Felicity Jones on ‘The Theory of Everything’ and the Future of Black Cat
Felicity Jones in ‘The Theory of Everything’ is a revelation of sorts. Think about how many times a biopic has been done and the lead female character is written off in reviews as “So and so was great in a thankless role.” Ignoring the cliché of the word “thankless,” that’s almost become a trope in movies like this: The “thankless” role for a woman. But, that’s what’s so fascinating about Jones in ‘The Theory of Everything,’ not only is she Great with a capital G playing the role of Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane Hawking, an argument could also be made that Jones is the true lead of this movie. Put another way: There are a lot of thanks to go around.
Since ‘The Theory of Everything’ is largely based on Jane Hawking’s book, ‘Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,’ I guess it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise that Jane’s character plays such a large and important role. This movie isn’t as much about Stephen Hawking’s brilliance as it is the relationship between Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) and Jane and how living with the crippling disease of ALS (Hawking was only given months to live after his diagnosis) can affect the lives of two people.
In person, Jones is extremely polite and extremely cordial, though she seems a little nervous. It’s obvious she cares deeply about this project, but it also seems like she can’t believe that everyone is making such a fuss over her right now (even though most prognosticators have her garnering an Oscar nomination for this film). Basically, she acts a lot like a normal person would act who has been thrust into this kind of situation.
Also, Jones addresses some of the rumors about her future involvement in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ franchise (in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ Jones played Felicia Hardy, who eventually becomes the villain Black Cat) and rumors of possible spinoff movies. Jones shares that after such an emotional role like Jane Hawking, maybe it would be kind of nice to play a more physical role and to punch something. Though, speaking of something more physical, when I met her in a Manhattan hotel room, she was already pacing...
Are you breaking in shoes?
No, I’ve been sitting all morning. I could take some exercise.
It's OK, you can stand.
It’s going to be very interactive.
You’ve been getting positive reviews for this movie. I’m sure the reason to do a movie is for the “art” of it, but it’s nice to get the acclaim, too, right?
Yeah! I mean, you should never admit to that. But obviously it’s lovely. And I’ve made so many things that people don’t like.
People seem to like you.
Well, I hope so.
Even people who didn’t love ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ I never heard anything bad about you.
Oh, that’s great. But not on message boards [laughs].
You’re not supposed to read those.
Those have to be avoided at all costs, otherwise one’s self-esteem just plummets.
I couldn’t imagine being in your position and reading Internet comments.
But it’s anyone though; if you read something and it’s negative, you always take it to heart.
But most people only comment if they are upset or mad about something.
Yeah, I guess that’s when you have the impetus to write something is when you’re mad and angry.
Have you actually read something bad about yourself?
I did years ago. I read a review. I did this TV series and they said, “Felicity Jones is the weakest link.” [Ed. note: The quote in question was a comment left on The Guardian's review of 'Luise Miller' here.] And then after that I didn’t read anything and it made me so angry. Like, “How dare they say that!” And then I thought, It’s probably better that I don’t read this.
Can reading something like that change your acting approach?
I think it was just up to me not to read that stuff and have a bit of self-discipline.
People are saying the opposite about you with ‘The Theory of Everything.’
Which is great. People seem to genuinely have liked it.
The case can be made that it’s your movie.
Well, Jane’s almost the lens through which we understand Stephen Hawking, in a way. But, all the way though, it felt like it was about both of them -- that’s why I wanted to do the film, because it wasn’t a straightforward biopic. It’s equally about Jane as it is about Stephen.
And a lot of roles for women in movies like this are underwritten.
Well, that’s such a privilege to have that, because so often you do read more one-dimensional parts. I thought that this was so fascinating and part of it was the fact that this woman has two men – an affair with another man and he moves into the house. And the way that it’s dealt with is without judging her. And James [Marsh] is so great at that, being a documentary filmmaker, he doesn’t judge any of the subjects. He just presents the information to you. Like ‘Man on Wire,’ he’s just saying, “This is the situation,” you take from it what you want.
If this part had been underwritten, are you in a position in your career where you could have turned it down?
Well, sometimes, you know, it isn’t always on the page and you have to bring a lot as the actor. And you have to read something and think, Can I, sometimes, make this more than it is. But, I was lucky with this that there was so much there already for me to work with. But I think that’s always my feeling, even if precisely every moment and nuance isn’t there, am I going to be given the opportunity by working with this person – so it’s about the director as well -- to really explore and find an interesting female character.
What about James Marsh made you feel this would happen?
Actually, after I did the audition – and there were other actresses up for the role – and as soon as I finished the audition, he said immediately, “I’d love you to do the part.”
At the audition?
Has that ever happened to you before?
Never. Never, ever, ever. Usually you have to wait and you’re biting your nails. And sometimes you never hear from them.
Can you say “yes” right away, or do you have to talk to someone first?
My instinct was, that him showing me that he had that much trust makes you go, “OK, this is going to be really interesting.”
So did you say yes right there?
My instinct was that I wanted to work with this man. And I liked the way he made Eddie and I feel very, very comfortable early on. And he gave us so much freedom.
This role will thrust you into the limelight. Have you thought much about that?
Um, I guess I’m not...
Because you have a few more months of interviews for this movie ahead of you...
[Laughs] I know! I’m clearing my schedule ... but you never know, it could have gone either way. You make something and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. And you start to see the film come together and the excitement is generated and you think, Oh, this is actually going to be a good film. And then that creates its own momentum. But, I am actually quite cautious. You know, in life you don’t know what’s going to happen. But, with this film, I’m very passionate about it.
I like this time period with a film like this, because you still seem wide-eyed and happy about the whole thing. By February it’s a different story.
[Laughs] Yeah, I hope not to get too jaded.
But you have a long road ahead.
Well, hopefully we do.
I think it’s a safe bet.
That’s my British cautiousness coming out.
There are a lot of rumors about what may or may not be happening with your Spider-Man character, Felicia Hardy/Black Cat. Do you have any idea what’s going on?
I have no idea.
Do you want to do a Black Cat movie?
That would be amazing. I mean, I’d love to do something physically based. Especially after playing Jane, which was such an emotional arc.
You want to punch someone now.
[Laughs] It would be lovely to do something more physical, yeah. I love to keep changing it up and find something new and to play a different character would be great.
And they’re coming, but there still is a dearth of female superhero movies.
And there’s an appetite for female-driven big movies – as we’ve seen with ‘Hunger Games.’ There’s an enormous audience for that. And, so, as an actress, it’s really exciting.
And you’re a big star now because of ‘The Theory of Everything.’
[Laughs] Well, I don’t know about that. I have very loyal, devoted fans who are probably small in number. But, they’re great. And to be continuing in this world and hoping there are going to be better scripts coming through with interesting parts, that’s great.
I feel you’re in good shape.
We did it.
We did it!
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.