Director James Marsh says Stephen Hawking, the revered physicist and subject of his 2014 movie The Theory Of Everything, was “an example to us all.” The brilliant scientist passed away yesterday aged 76.
Marsh, an Oscar-winner for Man On Wire, tells me, “Stephen’s life was an extraordinary miracle. It was very consoling. He lived so productively for so many years after getting the ALS diagnosis in his early 20s. His life shows us the power of the human mind. Given his physical limitations he has had an extraordinary life. Such bravery. He’s an amazing example to all of us. We should be sad to lose such a brilliant mind but grateful to have had it for as long as we did.”
Marsh recalled his fear for the iconic scientist’s life while they were making biopic The Theory Of Everything, but also his tremendous resolve, “He got ill a couple of times when we were working on the film. We were worried he would die. You are humbled when you make a film like that. It makes your own problems and issues seem very minor in comparison to what Stephen went through. Eddie and I both discussed that.”
The acclaimed Working Title-Universal Pictures production, which scored scored five Oscar nominations, charts how Hawking and hist first wife Jane met and fell in love during Hawking’s postgraduate career at Cambridge University and how they coped with his painful ALS diagnosis. It then charts, in often very moving detail, the heavy toll that the scientist’s growing fame and difficult medical condition exact on their relationship.
Given that the film was based on the book by his ex-wife, with whom he has had a challenged relationship since, Hawking might have tried to torpedo it. Instead he was gracious and supportive, says Marsh.
“Stephen was supportive of the film in grudging principle. Given that the film is based on his ex-wife Jane’s point of view as expressed in her book, I don’t think he was thrilled about it, but he didn’t object to it either. Eddie met him, so did I. He was savvy that people would want to tell stories about his life and he knew that was valid. Stephen came to set and I think he was impressed with the scale of what we were doing. All in all I think him and Jane endorsed the portrait we showed and that means more than anything to me as a filmmaker.”
However, showing the finished film to Hawking proved something of an excruciating moment for the director: “The most challenging part of the relationship was when we showed him the film for the first time. It was quite a day for all of us. Waiting to get his judgement was one of the most agonizing times of my professional life. If he had hated it, he could have let that be known and that would have had a huge impact on our film. But he didn’t hate it, he was very generous about it despite the unhappy ending to his first marriage.”
Hawking would go on to attend the BAFTA ceremony for the film and praise Redmayne’s portrayal. Redmayne himself told us today that Hawking was “a truly beautiful mind.”
Marsh is currently in post-production on Michael Caine crime-drama The King Of Thieves.