Cast: Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard Depp, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Tom Hooper
Genre: Biography, Drama
Synopsis: The Danish Girl is the remarkable love story inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, portrayed in the film respectively by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables).
In 1926 in Copenhagen, artist Einar Wegener is married to Gerda Wegener and is revered for landscape paintings. Gerda is also an artist, less renowned but steadily working as a portraitist of prominent citizens. Theirs is a strong and loving marriage, yet personal and professional epiphanies have eluded them both.
That all begins to change one day when, on deadline for a portrait, Gerda asks her husband to fill in for a model by putting on a dress so that she can finish the painting. The experience is transformative, as Einar soon realizes that being Lili is an expression of her truest self, and she begins living her life as a woman. Gerda unexpectedly finds that she has a new muse, and renewed creative ferment. But the couple soon brush up against society's disapproval.
They leave their homeland for the more open-minded world of Paris. There, it is Gerda's career that continues to flourish. The couple's marriage evolves – and not without strain. But again and again Gerda supports Lili during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart.
The Danish Girl
Release Date: December 26th, 2015
When Discussing The Danish Girl: Terms to Know
Cisgender (a.k.a. 'cis") – A cisgender person is someone whose gender identity (their internal sense of themselves as a man or a woman) matches the sex they were assigned at birth. 'Cis-' is a Latin prefix meaning 'on the same side as," and is therefore an antonym of 'trans-." A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say 'non-transgender people."
Transgender (a.k.a. 'trans") – A transgender person is someone whose gender identity (their internal sense of themselves as a man or a woman) is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender is an adjective, and not a noun; therefore, 'Scott is a transgender man" is correct and 'Scott is a transgender" is incorrect. For the plural, 'transgender people" is correct and 'transgenders" is incorrect.
Transition Transition is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition is the process trans people undertake to bring their body and their gender expression into alignment with their inner gender identity. It includes some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one's family, friends, and co-workers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person.
Gender Confirmation Surgery An updated term for sex reassignment surgery, one step in the medical transition process that some trans people undergo. This terminology is preferable to the outdated phrase 'sex change."
LGBTQ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning community.
As shown in The Danish Girl, Lili Elbe was assigned male at birth though her gender identity was female. Using contemporary terminology, she can be described as a transgender woman; accordingly, male pronouns are not used to describe Lili. Any references to Lili before she transitioned are therefore qualified: 'Before she transitioned, Lili lived as Einar Wegener." It would be inaccurate to refer to Lili as a man and incorrect to refer to her as a trans man, since Lili identified as a woman.
Speaking of The Danish Girl
Lucinda Coxon, screenwriter
Paco Delgado, costume designer
Amber Heard, actress ('Ulla")
Tom Hooper, director/producer
Eddie Redmayne, actor ('Lili Elbe")
Jan Sewell, make-up and hair designer
Michael Standish, set decorator
Eve Stewart, production designer
Alicia Vikander ('Gerda")
Ben Whishaw, actor ('Henrik")
Eddie Redmayne: This is a story of authenticity, identity, and courage, but at its heart it is a love story. About the courage that it takes to find yourself – to be yourself.
Tom Hooper: To me, The Danish Girl shares with The King's Speech that theme of the blocks that lie between us and the best version of ourselves – and how we overcome those blocks.
The film tells the extraordinary story of Lili Elbe, one of the world's first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery, and the powerful love story of two people who go through Lili's journey together. It movingly portrays a marriage going through a profound transformation.
Eddie Redmayne: It's about the hurdles in life and how, as a duo, you overcome those.
Alicia Vikander: The two people in The Danish Girl are close to soul mates.
The Danish Girl was David Ebershoff's debut novel. First published in 2000, the book won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction, among other honors. It has been translated into nearly 20 languages. Producers Gail Mutrux and Anne Harrison, and executive producer Linda Reisman, have been working on the film for over a decade. Gail Mutrux optioned the book in 2000 and began developing the film version, bringing on Linda Reisman in 2003. In 2005 Anne Harrison joined the project with the mandate of getting the screenplay adaptation written, for which Lucinda Coxon was soon hired.
Lucinda Coxon: Gail and Anne sent me the book. When I read it, I realized that Lili's remarkable story had been swept away by the tide of history. Hers was an incredibly important moment, and one I'd not heard about at all. After reading the novel, I researched the story a little further. What I was particularly struck by was that this was the story of a marriage, a love story between two artists of courage and imagination. And I suppose what appealed to me was telling a universal story through something highly particular.
