This year, Felicity Jones stars in two films: A Monster Calls, the story of a young boy whose mother has terminal cancer, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the most recent chapter in the film franchise. Here, the British actress talks about her early acting jobs, what it’s like to die on screen and more.
Lynn Hirschberg: What was the first job you auditioned for? Felicity Jones: My very first professional job was a one-off television film in England, and it was for something called The Treasure Seekers. It was about a family with a single parent father, who was a very poor inventor, and his children were taking it upon themselves to make money for the family. So they would come up with all these different schemes and start digging in the garden to find treasure, to restore their family’s fortunes. I was about 12 years old.
Had you wanted to act? It was definitely something I had an intensity about it. My uncle was a theatre actor, and back before there were even mobile phones, he would go off to the phone box and he would be speaking to his agent and finding out about scripts and plays. And I think being around them, we used to go on holiday with them, I absorbed some of that through osmosis. We used to all put on plays together and write plays and then bore our parents with them for many years. I think it was deep down something I wanted to do.
Did you have a break after The Treasure Sea? No, I went to university when I was 18, and I studied English literature and language, so I had a little bit of a break in that period.
You didn’t act in university? I tried to actually, and I kept auditioning for things, and then I wouldn’t get the part. So I sort of gave up a little bit and just went to the pub and had a good time instead.
What was the first part after university? Another television film for ITV, which is a television channel in England, and it was an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
I feel like all the English actresses go through a corset period where they are just immediately forced to wear a corset in every single film. Americans aren’t good at corsets. I know, it’s not the right of passage here in the same way that it is in England. As soon as you step into the professional acting world as a woman, you’re immediately laced into a corset. But I think there’s just such fondness for those novels. Jane Austen is obviously just timeless brilliant stories and we keep wanting to tell them.
Was there a moment that you started doing movies outside of England, or TV things outside of England? Yes, I’d actually just done a very broad snowboarding comedy in Austria [in 2011]. It’s called Chalet Girl, and I was the chalet girl, the hopeless chalet girl who’s a skateboarder originally, and then she gets a job – similar to the Treasure Seekers, the first thing I did – she got a job to support her father. So there’s obviously a running theme here. But then she goes to work in a ski chalet, but it’s not the kind of thing she’s used to and there’s lots of sort of hoity-toity people around her, and it’s about her becoming this wonderful snowboarder and falling in love at the same time.
Somehow I can’t see you as a snowboarder. That shows me you have great range. Yeah, and many bruises to show for it as well. But I think after that I was desperate to do something that was almost the opposite, very naturalistic and very detailed and when I read the the outline for Like Crazy, it just chimed with exactly what I wanted to do at that point. It was my kind of first foray into coming to America and learning about American screen acting and storytelling. So it was a pretty special time.
Did you end up staying here or did you go right back to England? I’ve always been a bit of gypsy, actually, and like the film, I definitely feel a sort of kinship with both being in Britain and being in the U.S.
Except you’re better about your visa. Yeah, exactly. A little bit more organized than they were. Although for months afterwards I would be so paranoid coming into the States, because I thought for some reason I would be waiting in line and then I’d get it into my head that they weren’t going to let me in, and I sort of had these flashbacks from making the film. Finally now it’s kind of subsided a little bit and I don’t worry quite so much.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
What’s the best place you’ve made a movie? It would be for Rogue One, on the first day of the shoot we were in Wadi Rum in Jordan. That was pretty special. And then we went to the Maldives and spent a week there. And, yeah, I think those were probably two of the most sort of exotic locations that I’ve ever filmed in.
What’s your favorite of your skills that you acquired when playing a character? Skateboarding would be one of them, because I grew up never skateboarding, so getting to do that and go and hang out in Notting Hill in the skate park and day by day learning how to do that was pretty cool.
Can you do a flip and stuff like that? No, I can sort of, you know, push myself along. I can sort of do a little jump. But I love learning things that are physical. So learning fight sequences for Rogue One. Feeling like you could defend yourself physically in a situation, that’s pretty cool.
How did you get the part in Rogue One? I feel like the whole thing is so secretive. How did they approach you for the role? Did they come to you through weird channels? Or, do you have to go to locked rooms to be told that they’re interested in you for the part? The whole thing is so shrouded. It makes it so exciting, especially when you get a paper script in a file with a zip and a lock and a key, that is just the best way to receive a script. And then told not to give that key to any other living human being. But it’s delight, because it’s important to keep a sense of wonder and anticipation. Especially we know everything about everything. I think ultimately audiences really appreciate there being a little bit of suspense about the film they’re going to see.
Were you a Star Wars fan as a tiny tot? I’ve quite a large extended family and we’re all very close to each other, so actually, my brother and I, we didn’t have a VHS player. My family were quite sort of old-fashioned in the sense that we were always sort of having to read and do things like that. Which, obviously, in the long term you really appreciate. But when you’re six or seven, it’s a little bit frustrating. So then we were going to my cousin’s house and we’d sit and watch all these delightful VHS’s and be watching things like Tremors and catching up on everything we’d missed out on. And Star Wars was very much part of our education. I remember just distinctly sitting really – I don’t know why I was sitting so close to the television, and then cross-legged, and then looking up as the wonderful opening crawl was sliding up the screen and being really quite moved and entertained by it.
And did you do your hair in buns on the side of your head? Did you have a Princess Leia hair moment? I didn’t. I was a real tomboy. I always had very short hair in a very sort of like short little fringe, and I was always running around and getting really muddy and playing outside.
So you were Luke. Yeah, exactly.
