Copenhagen, 1926. Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, painted her own husband, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), as a lady in her painting. When the painting gained popularity, Einar started to change his appearance into a female appearance and named himself Lili Elbe. With his feminism passion and Gerda's support, Einar - or Elbe - attempted one of the first male-to-female sex reassignment surgery, a decision that turned into a massive change for their marriage, that Gerda realized her own husband is no longer a man or the person she married before. A childhood friend of Einar, art-dealer Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), shows up and starts a complex love triangle with the couple.
The last scene in the film, with Hans and Gerda looking at the sea, was shot at the Mount Mannen in Norway (meant to depict the Kattegat Sea in Jutland, Denmark, as it is described in the script), on Easter Sunday 2015. Only Matthias Schoenaerts was physically there, Alicia Vikander was in New York promoting another film during the last week of filming for The Danish Girl. A body double was probably used to portray Vikander in that scene.
In the novel and in the 2007 draft of the script, Hans and Gerda have sex and end up together. Tom Hooper decided to change it in the film and made Gerda stay with Lili until her death, while her relationship with Hans is only platonic. He de-emphasized the importance of the Hans storyline because he didn't want to feel that there was a love possibility with Hans that could in any way rival Lili, he wanted it to be ambiguous if it even would turn into a love affair (between Gerda and Hans), rather than a friendship.
In one scene Hans fondly recalls a kiss Lili and he shared as kids, wearing a big, nostalgic smile. That was a choice made by Tom Hooper and Matthias Schoenaerts. "You could approach that scene many ways, but we decided to make him very outspoken, almost joyful about it", Schoenaerts says
Before starring together in this film, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alicia Vikander were set to co-star in Tulip Fever (2016), but Schoenaerts dropped out. They would have also played lovers in that film
Eddie Redmayne played Michelle Williams's love interest in My Week with Marilyn (2011), and Matthias Schoenaerts played her love interest in Suite Française (2014)
The film was criticized for the casting of a cisgender man to play a trans woman, for being written similarly to forced feminization erotica, obscuring the actual story of a historical trans person, and also for being based on a fictional book that doesn't tell the true story of Einar/Lili and Gerda Wegener. Even with so many inaccuracies, the film is still being marketed as a "true story" of "unconditional love.
The London premiere of the film took place on Matthias Schoenaerts' 38th birthday, on December 8, 2015. Schoenaerts attended the premiere
Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Einar Wegener's childhood friend in this film, almost played a transgender character in The New Girlfriend (2014), but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Far from the Madding Crowd
Some scenes were shot in Brussels, Belgium (at the café A La Mort Subite, the Horta Museum and the Sint-Hubertus Gallery). This was the first time since 2013 that Matthias Schoenaerts shot a film on his home country, the last time was when he shot Suite Française (2014), also in Brussels
In the novel and in the first draft of the script, Amber Heard's character is an opera singer named Anna Fonsmark. In the film, her name was changed to Ulla Paulson and she is a ballet dancer. The character is loosely based on Danish actress Anna Larssen Bjørner and on Danish ballerina Ulla Poulsen Skou, who were friends of the Wegeners.
Filming on "The Danish Girl" was set to begin in late 2014, but was pushed to a February, 2015 start, to accommodate the schedule of Alicia Vikander. The film premiered at Venice Film Festival in Sept. 2015 which only gave the production seven months to be completed before the Venice premiere.
Lili's post-transition name was Lili Ilse Elvenes. The name "Lili Elbe" was made up by Copenhagen journalist, Louise (Loulou) Lassen, and is first used in sensationalist Danish newspaper articles as pre-publicity for the publication of the book From Male to Female - Lili Elbe's Confessions (Fra Mand til Kvinde - Lili Elbe Bekendelser) where many of the myths and inaccuracies about Elvenes' life story begin.
This is Alicia Vikander's second period piece set in Denmark, the neighbor country of her native Sweden. Her first was A Royal Affair.
