Focus Features releases The Theory of Everything at Regal Union Square and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square on November 7th, 2014.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you come on board to direct The Theory of Everything?
James Marsh: I was sent a screenplay by [screenwriter] Anthony McCarten. I thought it was a biopic of Stephen Hawking when it came to me, and I thought that I would be the wrong person to do that. I wasn't particularly interested in doing that. So when I read it, I was very surprised in a good way that it was a portrait of a relationship, not a biopic essentially, although there were obviously biographic elements within it and I became very intrigued by the emotional complexity of this. Itís a love story essentially but in very unusual circumstances with very interesting and difficult impediments. So then almost immediately after I finished it, I thought, "Iím not sure how I do this, but I really want to do it." So once I got involved, we began a casting process essentially and Working Title got involved quite quickly after I got involved and helped the film very smoothly go into production. The next thing was finding our actors essentially.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you see the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as one performance or two?
JM: What's interesting is they always exist with each other. Of course we have private time with them on the screen, but thatís always about reflection and where theyíve been with each other. So it's really a portrait of a relationship, this dynamic and interactive. Clearly you know the actors approach it very much as "this is my character," but it worked so beautifully between them, that you felt like you were dealing with often a real marriage. It felt like that some days on set. Each actor fought for their character, inhabited their character, but the result was definitely a relationship that we put on screen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to find the right balance between the scientific and romantic, intimate moments of the film?
JM: Our principal objective was to [find a] balance between those things, but the perspective offered was always the relationship, the love story and how that gave you access to Stephen Hawkingís academic life and his ideas which were being supported and enabled by Jane's forbearance and dedication. My idea was to make it kind of simple, playful and visual. It was always a portrait of a relationship, not an exploration of scientific ideas, so the film isn't a place to do that. I was more comfortable and more confident about the emotional life of the film than I was about the science. I am not a scientist. I don't really understand anymore than most people do the theoretical physics and so the objective became to distill that into simple imagery that was not pretentious and not overly complicated and yet gave you some idea of what Stephen was trying to get at with theoretical mathematics which you can't really discuss in a film particularly well, it's not really the right medium for the discussion of mathematics. The two are mutually exclusive, I think.
NYC MOVIE GURU: All of your films have one element in common which is their humanism. Would it be safe to say that you're a humanist?
JM: I think most people who are dealing with drama in the dramatic form have to have some real empathy for every single person who is in that story. I made a documentary called Project Nim where there was one character I really did not like very much, and I find that really hard to kind of stop not liking that character because I had to be fair to that character. So you love all your characters I think as a dramatist, as a filmmaker whether itís a documentary or a feature, and maybe thatís where you want to be generous to those chracters even when they do awful and terrible things. I made a film called "Red Riding" where this is an absolutely appauling serial killer and I really liked that character. I tried to portray him in a really sympathetic kind of way which maybe is not humanistic, but maybe thatís more of a diabolical kind of emotion.