Felicity Jones: British film's new it-girl?
You'll be seeing lots of Felicity Jones this year when 'The Tempest' and 'Chalet Girl' hit our screens. Cath Clarke meets her
Jones arrives ‘like a zombie’, flopping on a sofa at the end of a two-day junket (‘It slightly numbs the mind’). You can understand the impulse to lump them in together, the in-demand Brit actresses: Knightley, Mulligan, Riseborough and Co – and now Jones. They’re all flawless, poised and possessed of a top-set-in-all-subjects charm. Jones, you suspect, might also be rather steely. When she heard that there was brisk competition for her part in ‘Like Crazy’ she put a few scenes on film to send to the director, clambering into the shower for one.’ I wanted it to be as realistic as possible. It was only afterwards that I thought: God, he’s going to think I’m mad.’ She adds for clarification, and with mock-outrage: ‘I had a top on; it was a close up; you didn’t see anything.’
Jones was raised in Birmingham. She began acting early, was on kids’ TV by 12, a regular on ‘The Archers’ at 15. It was always a hobby and it took a while for her to admit how intensely she wanted to stick with it – ‘To have the guts to say: “I'm going to give this a go.”’ She barely dropped a stitch to study English at Oxford and since graduating has worked non-stop: for TV in top-drawer drama like ‘Northanger Abbey’; on stage she’ll appear at the Donmar in June, directed by Michael Grandage for the second time in Schiller’s ‘Luise Miller’. Until recently her film parts have been somewhat limited to out-of-your-league-girl-next-door types – like the boss’s daughter in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s ‘Cemetery Junction’. The pair auditioned pretty much every twentysomething actor for their trio of Reading teens; Jones’s face fitted the ’70s milieu, apparently. ‘I don't know what that says about me…’
Her films roles are becoming increasingly demanding. She positively glows – there’s no other way to put it – in an upcoming adaptation by Julie Taymor (‘Frida’) of ‘The Tempest’, as the love-struck Miranda: 15 years old, raised on a remote island by her father, the wizard Prospero. Except here Prospero is Prospera, not father but mother, played by Helen Mirren at her most magnificently imperious. ‘It definitely changes the relationship,’ says Jones of the gender switch, ‘because there are these very controlling overtones of Prospero with Miranda in the text. If your reading of the play is cynical, he barters her away. But the way Helen plays it, it comes from the need to protect her daughter.’ So Prospero’s primal possessiveness is intensified into something knottier, more emotionally intriguing: when Prospera looks at her daughter, at times it is as if she is watching her younger self, before a lifetime of tribulation and exile. With biker belts, CGI hounds of hell, not to mention Russell Brand in a supporting role, the overriding mood of the film is Shakespeare at Burning Man. Filming on the island of Lana’i in Hawaii also gave Jones an insight into the dark arts of the paparazzi, whizzing past on their boats in search of a swimming-costumed Mirren – who is apparently not at all intimidating, even with a whopping great wizard’s staff. ‘That’s her image, but she was totally welcoming. She still has such excitement about what’s she’s doing. She hasn’t let herself become jaded,’ says Jones, adding thoughtfully: ‘which I think is quite difficult.’
At the mention of her next movie, ‘Chalet Girl’, Jones, who has been politely flagging, picks up, exclaiming: ‘I love that film.’ With her Oxford credentials it might look a bit, well, low-brow: a properly popcorny Brit-com which is giggly good fun – the gaps plugged by a best-of-British cast that includes Bill Nighy and Bill Bailey. Jones plays an ex-skateboarding champ who gets a job as chalet girl for a family of banker-toffs and finds herself persona non grata on the status-conscious slopes. ‘Gossip Girl’ cad Ed Westwick is the Prince Charming love interest. There is so much lousy Brit comedy around; wasn’t she worried it would turn out badly? ‘I think it was quite a risk, but I just had a good feeling about it. I wanted to take a gamble.’
Last year Jones finally gave up a part she played for over a decade, Emma in Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’. Like being a Bond Girl, it’s one of those roles that’s harder to shake off than foot-and-mouth. Not that Jones, who kept it up all through Oxford, finishing essays at 4am after a day’s recording, seems to mind. ‘It’s such a great British institution. You can talk about all the people that you’ve worked with. But a lot of people are only really and truly impressed by “The Archers”. All the closet fans come out. Quite unlikely people,’ she adds with a giggle. Like who? ‘I will not reveal my sources.’
Author: Cath Clarke
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