Upon walking in to the room to interview British actress Felicity Jones, we were casually reminded of the last time HeyUGuys sat down to speak to the talented performer – in the publicity tour for Breathe In, last summer. She claimed the previous meeting was “one of the best” interviews she had ever done. So, no pressure then?
This time around Jones is in town to promote The Invisible Woman, where she stars as Nelly, a young lady who falls in love with Charles Dickens (played by Ralph Fiennes), before entering in to an illegitimate affair, behind the back of the wife of the renowned wordsmith. As Fiennes also directed the picture – his sophomore feature after Coriolanus – Jones tells us that at times it was a bit like being directed by Dickens himself.
“It did feel when we were doing scenes with Ralph as Dickens, it was like being directed by Dickens,” she said. “You’d see him behind the camera with his wig and hairnet on and there were moments where you’d think, this is a little bit surreal.” Fiennes has recently made the move to directing with a relative ease, following on from Coriolanus, and Jones is not ruling out sitting in the director’s chair herself one day. “I would never rule it out, I feel at the moment that acting takes up my focus and is something I’m still exploring, but who knows? I definitely won’t rule it out.”
For Jones, who turned 30 last Autumn, she’s of a generation of those who would have watched Fiennes and fellow co-star Kristin Scott Thomas when growing up, and she admits to feeling somewhat anxious to have been working alongside them both. “I’ve grown up with Ralph and Kristin, so it was rather intimidating on my first day to be sitting between them doing the read-through. I’ve just grown up loving their work and really wanting to have a career in a similar way to they’ve both had.”
It may come as surprise to many that Jones is just 30 years of age, especially as she so often takes on roles of younger women, sometimes even college students in the likes of Breathe In and Like Crazy. Even in this particular project she’s portraying a young girl of 18 – but Jones plays down the idea that her looks open up doors for her to play such a variety of roles. “I try not to think about it too much,” she said. “I just think, do I want to play this person? Is this going to be interesting, or fun? Inside people are so different, you know, for the most part age is just a number and some people can be 60 but they have very young spirits and it’s always about the character not the age. It’s about the person’s nature, which is very separate from age.” She also reveals the secret to her youthful looks… “Face creams, face creams.”
The role of Nelly (whose full name was Ellen Ternan) is one that fascinated Jones, as she explains why this film was such a tempting proposition for her. “My attraction to the project was Nelly and the opportunity to play a really complex, female character,” she continues, “I feel like there is something very tentative about Nelly and Dickens’ relationship and coming together. Dickens is very powerful and rich and there was immediately a power imbalance between the two of them. A lot of the film is Nelly carefully negotiating this relationship and realising that she may lose her reputation and identity, so it’s a real struggle between her own self-definition and at the same, falling in love with a man who has a lot of power. That was my way into the part.
“I felt such a strong sense of duty to Nelly, especially someone who has died. I wanted to tell her story as truthfully as possible and she was an incredibly nuanced, strong human being and I still think about her now. When I’m in a difficult situation I think, how would Nelly have coped in this situation? What would Nelly do? She really became a part of me. I felt such a need to tell her truthfully.”
When asked if Jones often refers to her characters in everyday life, she tells us that it takes someone rather special to do the trick. “You want to play people who are different from yourself, but there are certain characters or experiences that really stay with you and do become a part of you – and playing Nelly was one of those. It doesn’t always happen, it just depends on the nature of the project. But for some reason this one was very special.”
Though based on real life incidents, Jones admits it’s not a story she was too familiar with prior to getting involved in the picture. “I didn’t know a lot about it, no. I knew bits about Dickens’ private life and that he had a difficult relationship with his wife, but I didn’t know about Nelly. Then obviously I went on to become completely obsessed with her and fascinated by her.” However, by not knowing a huge amount, this allowed for her to get stuck in to some research – which she believes is one of the perks of the job.
“I love getting completely stuck in and reading widely about people,” she said. “It depends on the project, it’s not necessarily essential for every project, but for this, obviously because Dickens is such a well known figure I did feel a sense of responsibility and wanted to know as much as I could so I could feel as prepared as possible when I got onto set. I really do think for type of project, preparation is inspiration and that by doing your homework that when you come to set you can take risks and feel free to explore the character.”
So what does the future hold for Jones? She’s already achieved an incredible amount in her career so far, and seems to be going from strength to strength. But at is stands she is just taking it one step at a time. “I don’t have a grand plan, I just try and take work that feels interesting and in that moment feels right. Mainly it’s an instinctive thing when you read a script. I like moving between theatre and TV and film and in the same way I like telling different stories in film. Small, domestic things and then those on a larger scale.”
Talking of larger scale, we can soon see Jones appear in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and though she remained tight-lipped on her experience, the signs are promising as she speaks fondly about her involvement, in what the biggest budget she is yet to work on. “It was really fun, I had a really fun time. Working with Marc Webb was amazing, he’s a really talented director.” She then finished by letting us in to information about her forthcoming project, “I just finished a film with Eddie Redmayne called The Theory of Everything, which is about Stephen and Jane Hawking and their relationship.”