For example, when Gerda and Lili – when she was living as a man – make the decision to leave Copenhagen for Paris that is not only about their seeking out a more liberal society; it's about when anyone grows up and leaves their home for the wider world. I thought of them not only as a couple who loved one another but also as a pair of artists who were always creating together. These two were constantly seeking to liberate one another, and the question became just how much change a marriage could accommodate.
Alicia Vikander: The script is honest in showing how sometimes you don't end up saying the right things.
Eddie Redmayne: It was a challenging, beautiful piece of writing.
Lucinda Coxon: If you're writing an adaptation, you have to love the material to begin with but then you need to take ownership of it. I did make departures from David's book to go closer to the original history, but I think the essence of his book is absolutely present. The characters had been developed and brilliantly fleshed out by David in his book, which was a gift to me.
One challenge was that this is such an intimate story between two people that opens out into something with enormous ramifications. Their lives together were insular until they weren't.
Paco Delgado: It's a story of intimacy between artists where completely new directions open up. That's what reading the screenplay was like for me; you are constantly redirecting to both points of view as Lili makes one brave decision after another.
Ben Whishaw: When I read a script, I go on an instinctive, emotional reaction. I read this script in one sitting, barely catching my breath. On reflection I realized that it was about something that's rarely dealt with in a mainstream film. But the themes are universal: it's about a relationship, and about a person who is trying to be authentic to themselves.
I found the story most powerful and moving as an examination of when one part of a couple says, 'I need to change" and how the couple negotiates that. Lucinda's script shows kindness, hopefulness, and sensitivity – but also how it's not a walk in the park.
Amber Heard: Lucinda took on a compelling story with grace. She handled, masterfully, the very difficult task of telling a unique story in a way that felt acutely human. It really grabbed me by the heart. You don't relate to one character or the other; you connect to all of them.
Lucinda Coxon: I took a personal journey of discovery with Lili and Gerda, and I hope that the audience can as well. A lot of the time I was just trying to keep up.
Eve Stewart: I was struck by the tenderness with which the subject was approached – and by how interesting it would be to portray this couple's art and how their world was affected.
After casting director Nina Gold recommended Lucinda Coxon's screenplay to him, director Tom Hooper read the script and came on board the project.
Tom Hooper: Nina said, 'I know of this great unmade script." I fell in love with the script as soon as I read it, which was in 2008 when I was preparing The King's Speech. It was the best script I've ever read. I wept three times when I read it – and I'm not sentimental. I've wanted to make the movie ever since.
Alicia Vikander: There is a delicate emotional intelligence to the stories Tom tells, so if there was anyone who could take on this love story it would be him.
Lucinda Coxon: We were, in a sense, lucky that the film hadn't been made sooner. Tom is an incredibly bold director, and he wanted to make a film that people would relate to. As a writer, you're always fighting for your script but with these gifted colleagues I found their instincts to be strong and true. This is the moment for our film to reach people.
Paco Delgado: There are countries today where the culture would not be ready to accept a person's journey. This movie pays tribute to an amazing person but also to the courageous people nowadays who are taking that journey.
Amber Heard: Imagine what was at stake for Lili. Even now, in the U.S., a person can be fired in over two dozen states for being LGBTQ. Lili was a hero for the self, for the individual; she chose something new. More and more people do that now, but it's sad and terrifying that there's so much at risk for them even today.
Eddie Redmayne: It's sort of dumbfounding, almost 100 years on from Lili, how little has progressed for what is a civil rights movement.
Alicia Vikander: I'm very proud that we are telling this story in a time when people can be a part of this movement.
Eddie Redmayne: There is a huge amount of work to be done.
Eddie Redmayne committed to portray Lili even before the movie got the 'green light" to be made with Working Title Films producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.
Tom Hooper: From my first reading of the script, I thought about Eddie for the role. I said to Gail Mutrux, 'That's who I want to make the film with." We had already made Elizabeth I together. But it wasn't until we were making Les Misérables with Working Title in 2012 that I gave him the script.
Eddie Redmayne: I was at the Les Misérables barricades, and Tom said, 'I would like you to read something." Tom then got me the script and I sat down to read it, knowing nothing about it. I was profoundly moved, it blew my mind. I found it extraordinarily passionate and deeply felt. I told Tom I wanted to be part of telling this story.
Tom Hooper: He committed to doing the movie with me if we ever got the chance.
Eddie Redmayne: Was I daunted by it? Yes, I was, but I'm daunted by everything! But I have begun to realize that fear of not doing a character or a story justice is a galvanizing thing – it pushes me forward and makes me work harder.
