Although Felicity Jones has worked steadily since first appearing in a 1996 TV movie, the 28-year-old British actress is being touted as one of this year's breakout stars. Her launch vehicle, "Like Crazy," is no big-money blockbuster but rather an experimental, micro-budget love story with a broken heart at its core.
In the cross-Atlantic drama about two young lovers separated by the law, Jones features as Anna, an emotional and devoted Brit who is kept by visa issues from seeing her American boyfriend, Anton Yelchin's Jacob. Under the supervision of director Drake Doremus, Yelchin and Jones improvised the film, following a 50-page outline that provided both plot points and the freedom to make each scene their own.
The Huffington Post spoke Friday with Jones as she promotes the film in New York, going in-depth on how it was made and how she might improvise her way to an Oscar nomination.
How'd you get involved in the film?
I read the script, well, the 50-page outline that was sent to me by my American agent. I sat down and read it straight away and really liked the character. I thought there was a lot for me to get my teeth into. I thought she was a complicated and interesting woman. I spoke to Drake on the phone and immediately hit it off with him and liked his ideas. He had very similar tastes in films. And so I made a tape for him and his producer to see, and then sent the tape. And then was surprised that anyone actually watched the tape, because you make so many and no one ever sees them, so that was definitely a good thing. And then he said to come out and start working, so I didn't actually meet him or Anton until the first day of rehearsal.
When you're given a script that is a 50-page outline and not a full screenplay, is that exciting, nerve-wracking, a mixture of the two?
Well, it's incredibly nerve-wracking. But Drake has worked in this way before and he has a very specific method, so you feel totally looked after, and he makes you feel very comfortable. And then there's very specific guidelines within the scene on how to approach it and what to do, so while you're improvising, you do have certain plot points that you have to mention. For the actor, you just find your way into them very naturally, so that they come more naturally than they would in a more conventional script.
As the filming goes on, in each scene you said less and less. Why do you think that happened?
Because at first you're nervous and self-conscious, so you overcompensate and speak too much, and you're trying to explain everything. Whereas, in reality, people communicate so much without saying anything. And you realize you can convey a lot more in the looks rather than the words.
So, when you're doing a take, do you think to yourself, "Next time I might do this differently?"
If it doesn't feel right -- for some reason it just might not work -- or you're thinking, "This is weird. Why am I standing here? I should be standing over there." And we'll keep changing the scene, we'll keep changing everything until it's right.
You put a lot of faith in Drake to choose the right scenes from all that improvising.
I just had to trust him. With this kind of film, you have to completely trust the director, because you're offering up so many different versions all the time and different options for him. And for this film, we shot 85 hours of footage, which was then cut down to 90 minutes. So you couldn't do it if you didn't trust Drake.
He also did a lot of filming when you weren't necessarily supposed to be "on" or acting. How does that affect your behavior on set -- that you may be recorded and you don't know?
It just means you stay in the mind-set of that person for the duration of the film.
That must have been intense.
It was the most intense month of my life.
Did you find yourself becoming her, or did you disagree with what she did?
I disagreed with a lot of things she was doing. That was one of the hardest parts, explaining to myself her irrationality, because she acts before she thinks, and some of those moments ... Her irrationality was the hardest thing. I just had to make that believable. The idea was that I wanted her to seem slightly unhinged. I felt there was an element of obsession about her desire for Jacob, and I guess I heightened that in the character.
Drake said he thought the relationship would have ended far earlier had they not had their legal complications, giving them the hope of being together. What do you think?
I don't know. I don't know. I mean, I hope that they'd be together, but I don't know. The tragedy of the film is that they spend so long trying to be together, and then when they're actually together, they don't know if it's what they want.
Is there anything you did that you wish made the cut but didn't?
There's this cemetery scene that is quite the odd scene. We shot [it] in the south of England in Brighton, and it was Jacob being unnerved by being in the graveyard. I thought it was interesting how it sort of exposed their characters -- that Anna is very earthbound and practical and solid, and he's much more unsure of himself.
What has the reaction been to the film? Have you had people come up to you and say they relate to it?
The interesting thing is older people have responded to it, which I don't think we necessarily expected, because the characters are in their 20s. That's what's been so wonderful. People in their 60s and 70s coming up to us and saying how it reminded them of their first love.