Cis male actor Eddie Redmayne said it was “a mistake” to play a transgender woman in the 2015 film The Danish Girl, a role that got him a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
“I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake,” he told the Sunday Times this weekend. “The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table. There must be a leveling, otherwise, we are going to carry on having these debates.”
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He added that he “wouldn’t take [the role] on now.”
In the movie, Redmayne played painter Lili Elbe, a real person who was transgender and died in 1931 after she received a uterus transplant.
“The story is so beautiful and the people from the trans community I met in preparing for the part were incredibly generous,” Redmayne said when the film was released. “It has been a privilege and, while not in any way talking for the community, I’m trying to learn to be an ally.”
That learning probably involved several controversies in the last several years around cisgender actors playing transgender roles – sometimes getting major accolades – while transgender actors struggle to find work in Hollywood in either cis or trans roles.
The discussion got media attention in 2018 when Scarlett Johansson said that she was going to play a transgender man in a movie and later backed out of the role due to backlash from LGBTQ people.
Others have criticized the practice of cisgender people playing transgender characters – especially when the actor isn’t even the same gender as the character – because it affirms the discriminatory idea that transgender people are merely acting like their gender and because cisgender actors often try to play an un-nuanced transgender stereotype.
“The Danish Girl‘s struggle to portray Lili Elbe’s story magnifies not only the most glaring weaknesses of both Redmayne and [director Tom] Hooper, but also the cisnormative gaze of the transgender community,” wrote Carol Grant in IndieWire when The Danish Girl came out., adding that Redmayne relied on “regressive, reductive, and contribut[ing] to harmful stereotypes.”
Last year Redmayne defended J.K. Rowling, calling criticism of her transphobia “vitriol” that’s “absolutely disgusting.” He had previously worked on two Fantastic Beast films, based on Rowling’s work.