In 2000, Neil LaBute and Gail Mutrux optioned David Ebershoff's book "The Danish Girl", with plans for LaBute to write and direct. The first script was done in 2004 and eventually the production spend 15 years in development before filming began
The real-life details of Einar Wegener were hard to track down for both the author of the book and the crew of the film. Her native country of Denmark didn't have records and while there had been medical records in Dresden's women's hospital, nothing remained after WWII. There were brief newspaper items, memoirs of the Wegeners' friends and accounts of some surgeries in those days
The paintings in the film were done by the film's production designer Eve Stewart and British artist Susannah Brough. The film's paintings weren't exact replicas of Gerda Wegener's work, they had to be to adapted because they didn't look like Eddie Redmayne. The original portrait of ballerina Ulla Poulsen Skou, was also altered to resemble Amber Heard's face
Although the film is set in Denmark and features Danish characters, nobody in the cast is Danish and the language is never spoken in the film. The characters speak English with a British accent in all the countries portrayed in the film (Denmark, France and Germany)
This is one of four period pieces starring Matthias Schoenaerts to be released in 2015. The others are Suite Française (2014), A Little Chaos (2014) and Far from the Madding Crowd
An important factor surrounding Lili's death was left out from the movie: in the hopes of one day carrying a child, she went through another round of operations in September of 1931, this time with the goal of successfully transplanting a womb into her body. Elbe died of organ rejection after receiving one of the world's earliest uterine transplants (her fifth operation) on September 13, 1931, at the age of 48, but in the film she died after the second sex reassignment surgery. The film not even mentioned that Lili tried to transplant a uterus. Another fact was left out: after Lili consulted two physicians, both whom diagnosed her as homosexual, a third physician diagnosed her as intersexed and claimed she had rudimentary female sex organs. Hormonal assays taken just before her first surgery indicated more female than male hormones present. It is likely that she had XXY sex chromosome karyotype (Klinefelter's Syndrome) a condition not medically recognized until 1942
Einar and Gerda's marriage officially lasted 26 years (1904-1930), they got married at 22 and 18 years old, respectively. Lili was 47 years old when she got the sex reassignment surgery and died at 48, due to organ rejection after a uterus transplant. Eddie Redmayne was 33 when he shot the film, while Alicia Vikander was 26. The film only mentions that Einar and Gerda had been married for 6 years. Gerda Wegener was 44 during the events portrayed in the film and died at the age of 54, due to a heart attack.
The characters Hans Axgil and Henrik didn't exist on Lili and Gerda's real life, they were invented by the author of the novel just like most of what is seen in the film. Lili's boyfriend by the time of her death was an art-dealer named Claude Lejeune, whom she hoped to marry and have a child with. Gerda wasn't around for the events portrayed in the film's Hollywood ending, she got married with the Italian officer Fernando Porta (born 1896) in 1931 and was living with him in Italy. A decade later, in Morocco, Gerda learned of Lili's death and uttered "My poor, little Lily". Porta burned through all of Gerda's savings, and after living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, she divorced from Porta in 1936, didn't have children and never married again. Gerda returned to Denmark, took to drinking and died penniless in 1940
The only trans actors in the film have small parts. Trans actress Rebecca Root plays one of Lili's nurses, and Jake Graf, a transgender man, also plays a small part appearing next to Matthias Schoenaerts at the art gallery during the exhibition of Gerda's portraits. Jake Graf revealed on his Instagram account on January 5, 2016, that the rest of his scenes with Schoenaerts were consigned to the cutting room floor.
On November 23rd, the White House hosted a Champions of Change event, honoring the creative teams behind this film, as well as Tangerine (2015) and Transparent
The true origin of Gerda Wegener (Gerda Gottlieb Wegener Porta (15 March 1886 - 28 July 1940)) (not to be confused with German makeup artist Gerda Wegener) is Danish, not American. The novelist changed her name to Greta Waud and her origin to American and California-born to please the American readers. Both the novel and the film omitted that Gerda was lesbian or at least bisexual and had an open relationship with Einar/Lili that allowed her to live as a lesbian - the accounts suggest that they were more like sisters than spouses or lovers, but in the film she is portrayed as a straight, faithful and suffering wife who never left her husband. Gerda Wegener's famous Lesbian Erotica paintings are never mentioned in the film.
While Nicole Kidman was set to star and produce the film, she struggled to sustain an actress to portray Gerda Wegener, while she would portray Einar Wegener herself. Charlize Theron was the first choice for Gerda, but dropped out in 2008. Her role was then given to Gwyneth Paltrow, who also dropped out in order to spend more time with her family. Uma Thurman was rumored to replace her. In 2010, Marion Cotillard was considered for the part, as she and Kidman wanted to re-team after working together on Nine (2009), and their other possible project "The Rivals" had been shelved. In 2011, the role was given to Rachel Weisz, who also dropped out soon after. Alicia Vikander finally took the role in 2014, when Tom Hooper took over the project.
