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Eddie Redmayne Reflects On Playing Trans Woman In 'The Danish Girl': 'I Think It Was A Mistake'

Eddie Redmayne Reflects On Playing Trans Woman In 'The Danish Girl': 'I Think It Was A Mistake'
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Focus Features

Actor Eddie Redmayne's performance as transgender painter Lili Elbe in the 2015 film The Danish Girl is one of the most celebrated of his career, earning him a slew of awards nominations that included the Academy Award for Best Actor.

But in a recent interview, Redmayne said that in hindsight, if he had it all to do again he'd decline the role.

Redmayne's casting sparked controversy at the time among many trans people and allies who felt it was inappropriate for a straight, cisgender man to play Elbe, one of the first people to receive sex-reassignment surgery in 1930.

Speaking with the U.K.'s Sunday Times, Redmayne called his decision to play Elbe a well-intentioned "mistake," a move that many trans people and allies are applauding.

Of his appearance in The Danish Girl, Redmayne told The Times:

"I wouldn't take it on now. I made the film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake."

But as The Times noted, Redmayne's attachment to the film immediately following his 2015 Best Actor Oscar win for playing scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything was likely responsible for the film getting made after having languished in turnaround for years.

Redmayne addressed this, pointing out that the solution isn't necessarily hiring A-list cisgender actors to play trans roles but rather a "leveling" of the playing field when it comes to the casting process of trans roles.

"The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don't have a chair at the table. There must be a leveling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates."

Many have cheered Redmayne's change of heart on a role that has been controversial from the start.

Several trans activists have pointed to Redmayne's performance as an example of the negative impact cisgender actors playing trans characters can have on the trans community.

Writer and actor Jen Richards eloquently explained this impact in the 2020 LGTBQ-themed Netflix documentary series Disclosure.

As Richards put it:

"Having cis men play trans women, in my mind, is a direct link to the violence against trans women."

Richards explained that this staggering rate of violence is related to the faulty perception that trans women are actually men--a perception reified by the fact that people "only know trans women from media, and the people playing trans women are the men that they know" like Redmayne in The Danish Girl.

But, Richards pointed out, this re-enforcement of stereotypes and misperceptions doesn't happen when trans actors are hired to play trans roles.

"This doesn't happen when a trans woman plays a trans woman ... When you see these women off-screen still as women, it completely deflates this idea that they're somehow men in disguise."

Richards conceded that Redmayne gave an excellent performance in The Danish Girl, but that it was a "performance of transness"
itself, rather than "a whole person of whom transness is one aspect."

On Twitter, many applauded Redmayne's change of heart on the role.

But in light of his support for author J.K. Rowling amid blowback over her transphobic comments and his current appearance as the LGBTQ+ character of the Emcee in the new West End revival of Cabaret, many others felt Redmayne's 180 rang hollow.

Regardless of the controversy they sparked, hopefully Redmayne's comments can inspire more understanding of the importance of representation in media.