Lili Elbe was a courageous woman; she was complicated, colorful, and vibrant. I hoped to be able to immerse myself in her world, to try and get an insight into what she went through inside. The thrill of being an actor is that, with each character, you get to further yourself.
Lucinda Coxon: I was just so happy and relieved when Eddie agreed to star. This was a transformative role, one which needed to be approached with intelligence and delicacy and skill. I instantly knew we would be fine, that Eddie would take care of the character and would be an astonishing Lili. Eddie is so rigorous and disciplined. He did a great deal of his own research into the story, into trans lives.
Eddie Redmanye: That was most important of all for me, meeting people from the trans community and hearing about their lives, their strengths, their realities. Lili underwent gender confirmation surgery almost 100 years ago, and people transitioning now know much more than she would have. So, to hear from elder members of the community was to learn of the trans experience 40-50 years ago.
Many of the trans women I spoke to described how, before transitioning, in order to survive in society, they created ways in which to live life in their assigned gender. That could involve putting a framework up.
Every trans story is unique and individual; there is no one trans experience. But every single trans person I've met has talked about knowing, from their youth, that their assigned gender was different from their own identity.
Tom Hooper: Eddie and I were both hugely inspired by Jan Morris's exceptional, exquisitely written autobiography Conundrum.
Eddie Redmayne: Tom and I went through the script intricately in the preparation process. I took a lot of information from David Ebershoff's book, brought everything together to look into myself – to see what I could find in myself – and made my own choices.
Lucinda Coxon: Eddie had great support throughout the processes from [dialect coach] Julia Wilson-Dickson and [movement choreographer] Alex Reynolds, who worked with him on The Theory of Everything as well.
Eddie Redmayne: Alex has a wonderful sense of ability, and she knows what I react well to, or don't. The process of working with Alex was about freeing sides of myself up. Although movement is external, this was also internal: freeing myself up to be in a place to access Lili's story as truly as possible.
Physicality is always something I like to get into with a character because it's a massive part of who we are. Use of hands always interests me. I knew I wanted to show moments of Lili's true gender, even when she was living as Einar. Was it the way in which she slept? I looked into that.
Tom Hooper: We also needed those little things in the body language that set up the idea of the concealment of the true self. A lot of conversations were about how Lili is a woman and she is living as Einar at the beginning, but we needed it to be a process of finding the true self rather than a new identity being constructed.
Eddie's working with Alex on the body language helped unlock the emotional landscape of the character.
Eddie Redmayne: [Make-up and hair designer] Jan Sewell and I also worked together on The Theory of Everything. Jan has such sensitivity and nuance in her work. She and I started exploring the physical notions for Lili almost a year and a half before we started filming.
Jan Sewell: The research was fascinating, because you could do all these little changes as Lili transitions. There had to be bits where it's a bit clunky, before she is truly Lili. We start with little bits of make-up to add femininity in, like clear mascara on his eyelashes, and we start to let the hair fall a little bit, adding in little wefts. Eddie and I would agree on subtle things that nobody sees but that make the difference.
Eve Stewart started her work early, and Paco Delgado and I looked at all her reference books. It's what a design team should do, be massively collaborative.
Eve Stewart: Paco and I laugh like drains together. It was a joy to take him early on to see the actual locations in Denmark so we could both see how the Danish light would work with our colors and textures.
Tom Hooper: I was very lucky that Eve could join me to do The Danish Girl. This is our fifth project together. What's wonderful about these loyal working relationships – like with my brilliant film editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, on our sixth project together – is that they're like a conversation that keeps deepening. The more we work together, the bolder we get; you realize that unless you commit to making a statement, often you've basically said nothing.
Michael Standish: I first worked with Eve in 1998, on Topsy-Turvy. Eve guides the art department. Once she's fixed on something, it's got to look right. We know exactly which object is going to go in what place.
Research is vital; not only pictorial research – having visual references for every set – but talking with people and getting a sense of what happened in a period. For the operating theatre scenes, Eve went to the clinic that's now in Dresden, built upon the remnants of the original women's hospital; the archivist at [the Institute for the History of Medicine at] Dresden [University Technology] pulled out all pictures for the period. So we were able to copy Dr. Warnekros' actual operating theatre.
Eve Stewart: For the women's hospital, the color palette was a crisp, almost heavenly white.
Michael Standish: We discussed everything: what's the feel? What's the level? What are the colors? We picked a range of colors that gets followed all the way through so there is a binding cohesion.
Jan Sewell: Every make-up designer will break a script down and do continuity, and I do a very detailed one – for every character in a film. We take more and more photographs and end up with a photographic version of the film.
On the set, while I'll be doing his make-up Eddie will be going through that bible to remind himself where he's been and what he's done. He also has his own copy of the script which he's marked up.
