Emerson Professor Talks Bringing the Danish Girl to Life

Producer Linda Reisman spent over a decade trying to get this story from the page to the screen.

Photo by Focus Features

Photo by Focus Features

If there’s one lesson Linda Reisman has learned throughout her over 25 years in the film business, it’s that a producer must have a lot of patience when working on a big Hollywood project.

For over a decade, Reisman–who’s also a distinguished producer in residence at Emerson–has diligently been trying to get an adaptation of David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel the Danish Girl to the big screen, and her hard work is finally paying off this winter.

The film, directed by Tom Hooper, is already racking up a ton of award nominations, including Golden Globe nods for stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.

“It’s been a pretty long haul for all of us,” Reisman said. “It’s still a miracle that the film got made.”

Redmayne plays Lili Elbe in this pseudo-biographical story about the first sex reassignment surgery, and it’s a heartbreaking tale of what it was like to be a transgender woman during the 1920s. While things have improved a lot in recent years, transgender people are still being murdered at alarmingly high rates and, even in a progressive state like Massachusetts, it’s still difficult to get anti-discrimination legislation passed.

“If the film can help to raise awareness and add to the conversation, that’s huge for us,” Reisman said.

Check out what else Reisman had to say about bringing the Danish Girl to life, what kept her motivated for all these years, and more.

Do you think prejudices played any sort of role in delaying the film’s production?

Yes, there was resistance, but I wouldn’t define it necessarily as anti-trans or anti-LGBT. It’s more of trying to get a dramatic film financed in this climate with the kind of caliber of directors and actors that we had involved, [it] requires that you answer the question of, ‘Who is the audience?’

There’s been so much advancement in recent years when it comes to talking about transgender issues. It feels like the perfect time to release this movie.

It was not planned this way. This was long in the works before Caitlyn Jenner, before Transparent, so it was in the zeitgeist. Eddie Redmayne committed before he filmed Theory of Everything, so it was the right set of circumstances coming together. We are happy to be part of the dialogue about transgender issues and trying to bring them to the forefront.

It’s also an important time for this film to be coming out, especially here in Massachusetts, where the current transgender rights bill isn’t getting the support it should on Beacon Hill.

If the Danish Girl, by its mere existence and by having a studio behind it–which means TV advertising, spots on IMDB, or whatever–if the film can help to raise awareness and add to the conversation, that’s huge for us.

What steps were taken so that the film avoided any cliche portrayals of the transgender experience?

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander did a tremendous amount of research. Eddie spoke to a number of transgender women, he read a lot, he researched–as did Tom Hooper. There was a lot of information going into their performances and understanding their characters and their relationships in this time period.

Since it took so long to get this story from the page to screen, what kept you motivated to stay involved with this production?

I had an incredible passion for the story. I fell in love with David Ebershoff’s novel, which is a fictional account but based on a true story of Lili Elbe. I fell in love with the story and for me, in so many ways, it’s a story of a marriage and what happens when one part of that marriage changes and how do you sustain your love in that relationship… I think it’s a combination of really loving the story, having great producing partners, and really believing in what you’re trying to do.

The ‘Danish Girl’ hits theaters in Boston on December 11.