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. In fact, when the sex reassignment surgery commenced, the surgeons found shrunken female ovaries. 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. The fact that Lili was Intersex is not mentioned in the film.
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe wasn't the first transgender person nor the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery, she was only among the first. Dora Richter/Dörchen Richter (also known as Dora R., 1891-1933) - who was born as Rudolph Richter, became the first trans woman of whom records remain to undergo vaginoplasty. According to Dr. Felix Abraham, a psychiatrist working at the Institute for Sexual Science, where Dora was employed as a domestic servant, her first step to feminization was made by means of castration in 1922. After this there was a long pause, until the beginning of the year 1931, when the penis amputation was done and in June, the here described surgery - a highly experimental vaginoplasty performed by Dr. Erwin Gohrbandt, who later becomes a decorated surgeon-general in the Luftwaffe. Carla van Crist and Toni Ebel had also got the surgery before Lili arrived in Berlin. The Institute for Sexual Research (founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin, in 1919), was doing the operations, but the Nazis destroyed the files in 1933 so there is no way of knowing who truly was the first person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Lili's last operations were made by Dr. Kurt Warnekros at the Dresden Women's Clinic. Her first surgeries (castration and penectomy) had been performed by Dr. Ludwig Levy-Lenz under Hirschfeld's supervision in Berlin in 1930. These preliminaries have sometimes caused confusion over the date of Lili's 'sex change', but Dora/Dörchen Richter was the first transgender woman who underwent sex reassignment surgery, that began in 1922.
The paintings in the film were done by the film's production designer Eve Stewart and by 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, was also altered to resemble Amber Heard's face.
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 like some people think. 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 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.
Alicia Vikander's Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, instead of Best Actress in a Leading Role, was seen by many as a critical category fraud, as she has 59 minutes and 37 seconds of screen time, or 49.9% of the movie's length, this amount of screen time qualifies her for a Best Actress Oscar. Distributor Focus Features decided to campaign for Vikander as supporting actress because they thought it would increase her chances of winning, as she would have been competing against Brie Larson for her role in Room (2015) decreasing her chances of winning the award. Vikander has refused to comment on the debate.
When 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 took the role in 2014, when Tom Hooper took over the project.
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.
Many details of Einar Wegener's life were hard for both the author of the book and the crew of the film to track down. Denmark didn't have records. Dresden's women's hospital had medical records, but nothing remained after WWII. They found brief newspaper items, memoirs of the Wegeners' friends, and accounts of some similar surgeries in those days.
Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for The Theory of Everything (2014) during early filming of this picture. Redmayne was granted a weekend break to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and ultimately accept his award in person. Afterward he flew back to the set and resumed filming.
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.
The real Einar / Lili had two siblings, one brother and one sister, who were aware of her transition and although were conflicted, they were nonetheless supportive. Einar / Lili's parents had already passed away by the time the transition had commenced. The film does not include nor mention her siblings.
On February 9, 2016, Alicia Vikander revealed to The New York Times that the filmmakers were obsessed with the fact that she didn't look Scandinavian. "They paled my skin, to make me lighter. People say that I'm tanned, but that's my natural color", Vikander told. Gerda Wegener was a natural blonde and blue-eyed Danish woman with pale skin, while Vikander is a natural brunette with brown eyes and olive skin. Besides lightening her skin, Vikander also had to wear blonde wigs in the film.
Lili and Gerda moved to Paris in 1912, when they were 30 and 26 years old, respectively. The film begins in 1926, when they were 44 and 40 years old. Paris was remarkably liberal in the 1910s and 1920s - which was exactly why Gerda and Lili settled there and Gerda lived openly as lesbian in the city. The scene in which Einar is beaten up by two men in Paris didn't happen in real life.
The only trans actors in the film worked as extras. 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.
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, she is a ballet dancer named Ulla Paulson. The character is loosely based on Danish actress Anna Larssen Bjørner and on Danish ballerina Ulla Poulsen, who were friends of the Wegeners.
According to an interview with Alicia Vikander, the first cut of the film was over 2 hours. Amber Heard, who plays a ballerina, had two dancing sequences that were cut from the film (glimpses of these scenes can be spotted in the making of featurette) along with a romantic date between Einar and Gerda at a lake, which can also be seen in the featurette. Vikander, having been impressed with her dancing, hoped that these scenes would be included as deleted scenes on the DVD and Blu-ray (they were not).
Filming was set to begin in late 2014. It was pushed to February 2015 to accommodate Alicia Vikander's schedule. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2015, which gave the production seven months to complete it.
Although the film is set in Denmark and features Danish characters, nobody in the main 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).
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 ultimately the production spent 15 years in development before filming began.
Some scenes were shot in Brussels, Belgium (at the café A La Mort Subite, the Horta Museum, the Sint-Hubertus Gallery and at the Café Le Falstaff). This was the first time since 2013 that Matthias Schoenaerts shot a film in his home country, the last time had been when he shot some scenes for Suite Française (2014), also in Brussels.
