FELICITY JONES - Bare-Faced Honesty
An Oscar nominee with a forthcoming lead role alongside Tom Hanks in the latest Dan Brown adaptation film, Inferno, not to mention starring duties in a mega-budget Star Wars blockbuster… somewhere along the way, fortunes took a turn for the best for Felicity Jones.
Or simply plain luck—according to the pillow-lipped A-lister? “I think fate and timing and luck—and all those uncontrollable elements, have so much to do with what is deemed as success, in any industry, not just acting,” the 31-year-old sage explains, “…which is why you count your lucky stars for opportunities that come your way.”
Acting for nearly twenty years, the Oxford educated beauty cut her teeth as an adolescent in BBC’s tween hit, The Worst Witch, before more grownup roles followed in Northanger Abbey, Brideshead Revisited and Flashbacks of a Fool, starring Daniel Craig. A breakthrough in Phil Traill’s Chalet Girl gave Jones valuable marketability, leading to credible indie fare in Like Crazy and Breathe In. Success however, appears to have been born from Felicity’s innate ability to embody real-life characters, both historical and contemporary, breathing life into what has come before. First came a lauded performance opposite Ralph Fiennes in The Invisible Woman as Nelly Ternan, young mistress to Charles Dickens. Then came her stunning portrayal of Jane Hawking Wilde, tireless, devoted wife of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The role brought her a slew of award’s recognition this year, including Best Actress at the Oscars.
And now a million miles away from the glitz and pomp, the actress—single since splitting in 2013 with sculptor Ed Fornieles after ten years—stunned audiences with a bare-faced, pared down performance in the chilling mystery, True Story. Based on real events, she plays Jill Barker, partner of New York Times writer Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) who becomes disturbingly obsessed with mass murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) resulting from their meetings in prison. Consequently, their encounters start to have deep ramifications on Michael and Jill’s relationship, with detrimental effects.
While chatting about this harrowing portrayal, Jones waxes lyrical on the awards circus, her reaction to the Oscar nom, Star Wars figurines, running in heels with Tom Hanks and shunning the glitz of Hollywood.
SMARTY: You’ve been having a big year, haven’t you?
JONES: Yeah [laughs] pretty big. It really has been quite an extraordinary year, and extraordinary time. You sometimes think: ‘How is this even happening to me?’
SMARTY: But you’ve worked long and hard for it.
JONES: Doesn’t necessarily mean you’re due any certain amount of success. I am very grateful though and never want to be complacent.
SMARTY: Did you ever think that one day, you would be and Oscar nominee working on billion dollar blockbusters?
JONES: Maybe not that specific [laughs].
SMARTY: When did you first decide you wanted to be an actress?
JONES: When I went to theater group, outside of school from when I was maybe eleven. I had a teacher, Colin Edwards, who was singlehandedly the reason I am where I am now. He taught me that I could strive for this crazy dream, that it could be a reality. He was someone who instilled with the sense that this was available. He didn’t patronize you. That was someone who took you seriously at a young age, especially as I didn’t go to drama school.
SMARTY: Obviously the Oscars was the biggest moment for you this year. How do you look back at that crazy time?
JONES: It went by in this very bright, blinding blur [laughs]. It was like nothing else I’ve experienced in my life ever—that amount of interviews and red carpets. Was that really me there? Was it actually a dream? What surprised me the most was the sense of community throughout the entire period.
SMARTY: Between the nominees?
SMARTY: So you’re best pals with Rosamund and Reese and Julianne?
JONES: They’re so lovely. I know it sounds insane though, to be even speaking with these women, but yeah, there was something like a community. It was weird.
SMARTY: Quite disappointing to hear. As a journalist, it’s a better story to hear you all vying and bitching about each other.
JONES: I know, that would be the better story. It wasn’t the case, I’m sorry to report. [laughs] You keep bumping into the same people over and over. And by the end of it, you’re all really good friends. It felt like there was so much camaraderie between us. It’s a very strange group to be a part of and it felt really uncompetitive, which is really, really nice. I had such respect for all those actresses, and Julianne Moore is so phenomenal. It felt like we were all supporting each other, very much.
SMARTY: Who did you meet that made a big impression?
JONES: So many. Meryl Streep was so lovely and complimentary… That took a moment, or week, to set in [laughs]. Patti Smith was amazing. I just felt so grateful to be in the same room with these people who are so passionate about creativity.
SMARTY: What was it like when you found out you were nominated for Best Actress?
JONES: Oh, my God—it was manic. A lot of running around, screaming and wailing and hyperventilating at the same time. It’s one of those moments you dream of and so, it’s so exciting. And then I just thought: ‘I’ve got to try a ton of dresses on. I want to find something enormous,’—because it’s the Oscars. You’ve got to go for it.
SMARTY: What attracted you to the film, True Story?
JONES: Aside from working with Rupert and Jonah and James, it was this moment when I first read the script and knew nothing about their story before. That made me want to do this film.
