Eddie Redmayne won his first Oscar for playing the paralyzed genius Stephen Hawking in the warmly received biopic “The Theory of Everything.” In telling the story of how the Oxford-educated Hawking overcame his physical limitations brought on by ALS — or Lou Gehrig’s disease — to have a brilliant career as a physicist and author (“A Brief History of Time” was a best seller), and achieve personal satisfaction with two wives and two children, Redmayne won the hearts of academy voters and claimed the Best Actor prize in 2015.
Seven years later, Redmayne is trying for a second gold statuette in another real-life role but this one is sinister and twisted. The British actor plays Charles Cullen, a nurse who is serving 18 consecutive life sentences for the murders of various patients in his care in the Netflix film “The Good Nurse.” The “good” in the title refers to Amy Loughren, the nurse who turned Cullen in to New Jersey police, and played by last year’s Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain. What Redmayne has going for him here is that he’s playing completely against type, a strategy that sometimes prompts the academy to take a second look at an actor’s work and sometimes award them the Oscar.
Going against the grain worked big-time for Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who won his first Oscar nomination in 2001 for playing sensitive gay poet Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls.” Cast as cold-blooded assassin Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” Bardem scared audiences half to death with his signature phrase “Friend-o,” modified Kaye Ballard hairdo and lethal stare. He won Best Supporting Actor in 2008.
For years, Michael Caine was best known as Alfie, the Cockney babe magnet who bedded half of London’s available women in the hit 1966 film of the same name. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for that role and for a few others after that but it wasn’t until Caine went against his machismo image (“The Ipcress File”; “Funeral in Berlin”) with a supporting role as Mia Farrow’s love-struck, befuddled husband in “Hannah and Her Sisters” that the academy finally decided to give him the gold (his first of two Oscars), in 1987, 20 years after his first nomination.
The playing-against-type strategy works for actresses as well. Glamourpuss Charlize Theron was unrecognizable as real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” and won a 2003 Best Actress award. Sexy Susan Sarandon finally won Best Actress as real-life nun Sister Helen Prejean in the 1995 death penalty drama “Dead Man Walking.” Talk about answered prayers — it was her fifth try for the award.
It’s all about having the right role at the right time. Will that be true this year for Eddie Redmayne? Gold Derby has him in the Top 10 to win Best Supporting Actor. He’s gaining on the competition, which includes Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Ben Whishaw (“Women Talking”) and Paul Dano (“The Fabelmans”). We will have to wait until the announcement of the nominations on January 24, 2023 to see if Eddie’s wicked ways paid off.
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