There’s been a lot of mystery surrounding Disney’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which, chronologically, will soon bolster the original timeline as the first Star Wars film, before Episode IV: A New Hope. The question is – why should we care about the events before Luke Skywalker came onto the scene? And why should we reach into our pockets ? Well, there’s lots of reasons really, and one of them is Jyn Erso, the new protagonist played by oscar-nominated actress Felicity Jones.
True to Lucas’s love of downtrodden outsiders, Erso is a dust-beaten, downcast delinquent being hounded by the authorities. Fittingly, this ‘criminal’ is then chosen by the rebellion to steal the coveted plans that hold the inner workings of the Death Star. The evil Empire’s ultimate weapon capable of turning entire planets into epic white CGI fireworks. It’s easy to see why the casting of such a role took some time. Director Gareth Edwards needed someone who would be convincing as both a renegade and an empire toppling soldier. Perhaps it is a little strange when you think that they found all this in an English Literature graduate, who started out with much gentler roles in British productions like Doctor Who and Brideshead Revisited. But, of course, Jones is much more than her credentials might imply. So much so that she’s now set to act opposite one of the most beloved and highly esteemed actors of all time, Tom Hanks, in Ron Howard’s Inferno. She also received an Oscar nomination in 2014 for her portrayal of Stephen Hawking’s devoted wife in The Theory of Everything. In fact, the more you read about Jones the more you begin to picture her as an unstoppable Rebel Alliance fighter.
Over the years Jones has juggled with the serious roles expected of a thespian and the big-budget fiestas of studio movies. She’s worked herself very hard, blazing a trail through back-to-back jobs and proving herself, not just as an eloquent, evocative dramatic actress, but as a very physical one as well.
“Her performance in The Theory of Everything was so impressive,” says Ron Howard, the director who cast Jones in Inferno, “That character could have been straightforward and predictable, and yet, in her hands, it was the opposite.”
If you forced us to use a single word to describe Jones’s acting preparations, we’d probably go with ‘thorough’. In preparing for her part in Inferno, Jones immersed herself in museums and galleries, scrawling her findings in scrapbooks, as she has been known to do for all her different roles. She has said in interviews that these collages of writing and photography enable her to understand who the characters are. She also likes to gain an experiential understanding of characters through conversations with people of similar sensibility or affliction. For example, when she was researching for A Monster Calls, scheduled to play a mum suffering from cancer, Jones visited hospice patients and gained an insight into the everyday horrors and challenges of chemotherapy.
When it came to Star Wars, and the prospect of playing a ragged delinquent turned soldier of the Rebel Alliance, Jones was forced to think outside the box, unable to track any Rebel Alliance members in this corner of the universe. The solution was hours spent trawling through music videos, namely the ethereal work of Florence and the Machine. Jones became captivated by lead singer Florence Welch and the way in which she seemed to float and bend, like a weightless contortionist onstage. “So much of
“So much of Jyn is movement,” she said, “It became a very important part of finding her. She walks almost a bit like a caged animal. Her fight sequences become like dances.”
From humble beginnings spent alongside the British timelord and his tardis, Jones has risen to those Hollywood heights sought by so many aspiring young actors and dreamers. And yet, in case you’re wondering, the actress has kept her feet planted firmly on the ground. Today she lives in London with a tight circle of industry friends and her boyfriend of 18 months – director Charles Guard. She admits to enjoying a simple life, enriched by the pleasures of swimming and reading. She keeps social media at arm’s length and often confesses to being an “overthinker”, although you might forgive a little mental hyperactivity from an A-plus student and Oxford graduate. Ultimately, Jones has had the good sense and intuition to resist the glow of big screen business and stardom. So you can rest assured that she won’t be entirely neglecting indie filmmaking just because she’s had her hands on a blaster and an A-list pay cheque.