It’s hard to believe that Felicity Jones has been working in the film industry for only a decade. Since her bigscreen debut in 2008’s “Flashbacks of a Fool,” the unassuming 35-yearold has gained incredible momentum over the 20 films she’s made, effortlessly moving from English period dramas to U.S. indies, studio prestige pics and Hollywood blockbusters. Not bad going for a girl from the industrial British Midlands.
It’s this diversity and stamina that brought the actress the Variety Award at the British Independent Film Awards, an honor that recognizes a director, actor, writer or producer who has made a global impact and helped to focus the international spotlight on the U.K.
“It’s a great privilege, and I’m very flattered to be given this award,” says Jones enthusiastically on the phone from her hotel in midtown Manhattan. “I’ve had a long relationship with British independent film. It’s where I learned my craft, in many ways, so it’s wonderful. It’s very cool.”
Currently in the U.S. promoting “On the Basis of Sex,” a biopic inspired by the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jones is an awards season contender for the first time since 2015’s Academy favorite “The Theory of Everything,” in which she played the wife of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and bagged an Oscar nomination for lead actress.
“I’m a huge fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she says. “To play someone who is as extraordinary as she is, who stuck by her beliefs, who fights for equality, fights for people who sometimes feel like they don’t have a voice. I have 100% respect for her and it was an absolute privilege to play her.”
But, surprisingly, this fast-tracking to Oscar success was hardly part of a long-term masterplan. “When I started out, I had absolutely no idea,” she says. “Initially, I thought I’d just give it a go. I went to university, and then after university I thought, ‘I’ll just throw myself in. I’ll start auditioning, and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have to think of something else.’ I never had a grand plan. I always knew that I wanted to go into storytelling in some capacity. When I was younger, I always wanted to be a journalist or work in magazines — I was fascinated by the thought of putting ideas out into the world.”
In the meantime, Jones has worked with newcomers and old hands alike, but she singles out one director for special praise. “I feel, early on, that Drake Doremus had a huge impact on my career,” she says. “That film, [2011’s] ‘Like Crazy,’ definitely marked a moment for me. It was the first time I’d shot in Los Angeles, so that film really felt like a bridge-film between the U.K. and the U.S. And I’ve been very fortunate to have a career in both countries.”
It was also her first time using heavy improvisation, working from a script of just 50 pages. “I’ve always retained that, in terms of bringing improvisation to other films – remembering that you have to fall off the tightrope sometimes. You have to be able to relinquish control and take risks. So Drake has been a strong figure definitely, in my mind, in terms of how I still approach work today.”
Nevertheless, despite all the sterling character work, Jones is aware that, for the public at least, she is likely to be better known as “Rogue One’s” rebel fighter Jyn Erso — not that she minds. “Oh, it’s been brilliant,” she says. “Kathleen Kennedy has done incredible work in championing women in the Star Wars universe. We started to see, from Jennifer Lawrence doing ‘The Hunger Games,’ a great change in cinema, with women taking on those leading action roles. They tend to do well in the box office, too, so it’s been incredible, and it’s given us many more opportunities — and that’s what’s really exciting, because it’s great fun taking on those roles.”
PHOTO: Felicity Jones plays a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” an awards season contender this year.