Felicity Jones On Playing A Home-Wrecking Villain & Loving It

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felicity_embed2Photo: BEImages.
It is a familiar story: A family, seemingly functioning and cohesive, opens its doors to a wayward girl whose mere presence sends the once-stable household into chaos. Nobody Walks, Match Point, and even Lolita all play upon the trope. But, in Breathe In, the relationship between Felicity Jones' Sophie and the older man of the house, an electrifying Guy Pearce, crackles with energy. Sophie doesn't fall into the trap of being the too-cute foreigner, or a one-dimensional home-wrecker, but a young woman who is desperate to, in Jones' words, "have experiences." Hating the girl who disrupts domesticity is too easy, Jones told us, and it is this complexity that makes Breathe In breathtaking.

Let’s just jump right into it and ask: Do you think your character is reproachable?
“I guess that’s up to you to decide. I mean, I wanted to play her because she’s not, in many ways, easily likable; she’s difficult, complicated, troubled, and in a lot of pain. That was something I thought I could get my teeth into. I thought she would be interesting to play."

Do you think we should be able to forgive her? Or, can we chalk it up to youth and passion?
“I think we identify with her because you often have feelings for people that are uncontrollable. Keith and Sophie have an immediate empathy for each other — they have a connection. Having that type of connection, for both of them, is very rare. So, it flummoxes them when they find it and they don’t know how to deal with it. You don’t want to give up on this instinct that you have toward another person when it’s not necessarily the best situation.”

Especially because they are both creative people in a world that is a bit stifling of creativity. Did you want it to work out? Do you think we should have wanted it to work out?
“Well, that’s what it’s forcing you, as the audience members, to question, because you probably want them to work it out. Then, what does that morally mean for Keith and Sophie? I feel like it can’t ever work out between them. In a way, I feel like Sophie is almost collecting experiences — which is very much a thing of her generation. You feel like, in the end, she comes out feeling that she survived. It’s Keith who comes out of it as the one who is permanently damaged by it.”

That’s interesting. It's like Girls, which you guest starred on...
“Well, that’s very much a theme in Girls, isn’t it? This idea of having experiences that aren’t necessarily coming from a place of emotion, but you want to experience everything. Sometimes it is just for the anecdote more than the actual experience.”

Why do you think that kind of narrative is so popular, specifically for young women of this generation? Do you think that we feel like we want to tell stories or we want to be real storytellers?
“That’s a big question. It’s quite nihilistic, really. Like, why not? That’s very much in Sophie. It’s almost like she thinks, ‘Well, what does it matter?’ It’s sort of a loss of meaning in your life but then you just think, ‘I can do whatever I want,’ and do all of these things. They don’t have any true impact.”


One of the things that makes her more complicated and complex is that there is something that woke up in her. There is a real attraction that she may not have the maturity to be able to turn down.
“I think that’s a struggle in her, actually. She wants to go on these adventures that you’re supposed to do when you’re young, but, at the same time, she’s actually experiencing something genuine. That’s the conflict in her. Have you ever seen the film, My Place in The Sun? If you like this film, it’s an amazing film with Liz Taylor. It’s about the connection between two people. It’s so beautifully shot and it’s so set up. That was a huge inspiration for both Drake [Doremus, the writer and director] and I while working on this film. It’s that thing of an overwhelming attraction to someone who you can’t help. As an actor, to explore that was really fun.”

So, what was it like going from a Sundance production to a big studio production? [Jones will be in this summer's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.]
“Well, doing something like Spider-Man was really good fun. It was completely different. I’ve always liked Marc Webb’s work. It was fun to be a part of that team. They just demand different things. It’s a very different experience when you’re playing a lead in something like Breathe In.”

There’s that fine line between good and bad in Spider-Man. You have the characters you root for, the villain, and the hero.
“I can’t speak about it too specifically, but I think in any film, you want there to be some emotional complexity ”

For sure. Things have been really hush-hush, which is kind of exciting. That’s the joy of comic book movies!
“Yeah! It’s just a really fun thing to be a part of.”

This new generation of filmmakers is known to really work closely with collaborators. So, can you specifically speak to Drake's process? Do you think it’s important to have a collaborator?
“I think it’s all in the collaboration. Always. That’s what it’s about. It’s about those other people. I don’t like working alone. I like to work things out with the other actors, the directors, and discuss and understand things. That’s when you produce the most interesting work; when it feels quite egoless.”

Have you and Drake become really good friends?
“Yeah, we will always be close because we really enjoy working together. We also have a very similar sense of humor. It’s like any friendship. It’s rooted in that. We just make each other laugh. There was a lot of laughter in between all the tragedy.”

That’s so funny. It’s particularly striking, because Guy Pearce rarely plays a romantic role.
“No. But, he is always really good at picking things that he has never done before.”

He is always such a great creep.
“He always has layers and layers. Totally.”

felicity_embed1Photo: Courtesy of Indian Paintbrush.


Do you have anybody that you work with that you consider a mentor?
“I’ve noticed, with actors that I’ve worked with — especially if they are very successful actors — that they’re often very humble and very giving. I just worked with Kristin Scott Thomas. She’s an incredible actress and very open. So, I look to them to get advice. The thing is always to be true to yourself and be true to those gut instincts when you first read a script; follow that and live by that."

As somebody who did not grow up in the L.A. casting culture, coming in and working in America, do you ever find yourself receiving certain typecasting — especially as a young actress? If so, what is it like?
“I think it’s changing. Now, people can’t get away with writing one-dimensional female characters. That’s because of shows like Girls. It started with Sex and the City and women have become much more of a focus. I read something recently that said it was ‘women as people.’ It’s not that they always have to be really strong, but they are as nuanced and flawed as the [male] characters. I still think, as an actor, that the script is a template. You work from that and bring more and more to it. The director does, too, and that is what is so exciting. You see how much you, as an actor, can bring to something.”

At SXSW, Lena Dunham spoke very convincingly about how Adam Driver has received offers for so many diverse roles, and how Allison Williams and Zosia Mamet are still getting typecast. Do you find other people, especially people who didn’t grow up in that L.A. culture, sense that typecasting going on with women in particular?
“I think I’ve always looked to the theater and I’ve been quite fortunate that I have theater as well. There’s an incredible complexity to go back to, on the page. I think that we’re still in a time where that complexity is often not in the scripts. Hopefully it’s changing. It’s also about women writing films, as well as men. It’s about complexity of character. That’s what Lena has done so well with Girls. The men are as complex as the women. It is going to take more time — especially with film. We’re waiting for that to catch up.”

Speaking of catching up in film, are there any television shows that you really love or really admire?
House of Cards. It’s excellent. I’m really excited that there is this blurring of television and film. Things like House of Cards are so cinematic and have that value to them. This seems to be the future. It’s like a book. You are in control of how much you watch and when. I think that’s really fascinating.”

Would you ever do a television show?
“Yeah, of course! I just like playing interesting characters. I like playing smaller characters in some things and then being a lead in something else. It is just what appeals and often it’s what the tone is for something. I want to play something I want to see.”