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The actor Felicity Jones wearing a flowery top
Emily Berl / The New York Times / Redux / eyevine

Felicity Jones Interview: ‘I love characters that don't conform’

The ‘Theory of Everything’ actor on playing legendary American lawmaker Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ‘On the Basis of Sex’

Written by
Greer McNally
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Things are going pretty well for Felicity Jones. The night before I meet her, she picked up the Variety Award at the British Independent Film Awards. The prize recognises thesps who’ve helped put the UK on the movie map. Previous winners include Kate Winslet, Benedict Cumberbatch and Helen Mirren. Not a terrible list to be joining, then. Oh, and she’s just wrapped a period drama with Eddie Redmayne about a hot-air-ballooning acrobat, in which she did a lot of her own daredevil stunts.

But she’s not here to talk about gongs or her old ‘The Theory of Everything’ mucker. The topic under discussion today is ‘On the Basis of Sex’, a seriously timely, based-on-true-life drama that sees her play everyone’s favourite octogenarian, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (sorry, Dame Judi). ‘I wanted to show how someone becomes Ruth Bader Ginsburg,’ she explains over a lemon tea. ‘After all, she didn’t come out of the womb fully formed as she is now.’

‘I have 100 percent just played a superhero’

Jones dominates the movie, a presence in all but about five scenes. And the film contains one of the longest speeches ever delivered by a woman on screen – clocking in at a mouth-drying five minutes 32 seconds. Crucially for the actress, Ginsburg signed off on her casting beforehand. Has she seen the movie yet? ‘Yes, and she’s telling her friends to see it,’ says Jones. ‘Which is a relief.’ It’s another striking role on a CV full of single-minded figures, like Jane Hawking and Jyn Erso in ‘Rogue One’. ‘I love characters that don’t conform,’ she explains.

She can be fearless on set too, as the producers of ‘The Aeronauts’ – a period piece in which she plays a solo balloonist – will testify. ‘I was swinging off the balloon as it went up on a 2,000-foot crane. We were getting higher and higher, and they’d shout up: “There is a stunt woman, you know.” I’d yell back: “But I’m having such a good time!”’

Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer in ‘On the Basis of Sex’

The shoot brought her back to London, the Birmingham-born actor’s adopted home. She gets recognised more often these days, though not always for the roles you’d think. ‘It sort of depends on what kind of films people are into,’ she says. ‘If you’re into snowboarding comedies, then it’s “Chalet Girl”.’ The idea of people still watching the 2011 romcom makes her happy. ‘I had such a fantastic time on that film. I’d love to do something funny again.’

With ‘The Aeronauts’ wrapped, what’s next? Jones has talked about wanting to take on a superhero, so maybe a Marvel movie? ‘I have 100 percent just played a superhero [in “On the Basis of Sex”] and a superhero who is wonderful because she doesn’t have a cape, she has her mind.’

‘On the Basis of Sex’ opens Fri Feb 22. Read our review of the film here.

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