Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon Discusses The Making of 'The Danish Girl'
Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon discusses the what it took to bring "The Danish Girl" to the screen in an interview (Photo by Youtube).
LOS ANGELES - Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon is the woman behind the girl. The British writer spent a decade working on the script for the critically acclaimed “The Danish Girl,” an adaptation of David Ebershoff’s book of the same name that is up for three Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night.
In this exclusive interview, Coxon sits down to talk about bringing the story to life, working with Eddie Redmayne and more.
Question: You started working on this project 11 years ago. Three false starts, six directors and 20 drafts later, you were always the only writer. What is it like to see all of that work come to fruition?
Coxon: You can never know when you’re working on something where you are at in the process. With The Danish Girl, when I started work on it, it was a very small film. It was an odd little book from an American writer who I hadn’t heard of with a Danish couple who got lost. And now we are where we are. There have been lots of times over the past 11 years where I felt like I was at the high point, but now we’ve wound up with a film that is in awards contention and with Eddie Redmayne as the lead, which we never could have possibly anticipated a decade ago. You can’t second-guess the market; you never know how your career will turn out. It’s an unusual thing to look back over a decade and see the journey your work has taken and the choices you’ve made. But we all kept faith, and I think that’s the other message in this: that these things that are shiny in the end are often put together by people who work so hard without knowing it will ever become that.
Q: The original book was based on a true story. For a screenplay adaptation writer, what unique challenges did that present?
A: I found out immediately that there was an underlying true story that I had to research and get in my head. What we knew then was running alongside what David had fictionalized. There was then much more research undertaken by people who spoke Danish and German, in terms of what medical information there was. But there were facts that were blurry and there is a memoir that you have to read with a pinch of salt. And I suppose I did a bit of contemporary research. I didn’t talk to a lot of people, but I wanted to get my ear to everything. I read around and accessed quite a lot of modern, late-20th century accounts of transitioning, and it’s interesting that there are certain responses that come up over and over again. But it was a lot of corroborating. There was a lot of fiction out there.
Q: As mentioned, you probably wrote 20 different drafts for this film. Can you talk about the script you ultimately ended up shooting?
A: The script that we shot is essentially the script that is seven years old. So I had done this with other directors, and probably 20 drafts like you said, and there are probably three distinct versions of the story. So when (director) Tom (Hooper) came in, we really looked at factoring in a lot of things that had changed, not just the climate change but from a contemporary sense. In the end, it was a big rewrite but we didn’t love it. Something had been lost, and it felt like a biopic. And that wasn’t the element of this story that excited me. So we went back to an older script. It was almost the marriage and the symbiosis between these two people, Lili (played by Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). It’s not that I’m not interested in this self-actualization, but looking at that as a work of art, looking at it as an extreme piece of creativity as a bit of a metaphor for marriage.
Q: So after 11 years of waiting, production starts in February 2015. And less than seven months later, it premieres at the Venice International Film Festival. Talk about a quick turnaround…
A: I can say this now, but I never thought we’d make it to Venice. I thought it was a nice idea, but really, what were the chances? So then the first time I saw the finished film was actually at Venice, like everyone else. I sat and watched it with the editor and said “God, I hope you like it.” And it was strange for it to premiere in Venice with an audience speaking a second language. I couldn’t tell if they were hating it or loving it. And then at the end, there was this great ovation, and they sat so still. Later, people told me that in Venice, they only sit still if they really love it. And I saw it again in Toronto. So it was quick, yes. But the advantage is working with people who do amazing work. There’s been such a big gap typically between the work and when the film comes out. But this felt much more in the same breath and we were in rehearsal, and then the film was in theaters. It was incredible.
Q: What was it like to have Eddie Redmayne as the lead? He was coming off “The Theory of Everything,” but the accolades hadn’t rolled in from that when he signed on for this project.
A: Probably even more than Tom (Hooper), I thought when Eddie was in, “Wow, what an amazing thing!” I’m thinking, not only might we actually make this film, but also we’re going to make it with the right actor and get it right. I’m a huge admirer of Eddie’s work and felt incredibly confident he would rise to the occasion. He was attached at the right time, as he had this project in his head since he worked with Tom on Les Misérables. And then before we filmed, he was painstaking about the research. He’s also reached out to the trans community with enthusiasm and brilliance throughout. He was always the person who felt the responsibility and burden of the role, and he plays it brilliantly.
Q: There was a screening at the White House. What was that like?
A: The strangest thing was that first e-mail. The computer thinks the email from the White House is junk or spam, so I almost missed it. But the experience was so humbling. It’s a terrible cliché, but you don’t ever expect to wind up there. There’s nothing in my past that led me to believe I’d one day be bringing myself to the White House for a film screening. But it’s been one of the really unexpected joys of this film, starting in a room in isolation, to now being a part of a community and a rising tide of trans awareness. It’s a remarkable place to find yourself, and the journey with this film has already been incredible.