Bournville-born-and-bred and now one of the country’s hottest young actresses, Felicity Jones has gone stellar with her new role in The Theory Of Everything, the story of Professor Stephen Hawking. Here, Felicity talks about the film, what it’s like to star alongside Eddie Redmayne and how much she loves acting
Words: Sarah Drew Jones
We caught up with Felicity on-set at The Theory of Everything, the movie – that is sure to send her career global. Born and brought up in Bournville, 31-year-old Felicity enjoyed breakthrough roles in the Ricky Gervais film Cemetery Junction, Chalet Girl, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even a stint in The Archers. But it’s her starring role as Jane, first wife to Professor Stephen Hawking, played by Les Miserables star Eddie Redmayne, that is about to take her to another level. Here, in an exclusive peek behind the scenes, Felicity lifts the lid on this inspiring and fascinating film, and her preparation for the role.
What was it like for you to work on this much-anticipated film?
It has been an incredible experience from start to finish. When I read the script, I loved that it was not a straightforward biopic. The movie was about the intimate side of Stephen Hawking’s life, with an incredible lead female character, Jane Hawking. And then after reading her book and meeting her, I was in awe of her enormous capacity to love another human being. I just thought: ‘this is such a nuanced, complex character to play.’
Were you nervous to meet her?
Well, at first I was very intimidated. It is frightening. It is such a responsibility. This is someone that you are going to be representing. It is their whole life. And you are being entrusted with that. And there is a lot of trust. So at first I was a little bit cautious, but when I met Jane, well, she made my job so much easier. She is so rich with character and idiosyncrasy. There is a ladylike quality to her. She is very well presented. When I went to see her, I was fascinated by how she picks up a cup of tea. There is something almost queenly about it. So I went to watch footage of Queen Elizabeth to get that sense of her character. It was very much a full frontal attack on getting the physicality too of Jane and her voice; it is a very high-pitched one. I had the help of a dialect coach, which helped me to inhabit the exterior of this woman.
What did you like the most about her?
What I loved was that she had not only a vulnerability and softness, but at the same time there was this toughness, this inner strength, this core focus and determination. That duality was really interesting to me. She is warm, has her own sense of style and moves in a very particular way. She loves dance, so I wanted her to be almost like a ballerina in her first scenes, when she is young. I thought about this 1950s idea of a woman who is perfectly presented, being very perceptible and likable, but underneath there is a really strong person. When I met her I realised that she is not a woman who is easily pushed over. She doesn’t take no for an answer.
What do you think that Jane saw in Stephen that was so fascinating to her?
Well, it is a young love. And he is funny and charismatic. When you meet him it just pulls out of him. He is an incredible character. He is extremely bright; they are both intellectuals, very precise with facts. Jane is also an academic, so they share that ideology, that way of communicating. They both love culture, they both love music. They have different favorite composers though. They would often have arguments about who was better, if Stephen’s favorite Wagner or Jane’s Brahms. And if you listen to them they are the polar opposite of each other. Wagner is very bombastic and Brahms is much more emotional and searching, which shows the kind of people they were. I feel there was a Yin and Yang thing going on between them.
What was it like to work with Eddie?
We’ve seen each other work and respected it. We both started in theatre and with the director Michael Grande, in London. We have very similar attitudes to preparation. We both went to university, and have an academic approach, with lots of index and research. We were really lucky about how similar we were workwise. Our goal was to entirely inhabit these characters. This was the exciting part. I really felt like I was talking to Stephen and I hope he felt like he was talking to Jane. Felicity and Eddie disappeared into these characters.
Eddie said that it was a unique experience to the point that you had to physically help his acting in certain scenes…
Absolutely. It was like nothing I’ve experienced before. That was from watching documentary footage that we would find while looking for clues. We also looked at lots of photographs. We were like detectives trying to find out how their behaviour affected their movement. Like when they were dancing together and Jane would be lifting Stephen’s arm or there is a moment in one documentary when Stephen is being fed Champagne on a spoon. We really wanted to put in the film those details, those realistic moments. Stephen and Jane were templates for us, and they were so rich, which was really exciting. I can imagine in certain cases getting to meet the real person it might throw you off but actually for both of us it deepened the experience.
How important was filming in Cambridge, where they lived?
It was a great way to start it! This is where Jane and Stephen live. The first week of shooting we were in the home of these people. We were already absorbing everything about them just from walking around. Actually, Eddie went to Cambridge himself, so he knew it very well. But it was also an opportunity to spend more time with Jane and Stephen. In some ways that first week felt like we were jumping from a high-diving board. So it helps to be there, the town where they lived their lives.
The family was there during the filming of some scenes: what was that like for you?
It was so intimidating. And I think it was our third day of shooting! We barely knew what we were doing! My reaction was: don’t judge us, please! A few weeks ago I was watching a piece of the extra footage. Stephen is watching Eddie perform himself before he was on the wheelchair, in his early 20s, and it just hit me: what a profound experience for everyone involved. For Jane as well. You are seeing your early days being enacted in front of you. It must be an extraordinary experience. But they are so rock and roll! The fact that they even are ok with a film made about their lives shows that they are genuinely fearless.
Did you get any word from Jane on the movie?
Yes, I spoke with Jane on the phone and she was very complimentary about our performances and very genuinely moved by them. And she said I got her voice, which is such a key part of my characterisation. I thought if I could get her voice and her movement I could crack the character.
What was it like to work with director James Marsh?
He is phenomenal. He read Eddie and I so well. He knew that we were people that don’t like to be overly controlled. What James does, which is a sign of a great director, is to give you freedom, he trusts you that you will do your research and portray that character truthfully. But at the same time he has a very strong sense of what he is making, so you feel safe.
Some of the movie is shot on a dream-like Super-8ish film…
Benoît Delhomme, the cinematographer, is exquisite. And even when we were watching rushes early on and he came to rehearsal he looked so closely. I know that this seems to be an obvious thing to say, that the camera is so close, but it is the way he does it, his personality, his precision in observing the details. I didn’t realise the camera was on my hand at a certain point! He would see little movements or feet; it was all about the details. And obviously there is something quite presentational when you are shooting camera on still or rails. It is lovely to have the contrast with the more intimate view. It is like you really know those characters.
Acting is about details, isn’t it?
Absolutely, the whole way through. The sets were very simple and it was a conscious choice on James’ part, to keep it almost like a theatre stage. So it felt like all these elements came together: Eddie and I came from the theatre, and that process of building a character was very much something you do automatically in theatre, the rehearsals included. And to be given this platform: how lucky we were! There is no judgment. You as the audience have the responsibility to find your own conclusions. It is very difficult to do that and at the same time make the work entertaining and captivating.
What’s your take on Stephen and Jane’s relationship now (they divorced in 1995)?
There is an extraordinary closeness. Despite the difficult times there is a huge love and respect for each other. It is no longer the love that you have within a marriage, but it is the love of spending a huge part of your life with someone. And I know that in Stephen’s documentaries it was very important to Jane that he recognised that level of her care and attention. There is a true empathy and reconciliation between them.
What did you learn from the movie?
I just have such respect for their determination. Even looking at pictures of Stephen now, I think he is formidable. He just doesn’t give up. Neither of them does. And they don’t fake it through life; they are real people, who are passionate about having full lives, no matter the circumstances.