For a girl who grew up in the model village of Bournville, read English at Oxford, took to the stage at the Donmar and made a name for herself on Radio 4’s The Archers, actress Felicity Jones doesn’t fit a cookie cutter mould.
Having successfully nailed the period genre, the 29-year-old Northanger Abbey star has resisted the urge to become a perennial corset-donner and is enjoying stepping out of her comfort zone and into controversy. “I like to jump into different worlds,” says Jones during lunch at a coffee house in Silver Lake, LA where she orders a grilled cheese sandwich with salad. “I’m attracted to the emotional rollercoaster of acting. Now I’ve been doing it for so many years, I must rather enjoy it.”
Since playing school bully Ethel Hallow in The Worst Witch, aged 12, there have been more ups than downs. But lately, under the wing of risqué LA film director Drake Doremus, Jones has been pushing boundaries. Thanks to their 2011 collaboration on Like Crazy, she walked away with the Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performance at the Sundance Film Festival. The largely improvised indie flick – about a young couple, who fall in love before being torturously separated by visa problems – inspired an eager internet campaign for her to play Anastasia Steele in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s upcoming screen adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Her delicate cheekbones, big green eyes and slightly goofy, yet sensual teeth, make her character in the latest Doremus film Breathe In – where she plays an exchange student, struggling to maintain a platonic relationship with her friend’s father (Guy Pearce) – all the more believable. Today in minimal make-up, vintage cashmere sweater and geometric mini-skirt, Felicity exudes casual cool and it’s easy to see why fashion giants Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana have snapped her up. Having just finished filming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in New York, the London-based Chalet Girl star is now taking some well earned time off to support her real-life boyfriend of a decade, artist Ed Fornieles who is prepping an exhibition in LA. Luckily she had time to talk to Stylist before gamboling off into the sunset.
Growing up in Bournville, could you smell the chocolate factory?
All the time. I went to primary school opposite, and they used to bring chocolate around at break. We’d have family friends stay and always went to Cadbury World. I’m more of a savoury person now. I love cheese, meats and bread.
Were you expected to go to Oxford?
There are people in my family who had been before: my great uncle went to Cambridge. It had been something that I have always wanted to do. I wanted to carry on studying because I liked English at school. Going somewhere like Oxford meant I could act and be part of the theatre there and study at the same time. I loved it. I met my best friends there, who I’m still really close to. I’m so lucky that I had that experience.
What attracted you to Breathe In?
It’s the second film I’ve done with Drake Doremus. We wanted to tell a story that was more subversive than Like Crazy. My character, Sophie, is a concert pianist who does a semester with an American family. Guy Pearce plays the father, a music teacher and her mentor. They have strong feelings for each other that they can’t control. We improvised the dialogue – finding the right words is a challenge I enjoy.
What are your memories of being on The Archers?
The luxury of radio is that you don’t spend hours in make-up, and you can wear whatever you want. It’s bizarre. You’ll be saying lines with various people around making sound effect noises. The oddest one was a sheep giving birth: there was lots of yoghurt involved to make that squelching sound.
How supportive have other actresses been in your career?
The actresses I’ve known support each other very much. If you have a level of confidence in what you’re doing, then you don’t feel threatened. We all have different things to offer. It can be frustrating when you’re put in a category with others. Women do get lumped together in this reductive grouping, and you think, “Gosh, that rarely happens with the boys.” I’m sure people don’t say to Eddie Redmayne, “How do you feel about Andrew Garfield?”
Is it true you’re tipped to star in Fifty Shades…?
It’s only rumours. It’s dependent on the script. If you have a response to something and feel an instinct then you should follow it, but until I see a script I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read the books, but I was working on a set where somebody was reading passages out to us. It’s amazing how it’s grabbed the zeitgeist.
What’s the strangest audition you’ve done?
I was so passionate about wanting the role in Like Crazy I filmed myself in the shower because that’s where one of the scenes was set. It just felt instinctive. It was a close up! It would have been strange if I’d sent off a wide shot of myself. That’s not the kind of work I want to do!
So you wouldn’t do nudity?
I have done in the past. It depends on the project, on the director. I wouldn’t have an absolute rule about it. Do you watch Girls? I’m obsessed with it. It’s great what Lena Dunham is doing. She’s such a phenomenal actress. It’s so real. It’s not cliched. It’s refreshing. The best thing is she directs, produces, writes, acts, and she’s naked. That’s amazing. She’s naked on her terms. That’s the way to do it.
As the face of Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana, how was your first fashion show?
Extraordinary. A fashion show is like a 10-minute play, but there’s all this anticipation, everyone arriving, finding their seats, then there’s 10 minutes of people walking past and clothes and music, then the whole thing is finished. It’s almost like a dream, like, “Did that really happen?” It was exciting.
What’s your secret skill?
I learnt circus skills in drama group so I can juggle. And I love making lists. They make me feel like I’m organised when I’m actually quite a scatty human being. But you need basic tasks on there, so you can feel like you’ve achieved something. On my list today I need to get some shoe polish; and I have to take my shoes to be re-heeled.
What else is on your ‘to do’ list?
Going home! I love when you are on the last Tube and everybody is really drunk. There are people singing, people eating McDonald’s, people sleeping. I always forget that, and when I go back I am reminded. I love the energy. London is my home. I miss my family so much, it’s hard being away. And I miss salt and vinegar crisps. And Marmite. And good fudge. Oh my God. Clotted cream fudge…
Breathe In is in cinemas nationwide from 19 July
(Image: Rex Features)