Eddie is passionate, prepped, and precise – which I love. He will test everything, wants you to offer everything to him. From my point of view as a creative, he's a delight because he just sops it all up.
He would observe his own wife putting lipstick on, then practice that. He would watch me making up other people. I was sitting with him one day and he became determined to get the way I was sitting into the film – and he has!
Paco Delgado: Eddie is very serious about his work, and he works quite closely with all the departments; it's about the character, not about himself, and that helps us achieve what we are all trying for.
Alicia Vikander: Seeing Eddie trying to do justice to playing Lili transferred to everyone else working on the film.
Jan Sewell: There's that tension of, you don't think you've quite pulled it off or you could do a bit more.
Eddie Redmayne: Acting is about striving for perfection with the acknowledgement that you're never going to get it.
Tom Hooper: Eddie's anxiety is fuel that drives him to incredible levels of conscientiousness and hard work. In the moment of performance, he can have a wonderful freedom. That's one of the things that marks him as a great actor – the ability to transcend the anxiety completely the moment the camera turns on.
Eddie Redmayne: If you are lucky enough to be given the opportunity to play Lili Elbe and tell her story, you should be giving every ounce of yourself. It's a great privilege, and a great responsibility.
Lucinda Coxon: Eddie had to be ready to play three acts: in the first, he's largely Lili before she transitions, and in the third he's Lili. The middle section, he charted out with tremendous skill.
Alicia Vikander: Eddie pinpointed with such immense delicacy how Lili couldn't express herself before she transitioned. It was a feeling of being in chains.
Eddie Redmayne: Thinking about the physicality, there was Lili's when she was living as Einar and then there was Lili's when she is discovering herself – knocking down those walls that had been set up around her.
Paco Delgado: We wanted to see ultimately a real woman, not an artificial one; we wanted very little make-up. To avoid caricature, we experimented with shapes, color, and hair – and Lili herself had to experiment with her look, to find what is best for her; what enhances the woman? At first there is maybe going to be hyper-feminization, followed by – after becoming more assured – relaxing into naturalism. The ballroom sequence is like a first effort with a fancy dress, but little by little more belongs to her. We thought of this for the clothes and also the hair.
Eddie Redmayne: Hyper-feminization is something that I heard described by some trans women. When you're first transitioning, you're allowing yourself to live in the clothing of your true gender. Some people described it as going through teenage adolescence, expressing yourself by putting on perhaps too much make-up or wearing too brash a wig. You have to try and find out your identity. I spoke with Jan a lot about this.
Lucinda Coxon: Lili didn't necessarily have to emerge looking like a beautiful woman; as it happens, Eddie looks beautiful as Lili. But Eddie did have to get at what was in her head, and he found the wit, the humor, and the vulnerability – and what was most beautiful was how he articulates the difficulties of emerging into a new self, being adolescent again in some ways.
Eddie Redmayne: When she is given the opportunity by Gerda to dress up in women's clothes, there is light for Lili. When they go to the ballroom, there is what a friend described as the thrill of blending – but also the excitement of playing a game, especially when she meets Henrik.
Alicia Vikander: Lili and Gerda are indulging in the thrill of the experience as a team, but then Gerda feels a bit left out when Lili has private moments with Henrik.
Ben Whishaw: It's not only liberating for Lili but also in some ways liberating for Henrik. There is a tenderness between these two because both of them cannot openly express who they are and how they feel. LGBTQ people in that time had to find indirect ways to interact, maybe speak in code.
Eddie Redmayne: Some trans women told me of not feeling the need to blend, or to 'pass." But for our storytelling, there were moments when Lili did. Her going to the ball is part of her progress.
Ben Whishaw: Later in the story, it becomes quite apparent that Henrik and Lili want different things.
We have an understanding of these issues now. But it was a point of concentration not to bring modern perceptions too much to bear, and to keep true to the period.
Eddie Redmayne: By the end of the film, Lili is not wearing the red wig from the ballroom but has her own hair and the make-up is perhaps drawn back – and her comfort in herself is more apparent.
Of course, I am cisgender, I am not trans. I did feel, the first time I walked onto set as Lili, looks and second glances and judgment. I was in a safe environment, but I got the tiniest sense of what it must feel like – the scrutiny that's put upon trans and gender nonconforming people.
I started this experience being deeply ignorant. I didn't realize that gender and sexuality were not related; I didn't really understand the notion of fluidity in both gender and sexuality. Every day, everything about the process was an education.
The people I've met, and their experiences they have shared with me, have changed me. And I am so grateful for that.
