Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was up against a ticking clock in his struggle with the cosmos, ALS, and his soul mate, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). The film’s Oscar-buzzy crafts convey thought-provoking metaphors, not the least of which is how his mind expands while his body deteriorates.
“It was important to find the end look of Eddie in the wheelchair because I already knew what I would do to make Eddie look like the young Stephen Hawking,” explained hair, makeup and prosthetic designer Jan Sewell. “If I got the two ends, then I could do my timeline. I did a head cast and a mouth cast of Eddie, who I worked with previously on ‘Les Miserables.’ I needed to get mouthpieces and teeth made to get the effect of his jaw dropping. Eddie worked with movement coach Alex Reynolds and figured out how he was going to twist his body and head.”
Sewell used forced perspective and played with scale to show how Hawking’s body deteriorates. “When we were getting the prosthetics made, I was so aware that he was going to be in a different position and I had to make sure the prosthetics weren’t going to get in the way of what he was doing,” she said.
“So we did a makeup test very early on and found the end point. I did things to change the scale of Eddie’s face. He wore ear clips that pushed out his ears. And then, as I started to put in different mouth pieces to slowly start to change his mouth, I changed his ears by adding little earlobes on to slightly change the scale of his face,” Sewell added. “I made prosthetic knee and hand pieces to make them look bonier. When we put the prosthetics on for the last time, for the last look, it gave the effect that he had shrunk because everything else had grown.”
However, we need to believe that Wilde and Hawking fall in love at Cambridge in ’63 before he’s afflicted with ALS. Thus, the famed May Ball becomes an essential, romantic backdrop. “The grandeur of the ball was recreated, but it wouldn’t have been as elaborate in the ’60s as the one we created,” Noble said. “But it’s the most romantic moment of your life and remembering it 30 years later makes it more heightened, like a starry night, which is why we filmed the end on the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge.”
Meanwhile, the heightened use of natural lighting by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme craftily evokes Douglas Sirk and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Delhomme even achieves a “Three Colors” vibe by bathing a scene in Hawking’s TV room with red light when Wilde walks in and finds him slumped in an oversized chair. The idea for the red glow came to him suddenly and he went to Kelly and asked for red curtains. “I instinctively saw a dramatic turning point, like he was hiding in this big chair, like going back into the womb. Something special. ”
This is basically what composer Jóhann Jóhannsson had in mind with his lyrical, pattern-based score. “It’s an odd love story and the music needed to underscore the emotion but the science and cosmology are there,” Jóhannson said.
“I start with a significant scene to tackle. For me, that was the intro. It has a four-note piano motif, which is then layered with harmonies and overlaid with orchestra and builds from there. It starts off with filigree patterns that evolve and answer each other and then explodes like a Big Bang. It’s a joyful piece where Hawking and his friend are cycling in Cambridge in the full vigor of their youth.” For the end of the film, Jóhannson “wrote a more philosophical, serene version of the opening piece.”