So for this year you’ve been incredibly busy. You’re in Rogue One, and also in A Monster Calls. How did that come about? I read the script and then quickly I went to read the book, and in the book there were these amazing sketches of the monster. And I loved the way that it was going to tell a very emotional story rooted in character but through fantasy, and I thought that was a great way to deal with some pretty hefty issues, but do it in this kind of magic realism way.
Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie.
I mean this in the best possible way, you looked terrible. Good, that’s what I set out to achieve.
Usually people in movies when they’re dying, they look gorgeous. And the truth is, even if you have a bad flu, you don’t look gorgeous, leave alone dying of cancer. Absolutely. That’s always, as an actor, the most important thing that you find.. If you’re supposed to have just been running and then the next scene your hair should be kind of all over the place and your makeup should be running a little bit. That’s what I love about people like Meryl Streep that are true to that in their performances, that you take on the physicality of the person. And I hate it when you watch films and then suddenly every scene, particularly the women, usually they’re just perfect – perfectly groomed in makeup and hair and nothing moves and it all makes it all a bit boring.
Have you died in other movies? I seem to be doing a lot of dying recently. I don’t know what that says. I’m not going to die any more. That’s the last one. That’s the last one.
Watch Felicity Jones, Hailee Steinfeld, and Dakota Fanning audition for a role in Jerry Maguire:
The Demure Felicity Jones: See the Rogue One Actress’ Style Evolution
Felicity Jones began her press tour for “The Theory of Everything” on a high note at the HFPA 2014 Toronto Film Festival Celebration. An elegant black dress from Armani Privé’s Fall 2014 collection paired with pointed black pumps set the tone for a classic, old Hollywood wardrobe.
The British actress followed up with another classic silhouette for “The Theory of Everything” premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. The star kept things simple with a cool braided updo and cinched Balenciaga dress.
Veering from her Hepburn-esque tendencies, Jones donned a Dior Resort 2015 high-neck blouse and skirt for an appearance during the Toronto Film Festival. With straightened hair and metallic gold sandals, the monochromatic ensemble lacked the “wow” factor of her previous looks.
Jones redeemed herself at “The Theory of Everything” New York premiere in a black lace Elie Saab gown, Ana Khouri diamond earrings, and a black smoky eye worthy of the red carpet.
A vintage Chanel turtleneck and Paule Ka trousers were stylishly appropriate for a special Academy-hosted screening of “The Theory of Everything” in New York. Fresh-faced makeup, an effortless updo, and Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes made this a total win.
The actress stunned at “The Theory of Everything” L.A. premiere in a pink satin Dior gown and Van Cleef & Arpels earrings.
Jones looked effortlessly cool at a BAFTA celebration in Los Angeles. Messy bangs added an edge to the Burberry trench, Miu Miu dress, and Kurt Geiger pumps.
Wearing Christopher Kane and a new hairstyle at the BAFTA Awards, Jones made the medium black dress the coolest thing around.
Showing no signs of slowing down—or sacrificing her demure tendencies—Jones stunned at a screening of “The Theory of Everything” in a navy fit-and-flare Fendi dress and pointed black pumps. A cool collar and a dark eye added just enough detail.
While a strapless midi-length dress wouldn’t be considered “daring” for most actresses, for Jones it is. Covering up on the bottom with a low hemline dress by Jonathan Saunders and black Saint Laurent ankle-strap shoes, the actress accentuated her bare shoulders with a sleek straight ‘do and a smokey eye.
An awkward asymmetric hairstyle stole the focus from an otherwise flattering Prada look at the Governor’s Awards in L.A. Hey, sometimes new things just don’t work.
Jones’s modest impulses and modern trends collided at an event in L.A. With a mod look from Saint Laurent. Black tights, black shoes, and sideswept hair made for a literal head-to-toe win.
Continuing to tip toe toward an edgier style, Jones donned an embellished black Alexander McQueen Resort 2015 gown, with a sheer skirt that revealed a pair of black hot shorts beneath. Black nail polish and emerald eyeliner kept things cool on the beauty front.
Metallic silver pumps added sparkle to a crisp white Dior dress for a casual appearance in New York.
The London premiere of “The Theory of Everything” called for something formal. Jones’s regal Dior Haute Couture dress and metallic pink pumps delivered—and looked right at home on the royal blue carpet.
The Theory of Everything actress Felicity Jones exuded elegance in a cool sheer black dress from the Dolce & Gabbana Spring 2015 collection. A sleek ponytail and subtle smoky eye helped the actress maintain a youthful edge.
Felicity Jones continued her modest tendencies in a black and periwinkle Christian Dior Spring 2015 couture gown.
Felicity Jones in Mulberry.
Olivier Theyskens and Felicity Jones in Theyskens’ Theory at the Met Gala.
While promoting the film Inferno, Jones wore a modest ensemble in Florence, Italy.
Is that a bit of skin we see?
Actress Felicity Jones attends the photocall for “Inferno” in Berlin wearing a white turtleneck under a black dress.
British Actress award winner Felicity Jones attends the Harper’s Bazaar Women of the Year Awards 2016 in a color-blocked dress.
Felicity Jones attended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 8th Annual Governors Awards in a stately gown.
Jones attended a post-screening event for “A Monster Calls” at the Toronto International Film Festival in a ruffled gown.
The actress looked chic and ladylike in a white dress at Burberry’s show during London Fashion Week.
Jones attended a VIP screening of “A Monster Calls” in London wearing a long black dress.
The actress wore a ladylike number to promote the film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Jones wore a prim blue dress in London.