 1990s.
“Publicity will undoubtedly affect how the film is seen, but the staff at Universal [who are distributing the film internationally] are good people and I’m sure will make sure that proper attention is paid to the political aspects of the story as well as the humanity at its heart,” says Dr Oughton.
“Even in our globalised age, we rarely really understand things that are outside of our direct experience and films are vital for showing us our world.
“Here’s to major films being supported and developed that tell our current stories now so that we can imagine the world we’re making as well as reminding ourselves why we’re doing it in the first place.“
What do you think of the casting of Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl? Do you think that cisgender actors should play trans roles? Let me know in the comments section.