Monday, 11 May 2015

Interview: Felicity Jones

The Theory of Everything is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week. Felicity Jones shares her experience of making the film

Stephen and Jane Hawking came to visit the set. What did you think of them?

What I quite liked about both Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redymane) is that from a distance they seem quite conventional but, actually, there is something quite bohemian about them both and there is something deeply unconventional about this relationship that the three of them had with Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). I kept finding that the surface was not necessarily the true way of things — as is often the case. Also with Jane Hawking I loved that although she was a woman of faith and had religion, she was not puritanical. She was still a sensual woman with a sexual identity. There were all these contradictions. That is partly why I wanted to do the film after reading the script.

Eddie Redymane (Stephen Hawking) said that he found the break up scene the most moving moment. How did you find that scene?

Yes, I always thought that the relationship collapses in the scene with the spelling board. That is when the communication has broken down and it is symbolised by the fact that they now need a board in order to get through to each other. By the time they do actually part, I felt that the sadness was that they had to let go of something they knew was broken. That is where the pain comes from — knowing that it cannot go on any longer. And it is quite a delicate letting go of each other. We shot it towards the end of the film and I think that with all of those long hours, Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and I were really emotional for Jane and Stephen Hawking having to go through that because they had become like one body. They were completely intertwined. The idea of them being separate from each other was devastating.

Was it difficult to find a consistency in the relationship because it was not shot chronologically?

What helped with that was archive footage. There was an amazing bit of footage when Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is in the chair and he has lost the ability to hold his head up with his neck. His head drops down. Jane is talking to someone else and while she keeps on talking with her arm she puts his head back up to rest on the chair. It was that kind of synchronicity that we both knew that we had to achieve; that they had a way of communicating that was not through words. That is something Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and I just built up through rehearsals but also by spending time with each other and getting used to the situation. Also, you have to have a lot of trust for each other, which we had initially, and then it built further. We were playing real people, and cared about them so much, it felt that there was a lot on the line so we knew we had to look after each other in order to make this film work.

In preparing for the role did you spend any time with any motor neurone disease patients, or their carers?

Yes, I find it very important when you are preparing for a part that you understand as much about the person and their world as possible, so it was really interesting to meet people who were going through that situation presently — because speaking to Jane Hawking, she was no longer with Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). She had been looking after him in the past. So I went to meet carers and one woman in particular who is absolutely phenomenal. She came to the premiere with her husband and three children. She spoke to me very candidly about looking after her husband, who has motor neuron disease. I just spent the day with her, just seeing. It is very complicated because the roles shift so much between husband and wife to patient and nurse. So having someone who spoke very openly was really, really helpful for playing Jane Hawking.

There must be frustration there – having to give up a career to look after someone?

Absolutely. When Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) grew up in the '50s and '60s there was still an expectation that she should be a good wife and mother and that was a very strong sense of her identity, but she also had this deep sense of wanting to have her own academic identity, so there was a conflict. To do what Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) did, there was an enormous amount of self-sacrifice. Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) made a documentary and he thanked Jane Hawking for her support and said that he would not have got through it without her. He was in a deep depression when he was diagnosed and Jane drew him out of that, and that is why I admired her so much. Sometimes it is not a contemporary quality, that level of self-sacrifice, and we can be quite individualistic and are taught to look after ourselves, so there was something I found very powerful in her, having that kind of love.

Did you talk about that frustration with Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones), and her own aspirations?

I was very fortunate because I had Jane Hawking's book, which is incredibly detailed, and the film is based on that book so I could always come back to that. When you are playing a real person you are building up trust with someone and you want to get their blessing so I felt that it was my responsibility to be instinctive and to work those things out and not go to her and start asking her really personal questions straightaway. It was a gradual process of getting to know each other

Do you happen to look like Jane Hawking's?

Yes, there are similarities. Definitely. Jane Hawking has dark haired and quite small. We are not dissimilar!

What do you think of Eddie Redmayne's (Stephen Hawking) performance?

It is beautiful. It really is and it was so effortless when he was doing it. I thought he was Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). Like Stephen, he never let it become the focus. It was so in him, so in his body that Eddie was always concentrating on playing a scene or the emotions of the scene and it is really, really amazing work. Beautiful. Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) sees the overview as well. Eddie (Redmayne) is a very intelligent actor.

Is it difficult to find the intimacy you show in their relationship?

