By Sharon Clott Kanter
Updated Nov 23, 2015 @ 8:00 am
Credit: Courtesy Photo

Eddie Redmayne may sometimes model for Burberry, but onscreen, he's not known for just his good looks. He's becoming more and more known for his impressive transformations. Last year, his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the legendary theoretical physicist inflicted with ALS, earned him the top honor in the biz, the Academy Award for Best Actor. This year, he’s on his way to earning a back-to-back Oscar nod for his role in The Danish Girl, out November 27, which has him reteaming with his award-winning Les Miserables director, Tom Hooper. In the film, Redmayne reinvents his appearance yet again to play another real-life trailblazer, Lile Elbe, who was one of the first people in the world to ever undergo gender reassignment surgery. Alicia Vikander co-stars as her wife, Gerda Wegener.

When we caught up with Redmayne at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, he said, like The Theory of Everything, wants to honor the memory of the real-life person he’s portraying. “The stakes are higher when there is a story that is so iconic and important,” he said. “Especially with people like Gerda and Lile, who have such a legacy. It makes you want to deliver their story as well as possible.”

To prepare for the role, he met trans women of different generations. He also read the famous book about Lile’s life, Man Into Woman: The First Sex Change. His portrayal, he says, is not just for Lile, who died in 1931 in Germany after complications of her fourth gender reassignment surgery, but more of a way to capture the challenges that face an entire community. “Lile's story happened almost 100 years ago, and in the film you see violence against Lile,” said Redmayne. “You see problems as far as doctors are concerned and healthcare. What is astounding to me is that only now we’re getting to have that conversation and what a vicious reality it is. The amount of discrimination and violence against trans people, particularly trans women of color, is extraordinary. I find it amazing how long it’s been since Lile and Gerda’s story and how much progress there is still to be made.”

And change is exactly what he wishes his role in this film will ignite. "I hope this movie helps encourage people to keep talking about these issues," said Redmayne, "because there is still such a long way to go.”

Watch the trailer for The Danish Girl below.