Eddie Redmayne might bag his second Oscar in as many years for his portrayal of transsexual pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl that opened on Saturday at the Venice Film Festival. He said many transgender people helped him prepare for the role even if no transgender person got the main role.
"Across the board the generosity of people was amazing," Redmayne said at a press conference launching the film about Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener.
Wegener was born male in 1882 but began living as a woman after his marriage and had the first of several sex reassignment operations in 1930. She died in 1931 but left diaries and her life was fictionalised in the book The Danish Girl.
Director Tom Hooper, who made The King's Speech, said the film industry did not make sufficient use of transgender actors and actresses, but defended his choice of Redmayne to play Elbe.
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"I think there's something in Eddie that's drawn to the feminine," Hooper said, citing Redmayne's casting in a woman's role in a stage production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
"I think also to some extent in our film Lili is presenting as a man for the majority of the film, for about two thirds of the movie, and her transition happens quite late, so I also had to consider that coming to the decision."
Hooper said he had used transgender actors in the film, including Britain's Rebecca Root as a nurse, but said that in general transgender actors and actresses were not used enough in the film industry.
"I feel that within the industry at the moment there is a problem. There is a huge pool of talent in trans actors and the access to parts is limited and so I would champion any shift where the industry can move forward to embrace trans actors."
Redmayne said a couple in Los Angeles, in which the wife stayed with her husband while he made the transition to becoming a woman, as well as Elbe's diaries and the book based on Elbe's life, had helped to form his portrayal.
"So it was ... trying to take all of that information and see if I could find some of those aspects in me," said Redmayne, who won the Oscar for best actor this year for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything".
"I don't know if I succeeded but what I learned in that process was quite incredible."
The film also stars Alicia Vikander ("Ex-Machina") as Wegener's wife Gerda. It is one of 21 films in competition for the Lion d'Or top prize.