Journalism is in Felicity Jones’s blood.The rising British star, who recently received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her heartrending turn as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is the daughter of journalist Gareth Jones, who met Felicity’s mother while the two were working for the Wolverhampton Express and Star newspaper. Despite the journo genes, Jones chose acting instead, enrolling in an after-school workshop at the age of 11. But she did dabble.
“When I was 11 years old, I was a member of ‘Press Pack,’ which was a thing that would come out in The Sunday Times in England,” Jones says. “You’d write articles and send them off, and would get a badge saying ‘Official Press.’ I was really excited about my badge.”
She laughs. “That’s as far as I got.”Jones’ latest film is the journalism-centric True Story, which tells the real-life tale of Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a disgraced New York Times writer busted for fabricating stories, who stumbles upon what could be the story of a lifetime: Christian Longo (James Franco), a man on the FBI’s most wanted list for allegedly murdering his wife and three children, has been scooped by the authorities in Mexico claiming he was… a New York Times journalist named Mike Finkel. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between journalist and subject, with the compelling Longo slowly turning the desperate story-chaser over to his side.
The film seems timely given the recent Rolling Stone debacle, since it questions the lengths to which journalists can be swayed by the “confessions” of a charismatic subject.
“What’s interesting, and with this recent case, is this blurring of real life and how the journalist is there to comment, but when the journalist becomes actively involved in the case, where is that line?” says Jones. “And how much does the journalist owe to the rule of law versus telling the public about the truth of things? It’s an interesting situation for a journalist to be in.”
As Finkel’s trusting girlfriend, Jones becomes more and more invested in the case as well, but unlike her journalist-boyfriend, doesn’t buy Longo’s “woe is me” act. In one gripping scene, she tells Franco off: “You’re a narcissist,” she says with ample bite. It’s a meta-scene of sorts, given the myriad criticisms of Franco in recent years—though Jones didn’t read it that way.“Oh, God, I didn’t pick up on that at all!” she says with a big laugh. “I’m just really fascinated by the way James approaches things. He seems to very much approach work as… an artist.”
As for her own news-consuming habits, Jones says, “I hardly ever watch the news… I love reading newspapers, but I know they’re dying out.” She reads The New York Times and The Guardian on her iPad, but opts for the physical paper when she’s at home in the UK.
Not that she’s had much time to herself of late. The 31-year-old has just come off a whirlwind six-month press tour for the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, turning in a performance that the real-life Jane Hawking labeled “astounding.” It paid off, earning her a well-deserved trip to the Oscars.
“It was like nothing else I’ve experienced in my life ever—that volume of interviews and red carpets,” she recalls. “It was magical. It was grueling at times, and I realized how passionate you have to be about the film, but I was about this one. I met Meryl Streep and Patti Smith, and you’re in these rooms with such extraordinary people, so it’s a massive privilege.”
For a while, it seemed Jones was, like many British thespians before her, being pigeonholed as someone who’s most at home in period dramas like Brideshead Revisited, Cheri, Hysteria, the Dickens biopic The Invisible Woman, and of course Theory. But she’s breaking out in a big way. “I’m climbing out of the box. Let me out of the box!” she jokingly shrieks.
While she says “I don’t know what’s happening with Black Cat,” the character (real name: Felicia Hardy) she played in Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jones has several very different movie projects lined up, including the action-thriller Autobahn opposite Nicholas Hoult; the horror flick A Monster Calls, helmed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Impossible); the Da Vinci Code sequel Inferno, alongside Tom Hanks; and, last but definitely not least, the lead role in Star Wars: Rogue One, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens spin-off directed by Godzilla helmer Gareth Edwards.
“I’m so excited about it,” says a beaming Jones. “It’s such an amazing franchise, and one that’s such a part of everyone’s youth. I remember watching it with my cousins and my brother, and the theme song is just stuck in your head. It’s an opportunity to do something completely different. I love being able to change from big films to small films.”
She’s not sure who her favorite Star Wars character is (“I like different ones for different reasons”), but isn’t surprised that the grizzled Harrison Ford survived his recent airplane accident.
“Strong bones,” she says, flashing that lovely smile.