Stephen Hawking is not just one of the world’s greatest living scientists, he is also a master of comic timing, as he proved when he met The Theory of Everything star Eddie Redmayne.
Redmayne has brought Hawking to life on screen for the upcoming biopic, but he was left red-faced when he met the man in the flesh thanks to a misjudged horoscope reference – not the sort of conversation you want to get into with a prize-winning physicist.
Redmayne met Hawking just before he began shooting the Oscar-tipped film which he stars in opposite Felicity Jones. “The first thing I do is over-apologise for the fact that someone who’d studied art history is playing this great scientific mind,” he recalls, but worse is to come.
“Because it’s hard for him to speak and because I hate silence, I just spew forth information about Stephen Hawking to Stephen Hawking for the next 40 minutes,” adds Redmayne. “The first thing he eventually says, after all that time, is ‘please, call me Stephen’, because I’ve been calling him Professor Hawking all the way through. So I massively apologise for that.
“And then, for some reason, I hear myself informing him he was born on January 8th, because I’ve been talking about science and religion in our film and he makes this point in his book ‘My Brief History’ about how he was born 300 years to the day after Galileo.
“And then I tell him I was born on January 6th; I don’t know why I say it, but I do, ‘so we’re both Capricorns’, and then the second it comes out of my mouth I’m like, ‘F**k. What did I just say to Stephen Hawking?’ And there is this punishing four or five minutes as he blinks away. Finally, the voice says, with killer timing: ‘I am an astronomer, not an astrologer.’”
There you have it: A Brief History of Being Burned by Sir Stephen Hawking. No wonder Redmayne is still traumatised by the meeting.
“The idea that he might think the guy playing him in a biopic thinks he’s Mystic Meg… I don’t think I ever will get over it,” he says sheepishly.
The Theory of Everything is released in UK cinemas on 1 January 2015