In a couple of years, Felicity Jones has travelled from Ambridge to the brink of Hollywood. Jeananne Craig meets the actress who is being touted as Britain’s next rising star.
It should probably come as no surprise that Felicity Jones finds watching herself on the big screen an uncomfortable prospect.
For 10 years she played Emma Grundy in The Archers and while she occasionally caught snatches of the Radio 4 soap – her mum is a fan of the show – she also enjoyed the anonymity which came with playing a character that is heard but never seen.
However, all that looks set to change. After a number of small screen roles, she was cast in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Cemetery Junction and is now starring in Like Crazy, a low budget indie film, which has been winning plaudits from film critics and award juries alike, the 28-year-old’s star is definitely on the rise.
Having successfully bypassed the struggling actor phase, Jones knows she has been incredibly lucky, but she hasn’t yet got used to her name being in lights and her face being on the big screen.
“It’s horrible, it’s horrible,” she says of having to take her seat in the audience to watch Like Crazy.
“It’s an agonising, horrific process. You just analyse every second of the film, but you’re only watching yourself. So you’re not really watching the film properly.”
Jones is not alone. Many actors cringe at having to watch back their own performances, but Jones needn’t worry.
Her portrayal of Anna, a British girl who falls in love with an American boy while studying in the US, is making Hollywood sit up and take notice of the actress who had a leading role in ITV’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
The film has already earned her a prestigious Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival and following its release in the UK today, Jones’ seems set to find herself quickly promoted through the acting ranks.
In Like Crazy, Anna and her boyfriend Jacob (played by fellow rising star Anton Yelchin) struggle with an emotionally exhausting transatlantic relationship which falters as both grow older and deal with visa issues and demanding careers – Anna in journalism and Jacob in furniture design.
“As soon as I read the script, I just thought it was so true and incredibly honest. There’s no gimmick or anything – it’s a very unsentimental portrayal of love,” says Jones, who wanted the role so badly that she decided a simple screen test wasn’t enough.
As well as taping the two audition scenes requested by director Drake Doremus, she also submitted her take on the film’s closing moment, a poignant shower scene devoid of dialogue. That determination paid off and, within days, Jones was on a plane to the US to start rehearsals.
Her arrival on set was, she admits now, a baptism of fire and Doremus’ improvised approach to scenes took its toll on an actress more used to being handed a fully formed script.
“There wasn’t really off-camera and on-camera. Whenever we were off-camera, Drake would still be filming and that month we were very much Drake’s pets,” she says. “That approach can be tiring, but it has enormous advantages as well.
“Improvisation helps you really understand the characters and I think it brings a lot of truth and energy to each scene. Every word of dialogue I wrote myself and I absolutely loved that.
“Working with a tiny crew and improving as we went along was how I want to work. I’ve always tried to achieve that in my own way, but to have that kind of support from a director was exceptional.”
While Like Crazy may well prove to be Jones’ big break, if it does succeed in catapulting her into the big time, it will be far from overnight success.
Growing up in Birmingham, Jones attended an after-school acting workshop funded by Central Television and. at 11 years old .won her first big role, playing school bully Ethel Hallow in the children’s television series The Worst Witch.
“It’s funny because I was at the Toronto Film Festival not all that long ago, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘I loved you in The Worst Witch’ and I was like, ‘What? Really?’ It was 17 years ago, but clearly some people have long memories.’”
Jones went on to play Emma Grundy in The Archers and in the last few years has appeared in episodes of Dr Who and The Diary of Anne Frank, but with uber producer Harvey Weinstein among those championing her talents, Hollywood is beckoning.
“At the moment I’m a gypsy really, I go where the work is, and I’m travelling all over,” she says. “I guess it’s a bit like my character in Like Crazy. When Anna is in the US, because she’s away from home there’s something more free-spirited about her, and she has that element of self-invention that people seem to have when they go to the States.
“But it’s always nice to come home. Going away can be quite liberating, but then after a few weeks you have to come back and re-centre yourself.”
Jones’s next appearance in cinemas will be on screen, with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the romantic comedy Hysteria, an altogether lighter affair than Like Crazy.
“It’s about the invention of the vibrator,” she explains. “It was quite weird going from Like Crazy onto a more conventional film set. There were marks [on the floor] and they were saying, ‘Just stand there and do this’ and you were saying, ‘No, just chill out, you don’t need marks, just go wherever’. But it’s great; it’s a very funny script.”
Frequently now compared to fellow Brit Carey Mulligan, Jones has already made another film with Doremus, an as-yet untitled project co-starring Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan, again employing improvisation techniques.
Could Doremus and Jones be cultivating another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp-style partnership?
“That’s a nice comparison,” she says, smiling. “I think we’ll want to work together again, definitely. We’ve just got a way of working together that seems to work for both of us.”
Like Crazy is on general release from today.
Long-distance movie romances
An Affair To Remember (1957): Playboy Nickie (Cary Grant) and singer Terry (Deborah Kerr) meet on a cruise and arrange to reunite at the Empire State Building six months later, but an accident keeps Terry away.
War Bride (2001): During the Blitz, Londoner Lily (Anna Friel) marries Canadian soldier Charlie (Aden Young), who is soon sent to the front line.
The Notebook (2004): Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams meet in the 1940s and forge a romance but are driven apart by social differences and geography. They are reunited seven years after the outbreak of the Second World War and find their circumstances have changed.