The movie is based on the novel The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, which is a fictionalized account of the life of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, not an actual biography. The author changed so many elements of Einar Wegener's story that the characters in the book are entirely fictional, no other character in the novel has any relation to an actual person, living or dead. Historical accounts claim that Gerda Wegener was a lesbian and that she preferred Lili's femininity over Einar's masculinity and that they had an open relationship. Gerda lived openly as lesbian when she lived in Paris with Lili. The love story portrayed in the novel and in this film is fiction, Gerda and Lili didn't remain close after their marriage was annulled. A more accurate source of information is Lili Elbe's autobiography, "Man into Woman". Niels Hoyer is listed as the author, but that is a pseudonym for Ernst Ludwig Hathorn Jacobson, Lili's editor who assembled her letters, diary entries and dictated material to form the book.
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe wasn't the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, she was among the first. Carla van Crist, Toni Ebel and Dörchen Ritcher had already had the surgery before Lili arrived in Berlin. There was an Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919, that was like the Kinsey institute, and they were doing the operations, but the Nazis destroyed the files in 1933, so it's not possible to know for sure who's the first person who did the surgery. Lili's operations were made by Kurt Warnekros in Dresden, her first surgery was made under Hirschfeld's supervision in Berlin.
Nicole Kidman was originally cast as Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and would also produce the film. She considered this a passion project for years, and at one point considered to direct herself, following difficulties with finding a director and financier. Kidman never gave up on the project, but in 2014, Tom Hooper came on board and decided to cast Eddie Redmayne instead. Tom Hooper read the script for the first time in 2008 (when it was Kidman's project); in 2012 he showed the script to Eddie Redmayne while they were shooting Les Misérables (2012) and cast him as the lead. Hooper and Redmayne were officially announced in the project in April 2014, although they had been involved in it for 2 years.
Filming for the 186 scenes took place for a total of 44 days in six countries (England, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, France and Norway). Shooting happened even on Sundays and finished on Easter 2015.
Eddie Redmayne and director Tom Hooper previously worked together in Elizabeth I (2005) and Les Misérables (2012).
Eddie Redmayne was previously in Jupiter Ascending (2015) that was co-directed by transgender director Lana Wachowski. The film will also give special thanks to her
Even with so many inaccuracies, the film is still being marketed as a "true story" of "unconditional love"
Filming on "The Danish Girl" was set to begin in late 2014, but was pushed to a February, 2015 start, to accommodate the schedule of Alicia Vikander
Although the film is set in Denmark and features Danish characters, nobody in the cast is Danish and the language is never spoken in the film
The film hasn't mentioned that Lili tried to transplant a uterus
The film has inspired more research into the period, and brought attention to Elbe and to Gerda Wegener, who will be the subject of a big art exhibition in their native Copenhagen, Denmark
The only trans actors in the film have small parts. Trans actress Rebecca Root plays one of Lili's nurses, and Jake Graf, a transgender man, also plays a small part
Lili was 47 years old when she got the sex reassignment surgery and died at 48 from organ rejection after a uterus transplant
Lili and Gerda's marriage officially lasted 26 years (1904-1930), they got married at 22 and 18 years old, respectively
Matthias Schoenaerts is a graffiti artist and also paints in real life. In the film, his character is an art-dealer who represents Gerda's portraits of Lili
The last scene in the film with Hans and Gerda looking at the sea, was shot at the Mount Mannen in Norway
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe wasn't the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, she was possibly among the first, because there was someone else who had gotten the operation a few months before
Both the novel and the film omitted that Gerda was lesbian or at least bisexual and had an open relationship with Einar/Lili that allowed her to live as a lesbian
Historical accounts claim that Gerda Wegener was a lesbian and that she preferred Lili's femininity over Einar's masculinity and that they had an open relationship
Gerda Wegener's famous Lesbian Erotica paintings are never mentioned in the film
Alicia Vikander finally took the role in 2014, when Tom Hooper took over the project
While Nicole Kidman was set to star and produce the film, she struggled to sustain an actress to portray Gerda Wegener, while she would portray Einar Wegener herself
Nicole Kidman was originally cast as Einar Wegener but dropped after the project was delayed several times. Later, Tom Hooper came on board and decided to cast Eddie Redmayne instead.
Charlize Theron was the first choice for Greta Wegener but dropped out. Her role was then given to Gwyneth Paltrow, who also dropped out in order to spend more time with her family. Marion Cotillard was considered too. The role was then given to Rachel Weisz who also dropped out soon after.
The true origin of Gerda Wegener (Gerda Gottlieb Wegener Porta (15 March 1886 - 28 July 1940)) is Danish, not American. The novelist changed her origin to American to suit the American readers. Not to be confused with German makeup artist Gerda Wegener.
Tomas Alfredson was going to direct but dropped out.
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