Amber Heard: Eddie was stripped down and raw but at the same time taking on so many layers. It was breathtaking to watch, from the rehearsal process on, the texture and purity of every physical detail and nuance. He put so much effort into understanding the emotional corners of femininity.
Ben Whishaw: Eddie inhabited Lili as fully as he could, with honesty and hard work; he would consider how to move, how to stand. Working with Eddie, I would feel the performance coming from deep inside.
Alicia Vikander: Playing scenes with Eddie, I could lose myself in getting to know Lili, because she was so real. It was a joy working with Eddie because I never really knew where the next take was going to go; I would listen and react so it could be a team play.
Paco Delgado: The movie is also someone else's story of becoming who they want to become; Alicia Vikander shows us Gerda's openness and encouragement to Lili. She goes into the unknown too. Gerda is able to find love again, but loses the love of her life.
Eve Stewart: She supported the love of her life through the whole journey, and she showed true-hearted love and loyalty.
Tom Hooper: Our film explores unconditional love, a generosity and compassion that is truly rare. During shooting, Gerda's standard of compassion was our guiding principle, beautifully represented in Lucinda's script.
Alicia Vikander: Gerda realized that their relationship might change, that she might have to let go someone she loved more than anything. It is wonderful how Gerda pushes Lili to make the transition.
Amber Heard: Really, what Gerda does, is to display true love. Alicia is so talented; I loved working with her.
Eddie Redmayne: Alicia is just the most formidable talent, and she plays an extraordinary human being with such vivacity and vibrancy.
Tom Hooper: Alicia has a great big heart and gives so much of it to The Danish Girl. I hope I've captured that.
Eddie Redmayne: I'll never forget her audition: we read a scene together and I turned to Tom, and he was sobbing. I thought, 'Nailed it!" Seven or eight months before filming began, she and Tom and I started having long, long discussions about the characters and about Man Into Woman and The Danish Girl.
People often talk about Alicia in terms of her dance background, and her use of poise and posture. But she also has the capacity to tap emotions from somewhere that is so raw that it floors you.
Tom Hooper: Alicia's dance training adds to her ability to convey strength and discipline.
Jan Sewell: Gerda was great in the script, but Alicia made the character her own. The real Gerda was quite a large woman, which Alicia isn't. But she's portrayed as very strong, and for sure Alicia is that.
Alicia Vikander: Gerda cares for Lili, to the point where she wants to sacrifice – and, for her, it isn't a sacrifice, really, because the love is so evident.
Tom Hooper: Gerda is a force of love, helping make change possible.
Production began in February 2015. The unit was based at Elstree Film Studios in the U.K. – where interiors, including the couple's Paris apartment, were re-created on soundstages – but location filming took the cast and crew in and around the U.K., as well as to Copenhagen and Brussels.
Tom Hooper: We were supported by a world-class team in Copenhagen – a fantastic crew and an infrastructure that provided everything we wanted and needed. It's an extraordinary city, and so well-preserved. We hit the ground running from day one, and were able to shoot at the same pace we worked at in London, getting the same quality.
Eddie Redmayne: We learned a lot from the Danish crew. I was thrilled that we were able to film there, and I was able to meet one of Lili's relatives. I adore Copenhagen. There is beauty, stillness – and you get a light that is so specific.
Jan Sewell: [Cinematographer] Danny Cohen photographed the movie beautifully, and he had the right lighting and angles for Lili.
Tom Hooper: There was a certain austerity to Copenhagen that made me understand where Lili was coming from when she lived as Einar.
The nicest surprise was the supporting artists, the extras; Copenhagen is full of actors waiting to be discovered. Every one delivered a fine performance for the ballroom sequence, which we filmed in Charlottenborg Palace.
Jan Sewell: We were able to put wonderful looks on extras, and we had quite big extra calls.
Tom Hooper: We had transgender extras, and transgender actors playing roles, in the film.
It's amazing how untouched the center of Copenhagen is, and there is a variety of beautiful places to shoot at. My favorite was probably the main harbor, where we re-created its glory of the 1920s, complete with sailboats and fisherwomen and hats made from newspaper.
I also loved the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, which is by the main canal, Nyhavn; it was exciting to film in the very arts school where the couple had both actually studied. It was where they met.
Michael Standish: [Artist] Susannah Brough had the mammoth task of overseeing the paintings, and there are hundreds in the film. Creating the paintings was especially complex. It was like following a fiercely meandering river because until we started doing it nobody really knew what the final result should be. We felt an intense emotional connection with the original artists.
Eve Stewart: Eddie's own understanding of art was a bonus, as both he and Alicia worked hard to be able to really paint.
