Before we get into “The Danish Girl” and its inevitable march to the Oscars, let us first begin with Saturday night’s cold, rain-soaked Toronto International Film Festival premiere and the chorus of screams -- “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” -- that greeted its star, Eddie Redmayne, who arrived on the damp red carpet wearing -- wait, what? A cream-colored suit?
“My wife and I checked the weather before we came to Toronto and it was supposed to be sunny,” Redmayne told me at a boisterous party following the film at Toronto’s Soho House. Let it be known: Redmayne is the one who brought up the subject. The Oscar-winning actor has a flair for fashion, as the turquoise number he wore to Toronto last year for “The Theory of Everything” should amply demonstrate. And, at this moment, he was a little self-conscious about standing out among the sea of black- and gray-clad revelers.
That suit made him easy to spot among the well-wishers, who included Jane Fonda and Julianne Moore, both of whom adored the movie. Judging from the audience’s generous applause and talk after the Tom Hooper-directed film, it would appear the two actresses are part of a rather large crowd.
“The Danish Girl” tells a fictionalized version of the story of marriage between Danish artists Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), focusing on the love and support Gerda offers when Einar decides to live as a woman named Lili.
The movie arrives three months after Caitlyn Jenner’s very public gender transition, which, along with TV shows “Transparent” and “Orange Is the New Black,” has brought a notable level of awareness and understanding to the transgender community. Hearing Redmayne, as Lili, saying with conviction, “I believe I am a woman,” will further the conversation.
“This is a civil rights movement,” Vikander told me after the film. “I’m proud to be involved in a movie that can be part of that.”
And Vikander is crucial to its success. “The Danish Girl,” like Redmayne’s last movie, “The Theory of Everything,” is a portrait of a couple facing immense challenges in changing circumstances. If Vikander’s Gerda accepts Lili’s new identity, it means the end of their marriage. The film gives equal play to Gerda’s difficult journey toward the sensitivity needed to help Lili.
“I’m very lucky to again have such a great partner,” Redmayne said of Vikander. “When she auditioned with me for Tom, it was a very important scene, one where Lili first confesses her true feelings to Gerda. And we finished and I looked over and Tom was crying. That’s how accomplished she is.”
There was a fair amount of talk at the party as to whether Working Title and Focus Features, the film’s U.S. distributor, would campaign Vikander for lead or supporting actress. The consensus strongly echoed Redmayne’s sentiments: The movie is about a partnership and, like “The Theory of Everything,” both actors should be considered leads.
“They couldn’t have done it without each other,” director Hooper told me. Standing in a corner of the Soho House, looking relieved, Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Miserables”) said that because he doesn’t test his movies, the Toronto screening was only the second time the movie had played for an audience. He believed the reaction here beat the one at the Venice Film Festival in Italy, as some of the movie’s lighter moments were lost when subtitled.
After winning the Academy Award last year for playing physicist Stephen Hawking, Redmayne is well-positioned to become the first actor to win back-to-back Oscars since Tom Hanks did it for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” more than 20 years ago. One rival studio publicist identified his main competition as Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”) and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Nobody’s seen ‘The Revenant,’” the publicist said of the DiCaprio western thriller directed by last year’s Oscar winner, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. “But Leo has never won, so he’s definitely due if the movie lives up to expectations.”
With its impeccable craft and moving treatment of a topical story, “The Danish Girl” appears poised to grab the attention of a number of the academy’s branches. Nominations for Redmayne and Vikander (wherever she lands) seem assured, and the film will be competitive for picture, director, adapted screenplay, costumes, original score, production design, cinematography and editing.
“It’s a lovely, admirable effort,” one academy member said. “I don’t know how many Oscars it’ll win -- I don’t think it’s as good as ‘The King’s Speech’ -- but it’s definitely in the conversation.”
Redmayne will be absent from much of that conversation as he’s filming the “Harry Potter” spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."
“That’s a lot of pressure,” Redmayne said of the “Potter” prequel. “I am such a fan of those movies. They’re a big part of my life, crucial, really. You don’t want to be the guy who screws the whole thing up.”
Reminded that he has talked at length about the stress he felt playing Hawking and now Lili, Redmayne laughed and replied: “I know, I know. I love the challenge. These roles choose you. You make the movies because, after reading the script, you feel like there’s no other choice. The matter has already been decided.”