She’s winning awards and wowing the critics but the star of indie romance Like Crazy, Felicity Jones, has her feet firmly on the ground, writes TARA BRADY
WILL SUCCESS spoil Felicity Jones? It seems most unlikely. The Birmingham-born actor was already turning heads as the newest, cutest It Girl on the block when, early last year, the Sundance Festival awarded her a Special Jury Prize for her work in indie romance Like Crazy.
Critics duly made Audrey Hepburn comparisons and marvelled last July when Jones plumped for playing the title role in Luise Millerin the West End over the title role in The Brothers Grimm: Snow Whiteopposite Julia Roberts’s Evil Queen.
But today, riding a wave of rave notices, when others might have demanded a plush hotel suite, she greets us in a modest Soho office. She’s just signed as the new face of Dolce Gabanna, a potential replacement for older rep Scarlett Johansson, yet has opted for no make-up and a sensible skirt.
She is, of course, petite and girlishly pretty just the same, but in an unshowy way that works to underscore her unaffected demeanour.
“A lot of people become actors so they can hide,” she shrugs later. “I’m one of those; I’m a hider not a crusader. And then you have the great paradox of acting. You get attention for it when attention is the very thing you were trying to get away from.”
She mostly lives quietly in London and dislikes “being in large groups of people”. A self-confessed homebird, she says she couldn’t do the work if she didn’t have time to potter around her flat, a home she shares with long-term partner and conceptual artist Ed Fornieles.
“It’s the house of bizarre objects,” she laughs. “I come home and suddenly another one has appeared.”
You’d never imagine she was a child star. She was, in fact, the child star. Of the three future English Roses to debut in a 1996 TV adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers, it was Jones, rather than co-stars Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, who immediately seemed destined for bigger things.
“It was set in a country house with a big swing,” recalls Jones. “I think we were far more excited about the swing than anything else.” She landed the role of school bully Ethel Hallow in The Worst Witchin 1998 but then, to the surprise of everyone, left after one series.
“I was never a full-time child actor,” she says. “It was an after-school activity. I used to go to the Central Television Workshops they had for kids in Birmingham. From there I started getting auditions but it was only something fun you did during school holidays with other kids. All I can remember is I had six weeks off school and I wanted to play with my friends instead of doing a second series of The Worst Witch.It was a very strong feeling. So my poor mum had to ring up and say ‘I don’t think she’s going to go back’.” She laughs: “You don’t really think about life until you’re 17 or 18, do you?”
She has remained in contact with fellow Treasure SeekersKnightley and Mulligan, but while they got breaks elsewhere, Jones gravitated toward university and “something to fall back on”. “It took me a long time to admit to myself that I wanted to act professionally,” she says. “Because it was a hobby it just didn’t seem right to think about it in that way. I didn’t have anything else specifically in mind. It was a very generalised idea that I think I wanted the university experience. I’m not sure I was mature enough to start acting after school. I needed more time to work things out and meet new people.”
She returned to the fray as the bumbling heroine of Northanger Abbeyin ITV’s 2007 adaptation. She’s corseted up a few times since: as Lady Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited, and as Michelle Pfeiffer’s love rival in Chéri, but she’s also been careful to avoid the corset trap by snowboarding in Chalet Girl, partying in Shimmy Marcus’s SoulBoyand popping up as Bill Nighy’s daughter in David Hare’s M15 drama , Page Eight.
It’s been a busy five years when you factor in F lashbacks of a Foolwith Daniel Craig, The Tempestwith Helen Mirren, Cemetery Junctionwith Ricky Gervais, plus work in TV and theatre.
“But you have to, I think,” notes Jones. “I think if you stay too long in one medium you miss out on the skill set required elsewhere. Jerzy Grotowski talks about an actor needing to be an acrobat. I think that’s true. And also my mum is theatre mad. I loved theatre as a kid even when I was too little to know what was going on half the time. The whole aura and ritual of it is fantastic for kids.”
She’s currently working on developing those lightning-quick physical reflexes but, for the moment she says, university has left her with an analytical approach to her trade. “I’m very academic about it,” she says. “I’m quite a slow mover. I’d rather spend time and concentrate on a couple of things and make sure they’re things I really want to do. I have to prepare. I have to analyse. I have to do a lot of work just to be in the moment.”
Like Crazy,an improvised cross-Atlantic romance starring Jones and Anton Yelchin, has already attracted a brace of critics’ awards, including gongs for Jones from heavyweight bodies such as the National Board of Review and Gotham Independent Film Awards.
“My natural instinct has always been to be involved with the character as much as possible,” says Jones. “And this was all about the truthfulness of the character. It was an inside-out process. Anton had to know how to build a chair. I had to write a poem in character. It was totally naturalistic. We shot 80 hours of footage on a camera that was so tiny you completely forgot about it and disappeared into what you were doing. We were all in it together. We just really wanted it to work.”
She’d do it again; indeed, she already has. Shooting wrapped on director Drake Doremus’s follow-up picture, featuring Jones, Guy Pearce and Kyle McLachlan, just as Like Crazypremiered last year.
“I just loved the entire process,” she says. “You had to bring as much as possible. We’d have to talk through small points and details like favourite books and music. On Like Crazywe had to talk through bigger points like being in your 20s and how love and career come into conflict. On the next one I’m playing a pianist so I’ve been immersed in classical music.”
Later this year she’ll head up a cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rupert Everett for Hysteria, a Victorian rom-com about the invention of the vibrator. Does it feel like she’s stepped up into the big league yet?
“Oh no,” she says. “Every time you think you’re getting somewhere as an actor you discover there’s a whole other level ahead that you never knew anything about. Every time I watch something I’ve done it’s still horrible. But you have to do it and put up with the low- level self-hatred if you’re going to learn. At the minute I’m hoping to learn how to sing so I can be a little freer.
“But the more I do the more I realise I still have to do.”