Movies and TV
Recreating the Life of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything

Elizabeth Harper | 15 Dec 2014 09:00
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The Theory of Everything tells a very personal story about a man most of us only know as a scientific legend: Stephen Hawking.

Sure, The Theory of Everything already has award season buzz, but we're more interested in the truth behind the love story presented on screen. The filmmakers went to great lengths to condense 25 years of Hawking's life into a single film (take that, Peter Jackson) with accuracy both to Hawking's life and his condition. Sure, there's some cinematic slight of hand to make it all fit into 2 hours of screentime, but it takes less license than you'd expect.

So if you're interested in finding out more about the man behind the science -- and the filmmakers behind the film -- check out our interview with producer Lisa Bruce, who gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how The Theory of Everything was made.

Q: What was the draw to making a film about Hawking's life?
For me, as a woman, I was quite intrigued by the fact that it was one of the few projects I read where the female role was as powerful as the male role, as layered and complex and interesting. That's a rare thing to find in theatrical film. I also had a really public image of Stephen Hawking. I knew of him like most people did and I wasn't really tracking his personal life. I knew he was the incredible Einstein of our time. He's the guy that's handicapped in the wheelchair with the electronic voice. I knew that he was British and I knew that he had some breakthrough theories in theoretical physics, but that was about it.

I never knew that he fathered three children or that he had this long relationship. I never really visualized him as an able-bodied young man just dating and wandering around campus like the script portrayed. I thought it was really moving to see the long arc of that life and to realize he had struggles that we all have. And Stephen and Jane's big huge mountain to climb: committing to each other and going through this journey was really moving to me.

Q: Was it a challenge to get the film made as a personal story about Stephen and Jane, rather than a story about the scientist that the public is more aware of?
Anthony [screenwriter Anthony McCarten] and I worked alone and as a team for many years. I read an early draft of The Theory of Everything six years ago. Anthony at that point only had what he called a "shopping agreement" with Jane [Hawking, on whose memoirs the film is based], which was a loose document that allowed him to go out in the world and talk about the project -- but he didn't have the underlying rights to her book. When I came aboard, just because I'd produced a lot of movies, I knew we would need the bona-fide rights to the book. We spent the next three, three and a half years walking her through that process and gaining her trust.

In that time we were able to keep tweaking the script, working on the relationship and the love story of it and balancing it between Jane and Stephen. But then we also went to James Marsh [the film's director] prior to going out to financiers. So we had the rights and a really good script and a great director by the time we went to Working Title. So it wasn't that hard at that point. I think if we had gone earlier in the process and maybe just had a script but didn't have the rights a lot of people might have wanted to skew it more towards Stephen. But I think once they read Anthony's version and felt the emotion in it, a lot of people really wanted to make that story.

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