Dynamic Duo: SBIFF honors Oscar-nominated team Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones, star of "The Theory of Everything," speaks to reporters on the red carpet outside the Arlington Theatre on Thursday. Ms. Jones and co-star Eddie Redmayne received the Cinema Vanguard Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival NIK BLASKOVICH/ NEWS-PRESS
Felicity Jones, star of “The Theory of Everything,” speaks to reporters on the red carpet outside the Arlington Theatre on Thursday. Ms. Jones and co-star Eddie Redmayne received the Cinema Vanguard Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
NIK BLASKOVICH/ NEWS-PRESS

Actor Eddie Redmayne revealed himself to be as much in awe of Hollywood and the movie-making machine as his fans are in awe of him.

At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Vanguard Award event Thursday at the Arlington Theatre, where he and his co-star Felicity Jones, from “The Theory of Everything,” were honored for their Oscar-nominated performances, the star talked about his first big Tinseltown experience.

Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," signs autographs for fans outside the Arlington
Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” signs autographs for fans outside the Arlington
It was a jump from playing Shakespeare as a young student in London, to flying to New York, being driven to a soundstage in a blacked-out windowed SUV, past paparazzi hoping to get a glimpse of stars Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon, walking onto a massive and detailed soundstage set, and looking past the camera to director Robert DeNiro, who said, “Action.”

“I was so frightened,” Mr. Redmayne said. “You can watch the film and see me terrified.”

The movie was 2006’s “The Good Shepherd” and he thinks the only reason he got the role was “I have big lips and I had to play Angelina Jolie’s son.”

That combination of self-deprecating humor and humility was shared by his co-star, Ms. Jones. The two knew each other from audition rooms around London, but this chance to play astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane, has catapulted these two grounded actors into the next level of the film business, with awards and nominations coming for the two of them.

Wisely, SBIFF decided to honor them both on this Thursday evening with an award that the festival’s Roger Durling noted goes to the risk-takers in the acting business.

On the red carpet, Ms. Jones talked about taking on the role of Hawking’s wife, who looks after her husband as his body is crippled by ALS. The film was based on Jane Hawking’s book “Music to Move the Stars,” that went very deeply into their married life.

“The book was my bible,” she said. “It gave me such an insight into who Jane was and the book is very detailed about her emotional experience and Stephen’s at that time. And I had such affection for her when I met her. There was this combination of this fortitude and this defiant spirit.

“But she was also very clear that she was not a saint. She was a woman who had her own drives and desires and eccentricities. I constantly wanted to bring the plural nature of her character to the screen.”

On hand to present the award at the end of the evening was “The Theory of Everything” screenwriter Anthony McCarten. He had been working on a script about Hawking around 2001, but in 2004, when he read Jane Hawking’s book, he changed the idea of the film.

He describes the script as a “triple helix,” winding together the story of the Hawkings’ marriage, Hawking’s growing fame in science, and a “horror movie” of the encroaching ALS.

“It would be three films in one,” he said. “What we usually take away from films is not ideas but emotion. It’s essentially a love, an anatomy of a marriage, and a definition of our different accommodations with time and what time delivers to us.”

For Mr. Redmayne, it was a return to Santa Barbara after two years. He has been here before to accept the Virtuosos Award for “Les Miserables.”

Since then he has made “Jupiter Ascending,” where he plays a god (out next month in theaters), and “The Theory of Everything,” playing a scientist who could imagine worlds and universes beyond our own.

“It’s been a very colorful life full of very different things and it makes it all enjoyable,” he said.

The Santa Barbara Film Festival continues with more films today and this evening’s Montecito Award with Jennifer Aniston.

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