11/05/2014 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Theory of Everything Star Felicity Jones on Her Role in the Film and Women In Hollywood

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Answers by Felicity Jones, Actress, The Theory of Everything, Like Crazy, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Did the cast of The Theory of Everything meet the people they actually portrayed?

I met Jane Hawking quite late in the process after I had already developed my own instincts and ideas about her. When playing a character who is still alive, you're worried that you might have gone in the wrong direction so you're a bit apprehensive meeting the real person you're playing. With Jane, it made my job so much easier.

What I noticed about her became really important. There's a scene in Theory of Everything when Jane is talking to her father-in-law about Stephen and he says, "This is going to be a huge defeat." After meeting Jane, that scene for me transformed into one where I felt like Jane was more like an army general. She's someone that manages to control a room and situation, but does it in the lightest of ways. So, when she's in that moment with her father-in-law and says, "I might not look like a strong person..." it's a call to arms. It's really Jane saying, "I'm going into battle and whatever it takes, we're all going to ensure that Stephen will survive." It was vital having met Jane in order to play that scene because it gave me that little insight into her character.

How difficult is it to make a biographical film about a person who is still alive?

When it comes to Theory of Everything, for example, Jane Hawking and Anthony McCarten had been talking for eight years before Jane gave permission for her book to be turned into a film. The film is something she cares very deeply about and it was very important to have Stephen's permission. Jane also wanted to ensure that Stephen felt happy with the people who would be part of the project. It was vital to Jane to share the truth of the experience she went through. She wants to share the truth of being a carer, what that involves, that it's something people go through on a daily basis and how that affects your identity and relationships.

Thus, it's very intimidating playing a real person. It feels like a responsibility because you have to get to know every element of this person's life and you know that they're going to be watching the movie eventually so you really feel like you have to do your homework. With Jane, from the moment I read the script, I was in awe of her. There was something about her incredible strength; she had this unflinching, inner determination to keep Stephen Hawking alive. But at the same time, she was a mother of three and had her own academic career, which was very important to her. She also had her own sexual identity;Theory of Everything is also a story about a woman who falls in love with two men. So, I had to get my teeth into this part and it proved to be an amazing challenge.

Every day, when you're at work you're thinking about what is expected of you and the movie. There's a scene in Theory of Everything where Jane is pushing Stephen down a hill in a wheelchair and her children are running around. Jane is trying to keep control of all these aspects of her life, and as you, the actor, are doing this, you're getting exhausted from acting it out for half a day. But then you take a step back and think about the fact that the woman you are playing did this every day for so many years and you build a deep respect for that person.

What was the casting process like for The Theory of Everything?

When I read the script I liked that it moved away from the typical micro story-telling and that it was about a relationship. Theory of Everything is about a love story in many ways. The movie is about a relationship and two people who completely fell for each other at a young age. I love that aspect of it. But also, it's about these bigger questions of philosophy, why we're here and what it means to be here. I thought the script told the story in such a light way and it incorporated humor throughout so I naturally responded to the script.

Also, knowing that James Marsh would be directing it -- who I had met in New York before I auditioned --really move the needle for me. The moment after I met James I knew I wanted to do the film. It was James' background in documentary that I thought would be really interesting for a film like this. In Man on Wire, James presents situations and characters without any judgment. The same goes for Andrea Riseborough's role in Shadow Dancer, which James also directed. And it's the same in Theory of Everything, where James portrays a very unconventional three-way relationship in the film. James passes no judgement on anyone. Deciding to do this film came down to the fact that I felt James is a person who definitely knows how to present a female character in a fully-rounded, truthful way.

What was the turning point experience as an actress/actor that made you feel like you reached that goal of being successful and getting the roles that you wanted?

I feel that when I met Drake Doremus for Like Crazy I had a major turning point in my career. I worked in a way that I had never worked in before and it felt really exciting. Sometimes you do certain films or plays and you feel like you learned so much more than you ever knew before. What you learn can be in quite an intangible way. You just come out the other side with your confidence built up and you've accumulated great experience. Because I didn't train formally, I'm always just learning from other people and from being on the job. In Like Crazy, I just realized how much you could experiment in acting and film making. You can make lots of mistakes, you can try things out, and you can be fearless in film making. It's okay to do that and I take that learning with me on each project.

What are the main struggles women face while building a career in film and television?

I think -- for any actress -- what you want is a balance of work. The duality in character is what interests me. I don't just want to play only tough women or only vulnerable women. I want to be able to show in whatever kind of film I'm in, a subtlety and nuance of character and I feel that is sometimes hard to come by in female characters. What I liked about The Theory of Everything is that it's about a woman who is very strong and tough but also has a vulnerable side and has a capacity for love.

What advice do successful actors have for up-and-coming, and often struggling, actors?

My advice would be to: have stamina, have determination, don't get upset when you keep getting knocked back because it happens to everyone, and where you can, get involved.

I went to a drama group and a youth group in Birmingham where I grew up and that's where my love of acting started. I was lucky enough to have had an amazing teacher there. I started acting when I was 11 and he treated us like adults. He told us about play writes, we learned about Stanislavsky and he didn't patronize us in any way. If you can get involved in drama in some aspect that's the best way to go.

Felicity Jones won the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize in 2011 for Drake Foremus' romantic Drama Like Crazy, and in 2013, she was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Best Actress for her performance in Ralph Fiennes' The Invisible Woman; starring opposite Mr. Fiennes, she portrayed Charles Dickens' beloved Nelly Ternan. Ms. Jones also has extensive stage experience, where she starred in Michael Grandage's Domar Warehouse staging of Luise Miller, earning rave reviews for her performance in the title role. Her television credits include the children's drama The Worst Witch, reprising her character of Ethel Hallow as a series regular on Weirdsister College. She also appeared on an episode of Doctor Who, alongside David Tennant as The Doctor, and on an episode of Girls, opposite Richard E. Grant and Jemima Kirke; and starred in the series Servants and Meadowlands (a.k.a. Cape Wrath).

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