Alicia Vikander: I'd never been able to paint. Artists took me under their wing, and I was given exercises with charcoal. I was afraid, but I started to enjoy it. A wonderful thing about making movies is getting to try things that you would normally never do.
Michael Standish: Susannah developed the colors, and we had very experienced painters come in to get them right. We had to adapt; we changed the hero painting which opens the film to get it how Tom Hooper wanted it. When it all came together, you would walk into a gallery of them and get goosebumps.
Paco Delgado: When you make a movie with Tom, he tells you what he wants from the characters but he comes with ideas rather than saying 'I want her dressed in red, with a skirt and a blouse…"
Amber Heard: When I first met with him, we talked about a specific scene. Never once did he say how he wanted a character to look. Every note he gave was about what was within that character's mind.
Ben Whishaw: Scenes will evolve in the moment, often changing on the set. I was not surprised but delighted by the attention to detail that Tom brings to bear.
Paco Delgado: You get into an intellectual process with Tom: what sort of person is being portrayed, and the why and the how. This pushes you to create better things and work harder.
Eddie Redmayne: There is a rigor to the way Tom works. He will research every option and yet he will then allow a freedom. He relies entirely on instinct.
Jan Sewell: Tom is very visual and wants to see everything before it goes on camera, which is how it should be. If I can't put an actor in front of him, then I take photos and show him the photos.
Eddie Redmayne: To be a good film actor, you need to be at your most relaxed because cameras see everything. Yet everything about the process of filmmaking I find deeply unrelaxing. So for me to do my best work, I have to feel the freedom to screw up, and to try things and fail. Some directors won't allow that; Tom absolutely allows me that freedom. And also, he has the sharpest eye. Anything you're doing is seen and then either questioned or encouraged.
Amber Heard: Tom sees everything: 'Did you mean to do this?"
Ben Whishaw: 'What's going on in that line? I'm not getting it." And you realize, 'I'm not getting it either." So often that doesn't happen with directors because they're thinking of so many things. But Tom is able to do it all.
Alicia Vikander: Tom is aware of the whole spectrum of filmmaking but he also has this emotional intelligence.
Eddie and I would get stuck, trying things to get to the right place. Tom is such a good director that he will walk into the room and give you just one note that he knows will change the flow of a scene. This happened so many times, that one little note from him was the key that we needed. He sees the whole picture and what we need to get.
Amber Heard: He is a perfectionist who pushes you to do your best; I'd rather work for a perfectionist than the alternative. He is incredibly accomplished with the technical aspects of directing, but he is so talented at telling human stories and never loses sight of the characters. It's rare to get a chance to work with someone like that, and when you do you don't want to let them down.
In the book, Ulla was an opera singer, but in the script she's a well-known ballet dancer. I'm a non-ballet-dancing actress, so six hours a day of ballet training kicked my a--. Georgina Connolly, an incredible ballet dancer, took me from being a klutz to somebody who is at least able to get by. I did like the discipline, and having that physical connection to my character was rewarding – and, you sleep well after dancing for six hours!
Lucinda had written Ulla so well as someone who could represent the emerging Jazz Age. Ulla embodies all of that by being vivacious, larger than life, fun-loving, and energetic. She always has fun, and she leads with her heart. She was so easy to fall for when I read her, and I hope that people do when they meet her on-screen.
You can see why she is close to Lili and Gerda, and why they love her. She doesn't ever judge Lili. She is constant in her love and acceptance of both of them.
Alicia Vikander: This was one of my favorite parts of the story with them as a couple, being part of this cultural hub and being so close with Ulla.
Eddie Redmayne: Amber brings such wonderful energy to this bold character. I had so many interesting conversations with her.
Amber Heard: Ulla presents herself in clothing that's a little different and with jewelry that's over the top, as part of the new emerging European Bohemian culture that's about breaking away from the expected norms and pushing the boundaries. For women, there was change not just in wardrobe – drop the waistline, raise the hem – but in expectations and in the attitudes that women had about themselves. Women took on society's attitudes towards them too.
With Paco Delgado, I tried to make sure that Ulla was ahead of her time but would still be organic to the story; she's famous, so she would have access to a lot and was going to do what she wants. At one point, Paco draped a scarf around my neck to check color or something and it just stayed as my outfit.
Alicia Vikander: Gerda is not a girly-girl, but she's very feminine. I liked that she tends to put on whatever was convenient for what she was doing; I don't think that she cares about having the most fancy shoes.
Everything that I told Paco about how I felt with my character, he put into my costuming as part of Gerda's outer persona. That's one of the best and most helpful tools for an actor.