SMARTY: What was the story about?
JONES: It gripped and frightened. The overwhelming dynamic between these two men and then, ultimately, the affect it has on Jill and the power that Christian had over them, over Jill and Michael, is astonishing.
SMARTY: Did you get a chance to meet Jill, herself?
JONES: Yes, she was so accommodating and open.
SMARTY: Is it uncomfortable at all? You’re prying into their lives, in a way.
JONES: A little, initially. I feel like you’re trying to get that person’s blessing and I don’t set out to impersonate, I want their essence more than anything. And with Jill and I, we had such a long conversation, and got on really well, spent a long time talking about it—incredibly helpful for my research.
SMARTY: It’s a stunning scene between you and James that builds up throughout the film—almost more significant than the dialogue between Jonah and James.
JONES: That was actually the clincher for me. That one scene was why I wanted to do the film in many ways. It was one of those scenes that I knew was coming up and it really became this fascination for me, something I played out in my mind over and over before I actually did it. But it was interesting to learn how black and white she felt about Christian and how he is the personification of evil and she isn’t scared to tell him.
SMARTY: The tension between you and James feels so real.
JONES: Because it was, kind of—it was there. James and I didn’t meet up before the film.
SMARTY: Why’s that?
JONES: Because, I think for that scene, we wanted to maintain a certain degree of the unknown and that spontaneity. And I think it worked. He’s an incredible person, so passionate and intelligent. I really enjoyed working with him.
SMARTY: Is there an incredible responsibility playing these real life people, like Jill and Jane Wilde Hawking? Is it a daunting prospect?
JONES: Yes, [laughs] very daunting. It stays with you. It lives with you. You go home thinking about it, and because you know they’re real events, it definitely gets inside of you. Also, when you’re playing a real person, it can be quite cleansing for them to go through the experience again and talk about it, which is always incredibly helpful for my research. But without a doubt, it’s a daunting task, mostly as it’s charged with this huge responsibility. You feel connected to that person in some way. You’re being allowed into their life, which is a very special thing. It stays with you, it emotionally affects you. You can’t walk away from it.
SMARTY: Makes sense then, why your next two films are fantastical blockbusters grounded entirely in fiction. Were you simply looking for a break from reality?
JONES: I wish that were the case and I simply clicked my fingers and cried: ‘I’d like this part now, or this other movie.’
SMARTY: Star Wars: Rogue One—have you been nervous?
JONES: Very exciting.
SMARTY: What does it mean to you?
JONES: Well, it’s exciting, simply because it’s part of iconic history.
SMARTY: Were you a fan when you were younger?
JONES: Not especially. I do remember going to see the films with that classic intro with my cousins and brother, and when I think about that now, it just seems so daunting, but exhilarating at the same time. But unfortunately, I can’t say anymore, really.
SMARTY: What about the casting process and how it came about?
JONES: I can’t... I can’t talk about the casting process, I can’t talk about production. Everything is under lock and key.
SMARTY: It’s going to be pretty cool that you have your own action figure, though.
JONES: It’s something I haven’t given much thought to, but I think, should it happen, that’ll be on the mantelpiece for certain. It’s Star Wars, I’m sure that’s pretty much a given. I’ll report back if or when it happens.
SMARTY: Inferno—you shot on location in Italy. What was that like?
JONES: Well, it was Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Dan Brown, filming in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, like Florence and Venice. I’ve certainly had worse jobs.
SMARTY: Were you a fan of Dan’s books?
JONES: I’m a big fan of his work, like the millions and billions around the world, and now getting the opportunity to participate in the pure adventure of inhabiting his world, his grasp on such rich historical tapestry, is nothing I’ve ever been involved with before and so refreshing as a result.
SMARTY: What sort of research did you do for Sienna, seeing as you didn’t have a real person to consult with or guide you?
JONES: I know, it’s a different process [laughs]. She’s this genius ER doctor who’s so far removed from anyone I’ve ever played before. I actually spent time with a real ER doctor in New York, kind of shadowed her for a short amount of time, and it was so interesting to see how these people work in such a short space of time. Everything is so quick, so life and death. They think on their feet, it’s really intimidating.
SMARTY: How was Tom Hanks as a leading man?
JONES: Tom is wonderful. C’mon, it’s Tom Hanks [laughs]. He brings such humanity, not only to his work, but to everyone he’s working with, and that’s a real special quality to have. And he knows the name of every single person on set and says hello to each one in the morning, and there’s a real sincerity there. And that’s rare, that’s the mark of a wonderful person, who uses this commanding presence and warmth to welcome.
SMARTY: Running on the cobbles of Florence and Venice in heels was an issue?
JONES: I actually thought I was going to break my leg [laughs]. How I didn’t do any damage was a miracle. Tom was lucky, in the nice, comfy shoes, and I was sprinting along. It’s certainly been the most physical role I’ve had—or at least one of them.
SMARTY: Imagine Star Wars should top that?
JONES: I suspect there will be no heels involved.