It’s midday in New York City on Friday and “Pillars of the Earth” star Eddie Redmayne is perspiring in an apartment building stairwell.
Let AccessHollywood.com be clear. Not sweating — perspiring. The 20-something Brit is far too charming – peppering his conversation with words like “whilst,” “glower,” “disastrous” and “flaxen” and endearing apologies over admissions that didn’t need them in the first place – that sweating is all too vulgar a word to apply to the gent.
It’s the lack of air conditioning that’s made the Londoner breathe a little heavier, and not because in a few hours he’s about to help set the imagination of millions alight in the new Starz miniseries “Pillars,” based on the 1989 Ken Follett book about the building of a cathedral in a war-ravaged 12th century England.
Playing Jack, the son of Ellen, a witchy woman (Natalia Worner), and a mysterious father, it’s Eddie’s eyes that first set him apart – clear and wondrous, sometimes a tremendous blue, others a dangerous green — especially as his character, Jack, doesn’t speak for a spell. To hear the actor tell it though, it was his hair that got the most attention behind the scenes of the project’s European set.
“His flaming red hair is quite a prominent part of the story and so there’s these hilarious moments when you first come up to production and you have seven producers, directors, costume designers, and they’re all standing there and they’re not looking at your face, they’re looking at your hair,” he laughed. “They’re sort of frowning and you suddenly start taking your hair really personally. You’re like ‘Oi! Don’t be rude about my hair!”
It’s amusing for Eddie that his hair was such a focus while filming “Pillars” as, thanks to his pale skin and the kind of freckles akin to just one particular head hue, he’s spent a lifetime deflecting comments about his barnet.
“I come from a family of brothers and there is definitely a redness in our hair, obviously in my name, but in this particular film, the character has bright ginger hair and I had to go through a huge hair dyeing process,” he explained. “And all the stuff that I’ve read about it, it’s sort of like ‘Eddie Red-Ma(y)ne is incredibly appropriate,’ ‘The ginger actor,’ and I’m like, ‘Noooo!’ I spent all my life saying that I might have a mousey brown, with a bit of an auburn tinge, but I think I’ve given it all away with ‘Pillars’ where I’m a full-on redhead.”
In 2010’s “The Yellow Handkerchief” (opposite Kristen Stewart), and on Broadway earlier this year as Ken (with Alfred Molina) in “Red,” a role that earned him a Tony Award last month, Eddie played artists. In “Pillars,” it’s another creative young man Eddie engagingly and heroically brings to life.
“I studied art history,” the Cambridge grad said of the discipline he continues to take inspiration from. “I loved painting and drawing when I was younger and the second you started studying art history, your pathetic little sketches — in relation to the sort of prominent cannon of artists that you’re learning about — suddenly seem slightly ridiculous.
“But I do love the arts,” the thespian continued. “One of the great things about acting is you spend so much time living a manic life and kind of traveling all over the world. You get to go to wonderful galleries and extraordinary exhibits. Shooting ‘Pillars,’ we spent a lot of time in Vienna and seeing some of the architecture, but also the art there was overwhelming.”
On set though, the arresting star on the rise got to relish in the art of acting by watching co-stars like Ian McShane (“Deadwood” and the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean 4”), who plays the almost demonized clergymen Waleran Bigod — a man who lets nothing get in the way of his quest for power — including a redheaded sculptor.
“When you’re working with actors of Ian’s caliber and Matthew Macfadyen [who plays Prior Philip]…you try by osmosis to pick things up,” Eddie said of watching his castmates work.
And it appeared that Ian had hair issues too.
“When I met him, he’d had his hair straightened by this Japanese technique, which like irons out your hair and it doesn’t go curly for months and months, and I couldn’t quite reconcile the figure I was meeting with this kind of flaxen/shiny/long/straight hair, with the guy that I’d grown up watching on the television,” Eddie laughed. “But no, he was a good man, and my God! He plays evil so incredibly well.”
“Pillars of the Earth” airs Friday nights at 10 PM on Starz.