Jan Sewell: Paco's colors were stunning. There was more freedom for women in the 1920s, less of the Edwardian look – which is what Alicia's character of Gerda starts off with. Then we have Alicia in a shorter wig when Gerda has cut her hair. In the story, she becomes a bit more celebrated.
Tom Hooper: In addition to her paintings, Gerda did illustrations for French fashion magazines. Photos show that she was ahead of her time, and Paco I think honored that.
Alicia Vikander: When Gerda gets to Paris, she experiments; she's in a city that indulges and encourages people to express themselves. The clothes start to reflect her paintings in a way.
Eddie Redmayne: Between the Wars came fun and discovery – and urgency: when you've seen so much death and the shortness of life has been underlined, there's the fact that you only have one shot at your time on Earth. How are you going to live it? Are you going to live it veiled and hidden, or are you going to live a life authentic? Quite often artists can be at the forefront of change, and certainly experimentation and freedom.
Paco Delgado: At the beginning of the movie, they are a married couple in a more repressed society in Denmark and that gets reflected in the more Edwardian shapes. When they go to Paris, there is color and change.
Michael Standish: The color palette becomes more full and ebullient for Paris, especially with the success of Gerda's paintings of Lili. It's like a flower blossoming after being nourished.
Eve Stewart: There are pastels and warm colors in Paris. I also felt that the Paris the couple get to should be more womanly; I looked to Art Nouveau Parisian architecture for inspiration.
Eddie Redmayne: If the architecture of Art Nouveau is feminine, maybe that was a reaction to war? Paris had been changing more since the end of the 19th century. Gender was becoming question-marked.
Paco Delgado: Lili's personal discovery is reflected in going to a more liberated society; in Copenhagen, the society there – while it does have its Bohemian side – doesn't really allow for her. That was a guiding aesthetic for us.
Michael Standish: In the Denmark scenes, the color palette is refined and minimal especially in the interiors. Lili, when she is living as Einar, works in a slightly darker space.
Alicia Vikander: They are two people playing out intense emotions behind closed doors, so it's somewhat claustrophobic. Eddie and I really would be in a tight space in the studio, digging deep into the relationship.
Paco Delgado: Tom wanted Lili to be self-contained when living as a man, so a first image of Lili as Einar coming into a room is as a man constrained in a heavy suit with a high stiff collar.
Eddie Redmayne: This was the costume of the period – incredibly high starched collars and formal, formal suits. For me it was a way Lili created this rigidity.
Paco Delgado: That suit is being used almost as armor; it's protection against the world but it also jails the emotions.
Lili does explain that she always knew something was happening, especially in childhood. But that got suppressed, I suppose like a defense mechanism.
Lucinda Coxon: One way in for me was through the paintings. When she was painting as Einar, they are controlled and sometimes chilly works.
Tom Hooper: That lack of variation of the subject and the dourness of the art…it was a process of continuous re-concealment going on, locking in something.
Alicia Vikander: They are very precise in a way that differs from Gerda's art, although not so much in the beginning when Gerda was doing portraits.
Eve Stewart: For the Copenhagen scenes, I looked at the colors Lili used before she transitioned, as well as those of a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi.
Tom Hooper: Hammershøi's palette is a very specific range of blue and grey. Once you're into his world it's amazing how rich it is; you find beauty within constraint.
Eve Stewart: These are cool and somewhat lonely. There is a lot of space around the subjects in Danish art.
Tom Hooper: There is a great body of art from that period, which helped me find the tone of the early part of the film.
Alicia Vikander: The couple met at art school and are both artists, but in the beginning she struggled to find her place in the art world. There was that old conventional thought that a woman was never going to be as good of an artist as men were. With Lili as her subject and in a way muse, Gerda is given inspiration, finds her voice of expression, and is able to be the artist that she always thought she could be. The paintings reference whatever state our characters are in for different parts of their lives.
Eddie Redmayne: If you look at Lili's work before she transitions, the paintings are very ordered and old-school – and they met with more success than Gerda's works. Gerda's painting is more flamboyant, full, and alive. Lili paints in a meticulous way, as if she daren't release herself yet.
Alicia Vikander: It must be a revelation to feel you can love yourself, to be yourself – and quite a difficult thing to realize there's a part of you that you've held back for such a long time.
Lucinda Coxon: Theirs was a true partnership: two artists being supportive of one another's careers. Gerda was ahead of her time in lots of ways, and was a role model for the generation of women that was to come.
There was always a freedom and intensity in the relationship with Gerda – it's passionate in a way that's not necessarily sexual.