You have to always approach a scene instinctively and I never felt like Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and I were scared of exploring anything or were stopping ourselves from exploring anything. Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and I were just trying to be true to their situation and then, ultimately, as actors you are not responsible for the edit. That is someone else's decision but the impulse is always just to be as frank as possible with it.

Have the last couple of years felt like a sea change in your career?

I am really lucky that I get to play these great female roles. That is very exciting. I do not know. It seems a bit cheesy to have opinions about your own career. I am just really enjoying it, actually. This film was very special to us because it was real people and because James Marsh (Director) let us be part of the process and to see rushes and to see cuts. So we feel personally invested in it as well as professionally.

Do you think that most films still seem to be about main characters that are men?

I think it is shifting. On a commercial level, films like The Hunger Games (2012) have helped shift things because once these things make a lot of money, that makes studios happy and that perpetuates change. But also I think people like Reece Witherspoon are producing and she has her own company, and women are taking control of the writing, and Angelina Jolie is directing. That is how great female roles will be created — when women are in these positions.

Do they stand as examples for you, these women that can control their own careers?

Absolutely. I love all aspects of filming so I can understand why a woman with that experience would want to go into deciding which narratives are put into the world. That is an incredibly powerful position to be in. I totally, totally understand why they want to do that.

While working on this film did you ever ask yourself whether you could make the sacrifices that Jane made?

It is one of those things that you do not know until you are in it but you hope that you have the capability to do that. Absolutely, that is what I admired in her so much, but I did not want her to be a saint. At the same time she does have another side and that was really important to me — that we were not telling a story about a woman helping a man out. It was also about her. She had her own life and her interior life was very separate from being a wife and a mother. It was always about trying to balance those different roles she was playing. I liked that Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) could think she was in love with different men for very different reasons and men with very different characters. I liked that. You do not see a lot of that in films.

And that stuff with Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) is straight from the book?

Absolutely, there was a scene where Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) and Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) go and speak to a reverend about their relationship because they are very considered people. Everything is very thought-through and they want to get permission before they consummated their relationship. That scene was in a really early draft of the screenplay.

Have you had any feedback from Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones)?

Jane Hawking is very complimentary. I spoke to her on the phone. I was very nervously calling her up to see what she thought. She said I had got her voice, which was very good. That was something that I was very particular about. She has been really complimentary about it. Both she (Jane Hawking) and Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) were very moved by it, which is a good thing.

Why did you work with a movement coach?

I worked with this gentleman, Danny McGrath, who works at the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama because I did not go to drama school. I went to university, so I do not have that experience. A huge part of training to be an actor is the movement-side of the character. I tend to think instinctively that if you get the talk and the walk of the character, then you are halfway there. But I wanted to show Jane aging very subtly through her body and show how her body shifts and how having children affects the way that you carry yourself. So we spent some time going through that. And also how you hold yourself, how someone is physically in the world, tells you a lot about their character. It was just finding that aging arc through the way she moved. It was extra fine-tuning, that kind of thing. You have an instinct for that as an actor but it is good to work with someone who is an expert.

When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?

I started 20 years ago. I started when I was very young and it has been a gradual process. I had this amazing teacher, Colin Edwards, at this theatre-drama group in Birmingham where I grew up. That is where it started. He was a wonderful mentor who never patronised us. He taught us about Harold Pinter (Playwright) and Stanislavski (Actor) and at 11 years old it was phenomenal to have someone like that. Then it was just one of those things where you have to jump off the deep end. When you are doing anything, writing or acting, you cannot have a plan. You just go for it and then you hope that it will keep happening. I remember after university thinking, 'I will give it a go and see how far I get.' Fortunately, it has carried on.

felicity-jones--dvdIf you do not have plans, do you have hopes?

I love working with good directors. I am working with J.A. Bayona right now, who made The Impossible (2012) I loved watching his films and the fact that I get to go and make films with him, and get to see how he makes these things, is such an amazing part of the job. You are so in the hands of that person and as long as you are working with interesting people, I think that would be my hope.

How did you find James Marsh as a director?

James Marsh (Director) is a very, very sensitive and perceptive filmmaker. With Man on Wire (2004) you can see that he can deal with unusual situations and strong characters. James (Marsh- Director) deals with that so sensitively. He empowers you completely. James (Marsh) is very good at reading things; he saw how Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and I liked to work, that we like to always have that overview, to be able to take the ownership of the characters, which could be quite an egotistical and difficult thing to manage. But he let us do that. He just made it safe and you could make mistakes and you did not feel as though you were ever being judged.

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