With a steady stream of coveted roles on the docket, Britain’s bookish beauty, Felicity Jones, has firmly arrived in Hollywood.
Of all the places a budding young actress might want to post up around awards season, the Sunset Tower Hotel—abuzz with agents, managers and publicists—is a solid choice. “It’s becoming my second home,” says Felicity Jones upon ordering a glass of rosé and a plate of deviled eggs. The British import—who barely looks older than 25 (she’s 31)—seems to be adjusting well to her new surroundings. “I haven’t really left the hotel. Actually, that’s not true. I was starting to go crazy so I went for a run down Santa Monica Boulevard this morning,” she says. “I love to listen to really intense dance music.”
Jones flew into town for the Golden Globes; she was nominated for her riveting portrayal of Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Although she’s been acting since she was 11 and has starred in a bona fide blockbuster (last summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2), her first big awards show in many ways feels like her official Hollywood debut. Jones selected a bold teal-green Dior Haute Couture gown for the occasion, a dress that could have been lifted straight from one of the period films she’s appeared in—2013’s The Invisible Woman with Ralph Fiennes, for example, or 2008’s Northhanger Abbey.
Our drinks arrive and she raises a glass: “Cheers. Here’s to big dresses,” she smiles. The fact that the award for best actress went to Julianne Moore is water under the bridge—if anything, the Globes warranted a much-needed visit to L.A. “I always love coming here. I actually find it a relaxing place to be. You suddenly feel very healthy. I can’t get over: I leave the hotel and it’s sunny; it’s still a surprise.” Plus there’s always the Oscars, right? “Don’t jinx it!” she laughs.
Eddie Redmayne, her co-star in The Theory of Everything, accepted the Golden Globe that night for best actor, praising Jones as “the most formidable actress who raised my game.” The film was a turning point for both performers, who were introduced at London’s Donmar Warehouse theater. Preparation began in 2013 with an in-person meeting with Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, and his ex-wife, Jane, which added an immense amount of pressure to an already difficult storyline. The film spans decades of their lives; Stephen and Jane’s unconventional love story begins when she decides to marry him after he is diagnosed with a fatal motor neuron disease.
“I think in many ways it is a modern love story because the happiness they find isn’t with their first partner, which is very contemporary,” Jones says. “There’s something quite beautiful about it—it’s not a traditional rom-com ending in any way.” Her own parents split when she was 3; she grew up with her mother and brother in Birmingham, England. For Jones (and the calling card of all great actresses), “it’s hard to separate feelings from reason. Everything goes straight to the heart.”
Looking back on her 20s, she almost visibly breathes a sigh of relief: “It was like, what am I wearing? How does my hair look? And now you just couldn’t give a monkey’s whatever.” (For the record, she has previously been tapped by Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry for their ad campaigns.) “Now I’m obsessed with my wallpaper, the seating in my apartment [she splits her time between Brooklyn and London]…I think it’s an addiction to indecision.” It’s a common predicament for Libras like Jones, whose birthday falls on Oct. 17, and she sympathizes with her agents, who have to be especially patient while she deliberates on ideas for days and weeks at a time. “Sometimes I have these apocalyptic thoughts that if you make one bad decision that everything is going to be terrible.” She takes a swig of bubbly, bringing the hyper-fiction back to reality: “But nothing is ever going to be as bad as you think it is.”
At least for the next two years, life for Jones is going to be a whirlwind. At press time, Jones was in talks for a leading role in a new Star Wars film, set to be released in theaters at the end of 2016. She’s also just wrapped A Monster Calls, which was shot in Barcelona (a city she notes was an excellent resource for Christmas presents). The film is based on a children’s book by Patrick Ness; Jones plays a mother with terminal cancer whose traumatized 13-year-old son visits a fantastical tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) in his dreams to make sense of it all. “My friends have been through this,” she says. “It’s a real insight into those feelings.”
Next is April’s True Story, which pairs Jones with funnyman Jonah Hill in a biopic of journalist Michael Finkel, who was fired from The New York Times for fabricating a story, only to have his identity stolen by a convicted murderer. The role arrived to her via the highly respected London theater director Rupert Goold, who directed the film, with Brad Pitt as co-executive producer. “With the situation in Paris it feels very topical to address how we are allowed to express ourselves,” she says pensively, reflecting on the recent deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. She continues that thought with deeper, more obscure references to literary controversies throughout history, like the 15th-century Bible printer Johannes Gutenberg: “When they started printing the Bible so that everyone had access to it they had to do it in secret because of the power of the written word. And you know that was so long ago.”
One of the oddities of her acting career is its close affiliation with prose, but then she does happen to hold a degree in English literature from Oxford. The Theory of Everything, A Monster Calls, True Story and her recent casting in the next installment in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code series, Inferno (co-starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard), set to begin filming this spring, are all based on popular books.
Later this year, Jones breaks from the library with the action thriller Auto-bahn, co-starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ben Kingsley and Nicholas Hoult, and shot in Cologne, Germany. It required some physical prowess and for Jones to dye her hair peroxide-blond—the damaging effects of which she demonstrates by pulling out some choppy bangs. And yet she can’t help but make another literary analogy about playing a blond bombshell: “It was like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When you go through the cupboard it’s like a whole different reality.” Welcome to Hollywood.
By Kelsey McKinnon.
Photographed by Ruven Afanador.
Fashion editor: Karla Welch.