Had Lili been born 20 years earlier, I doubt that she could have transitioned. The research that was being done in sexuality and gender in Germany at that time made it possible. It was also a fascinating period for surgical skills advances as well; with WWI, the medicine had to move forward and so did the kinds of operations. After Lili, there were a lot of advances over in Dresden with doctors there.
There is a book, Man Into Woman, that is notionally Lili's autobiography although I think it's the work of many hands and in some ways a work of fiction.
Eddie Redmayne: We had access to some brilliant historians who could address specific things in Man Into Woman. That book collates Lili's own writings, but names have been changed and dates have been changed. You don't know how much of Lili's voice is actually Lili and how much is the editor's take on Lili.
Lucinda Coxon: But she was very clear that she was a woman. This went beyond freedom of expression, this was trailblazing.
When Lili as Einar stands in as a model for Gerda, dressing up brings a sense of comfort and belonging. It's the beginning of a shift but I didn't want that as a wavy-screen moment. Instead, it feeds into a space that they've created in their relationship, and they are managing it until it gets beyond their control. Why do they both then try to suppress it at first? Because in the 1920s there is no term 'transgender" or anything else and Lili didn't see this nature reflected back to her anywhere.
Alicia Vikander: Gerda was going through something with Lili as a couple without having any reference point.
Eddie Redmayne: There were no predecessors they were aware of.
Paco Delgado: Clothes are assigned to gender; that is what you first see and that's meant to define us. The whole idea of stockings as something so feminine – it's that period cliché of, men don't have contact with such delicate clothing and men's clothing are made of rough materials because they can get damaged. I think there is a 'click" in Lili's mind when Gerda brings on the shoes and the outfit and the stockings.
Alicia Vikander: In that modeling scene, there is the first awareness; they can both see Lili for the first time.
Lucinda Coxon: Before Lili could be herself, the myth creation that she as Einar and Gerda had both participated in had to be worked past; if you look at Gerda's paintings, Lili is an overly idealized woman – and difficult for a real person to live up to. Subsequently, they realized they had to be concerned about what they were presenting as a legacy for the future.
The ballroom sequence always made me nervous to write; Lili is going to an event as Lili, even though others might recognize her differently. At the beginning, it's more of just mischief between the couple, but then there is a real fear of catastrophe. It goes further than any of them expect.
Ben Whishaw: That's where my character, Henrik, comes into focus, but I was also drawn to how you don't quite know what he's thinking. There is ambiguity about the attraction for both Henrik and Lili.
Alicia Vikander: For Gerda, it's in the conversations with Lili the morning after where she realizes the depth of what they are going through together.
Lucinda Coxon: Stories that are rooted in truth, like Lili's is, are never only heroic or only tragic. We wanted to tell the full story, so we show what became of both Gerda and Lili. The Danish Girl is absolutely a heroic story but these are people ahead of their time and that is reflected in what medical progress had or had not been made. Tragedy enters the story not because of anyone's overreach.
Alicia Vikander: Gerda knows that Lili might not make it through. But she also realizes that the person she loves more than anything is going down the worst and the darkest of spirals emotionally, and is in so much anxiety and pain that something needs to be done.
Lucinda Coxon: There are those who think Dr. Warnekros was guilty of terrible ambition, or that he was delusional about what he could achieve. But he was a pioneer; he just didn't have all the necessary components in his kit, or all the necessary skills in his set. What I kept in mind was that if Lili had not been able to become herself, she would have committed suicide. So Warnekros saved this life.
Tom Hooper: I can't overemphasize how courageous she was to have the surgery at that time. This was before antibiotics, before penicillin, where the risks of infection were acute and the treatments were in their infancy and very dangerous. Lili was extraordinarily brave in facing these risks.
Eddie Redmayne: Her bravery is unlike anything I can imagine. One friend of mine described it as that Lili would give anything and everything to live a life authentic.
Lucinda Coxon: It's an honor to bring this story to a wider audience, back to the world's consciousness.
Principal photography on The Danish Girl was completed in April 2015. Post-production was finished in September 2015, marking the culmination of the story's 15-year odyssey to the screen.
Alicia Vikander: I don't think anyone will walk out of the theater after seeing this movie not being touched by Lili's journey. It's a love story between two people but above all a love story of learning how to love yourself.
Eddie Redmayne: Whilst this is a very specific story about a very specific woman undergoing her own journey to be herself, I feel like all of us have barriers put up in front of us. Do we confront them? Get rid of them? Or – worst-case scenario – live with them? The bravery and courage that it takes to be yourself shouldn't be underestimated.
The Danish Girl
Release Date: December 26th, 2015