Nearly every interview Felicity Jones has done over the past three years characterizes her as being on the cusp of stardom. But Jones says the cusp suits her just fine, as long as meaty characters continue coming her way. “I’m happiest when I’m discussing a script and working with interesting people,” she explains. Although this year marked her highest-profile film role to date, playing the Black Cat in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s her nuanced portrayal of Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything that’s getting attention on the awards circuit. Directed by James Marsh, the film also stars Eddie Redmayne as Jane’s husband, renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, and is based on Jane’s 2007 memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Jones recently spoke about her admiration for Jane and the huge responsibility she felt in playing a real-life character.
Where did things start with you playing Jane Hawking?
It always starts with a script. I like to have plenty of time to read something, and I always like to read a paper copy. I hate reading it on email. I sit down with a script, and want to see how it hits me. It’s an instinctive process. And when I read this, I just loved Jane’s character. There was this very unconventional situation and relationship between three people that was at the heart of the film.
What did you get out of meeting Jane that you didn’t get from reading the script and her memoir?
You get so much. You get someone’s character. When I met Jane, my job became so much easier because she has such a spirit and a warmth, but also there’s a determination to her. I realized quickly that she was a woman who knows what she wants.
Did playing a real person create a new set of challenges for you as an actress?
You don’t take a role like this one lightly because you’re dealing with a very delicate situation. It’s people’s real lives, and you want to get it as truthful as possible. Eddie and I felt a huge sense of responsibility toward Jane and Stephen because the more we researched and understood them, the more phenomenal we realized these people were. We were constantly trying to bring the nuance of their lives onto the screen. They’re unsentimental—there’s no self-pity in that situation. They’re real troupers.
What commonalities did you find between your personality and Jane’s?
I try to be as true to the character as possible. I find it more interesting to find things that are different, and that was very useful working with a dialect coach on getting Jane’s voice, so that you’re pushing yourself. I’m not an actor who just wants to be playing myself; I don’t want to do an impersonation. You want to inhabit that role, that person.
It was a huge challenge taking a woman in her late teens through to her 40s. So I went to meet with a movement coach at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and we spent the whole day going through exactly how your body shifts and changes as you age. I love that side—the technical side of acting. I like to have as much time as possible to speak to experts. Sometimes you need a few days to think about things and let it sink in. Especially if you’re changing the walking, it takes practice. The only way I know how to do that is to have time to prepare before I get to set.
Do you use a Method approach?
You do find a person that’s different from yourself, and you find techniques to be able to do that day by day. With this film we weren’t shooting chronologically, so you had this huge technical side to it. You had to know exactly what’s going on at that point in that character’s head. I remember that scene Eddie and I do at the end of the film when we break up: We weren’t Felicity and Eddie talking, it was Jane and Stephen, and that’s really exciting, when you feel yourself disappearing.
Have you spoken to Jane since she saw the film?
I spoke to her on the telephone. And she was very complimentary about all of the performances. It was such a relief. She very kindly said that I got her voice—that meant a lot.
Do you find the rigors of awards season challenging?
If you’re in a film that you’re proud of and you care about, then you’re always happy to talk about it. With this film, it was such a special experience because it felt like a true collaboration. Eddie and I watched rushes; we’d seen cuts of the film. We felt very involved in the whole process, so it feels like something that you enjoy talking about because it was a huge part of both of our lives and we really want people to see it. There’s so much care that goes into it that it’s not something where you just drop off at the end of the day and go home and don’t think about it. It stays with you. It infiltrates your subconscious. Even after the film is being made, to still have some involvement is an amazing way to work because you really feel that you have an opportunity to refine the character.
Felicity Jones photographed by Mark Mann