It is commonly believed that Ulla Paulson is a fictional Hollywood creation for the film. Ulla was actually based on Anna Larssen, a Danish actress and preacher and very good friend of Einar/Lili and Gerda. She was born on September 12, 1875 and passed away on March 6, 1955. Although she she has some fictional details such as a change in her name and also performing as a ballerina, the real Anna Larssen was in fact late for a meeting with Gerda to pose for a painting, therefore Einar had to step in and fill in for Larssen at her own suggestion over the telephone in 1908, by putting on the dress and stockings which allowed his repressed feelings as a woman to reemerge as he enjoyed wearing the clothes. It was Larssen who came up with the nickname Lili after walking in on Einar filling in for her while Gerda encouraged the nickname. Larssen was reportedly quoted as saying "You know, Andreas, you were certainly a girl in a former existence, or else Nature has made a mistake with you this time."
According to an interview with director Tom Hooper, more than 40 trans people were involved in the production of the film, many as supporting actors and extras, and Hooper said he hoped it would inspire more trans people to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Eddie Redmayne also consulted with the transgender community to prepare for his role.
Tom Hooper's first film shot on digital, reluctantly due to budgetary reasons. Hooper worked hard with his cinematographer Danny Cohen to maintain the same effects they were accustomed to when shooting on film.
The film has been 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 trans person; for being based on a fictional book that doesn't tell the true story of Einar/Lili and Gerda Wegener, and also for being sold as a biopic of a transgender woman when in fact, the film revolves around a cisgender straight female. Vulture pointed out that The Danish Girl is part of a trend of queer and trans films that are actually about straight people. Even with so many inaccuracies and so little of the real story of Lili and Gerda, 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 and joked on the red carpet that he had never had a birthday party like that.
This is one of two films starring Matthias Schoenaerts to be screened in the official competition at the 2015 Venice Film Festival. The other is A Bigger Splash (2015), which premiered a day after The Danish Girl.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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.
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. David Ebershoff. The author of the novel in which the movie is based on, 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 (Gerda lived openly as a lesbian in Paris in 1912). 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.
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 cardiac arrest.
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.
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 at the time of her death was a French art-dealer named Claude Lejeune, whom she hoped to marry and have a child with. There is a photo of Lili and Lejeune together dating back from 1928, when Lili and Gerda were still legally married. 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.
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.
When Lili is at the clinic preparing for her sex change operation, she meets another patient who is pregnant, who proceeds to ask her if she wants children, where Lili replies that she is sick and unable to have kids and the pregnant woman assumes she is there for her "infertility". This is not only a reference to the fact that transgenderism was considered a mental illness back in those times, but a nod to the real Lili Elbe's final operation to have a womb transplanted into her in the hopes of having children, this surgery would ultimately kill her due to organ rejection resulting in a cardiac arrest. This is a crucial detail that is absent from the film.
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.
At the end of the film, it says that Gerda painted Lili's portraits for the rest of her life, but this is not true. Gerda's paintings were out of style in the late 30s and she was reduced to finding an income selling handmade postcards. Her final art exhibition was in 1939 in Copenhagen, the year before her death. She died penniless and alone in 1940, with a small estate that was auctioned off and a small obituary printed in a local paper acting solely as her commemoration.
The first successful uterine transplants occurred at Salgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg Sweden in 2013. An experimental program in which 9 women received donor wombs from either their own mothers or other close female relatives was begun to allow women born without wombs (Rokitansky Syndrome) or who had them removed surgically to bear children. In 2015, the first live birth occurred from this study, a baby boy born at 31 weeks by Caesarean Section. The pregnancy was ended early due to the development of pre-eclampsia in the mother, a potentially life threatening pregnancy complication affecting many women. The transplant recipients have to take multiple anti-rejection drugs, so they must get pregnant as quickly as possible (via IVF) and following birth either get pregnant again or have the uterus removed. This groundbreaking surgery is nearly 100 years after the real Lilli had her uterine transplant. At the time, antibiotics weren't routinely used (penicillin was only beginning to be used by 1930) and anti-rejection medications not developed yet. Perhaps in the future this expensive and complicated surgery will be available for transsexuals with the hope of real success.
Although Gerda's possible sexuality as a lesbian or a bisexual was largely omitted from the film, there are some nods to this possible detail in the film. At the party with Einar, Gerda, Ulla, and their friends, Gerda fondly recalls sharing her first kiss with Einar and commenting how it felt like she was kissing herself, also a reference to Einar's female identity. When Einar begins wearing Gerda's clothes, she finds her own nightgown underneath his clothes when he gets into bed before they make love, she is seen to be aroused at this discovery.
Although the scene where Einar is beaten by two French men is fictional, it is a reference to the likelihood that Einar was probably intersex. The real Einar was always said to look more feminine than masculine even before the transition, and would usually be mistaken for a female in men's clothing when living life as a male. She is assaulted by these men as they saw her as Lili and mistook her for a lesbian when she wore her clothing as a male.