From writer/director Drake Doremus, the indie drama Breathe In tells the story of British exchange student Sophie Williams (Felicity Jones), who comes to New York to stay with a host family while looking to reignite her musical passion and inspiration. Frustrated musician turned piano teacher Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) reignites his own long-suppressed dreams when he is inspired by Sophie’s talent, and they both must figure out what they truly want out of life.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Felicity Jones talked about how flattered she was to learn that filmmaker Drake Doremus had created this film so that they could work together again, the differences between Breathe In and Like Crazy, working with a detailed outline that reads like a treatment more than a traditional script, developing an extensive backstory for her character, her favorite moment to shoot, the most challenging scene, and what she enjoys about working this way and having so much creative freedom. She also talked about playing Stephen Hawking’s wife, Jane, opposite Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything, and how she came to do a guest spot on the most recent season of HBO’s Girls, which she’s a big fan of. Check out our Felicity Jones interview after the jump.
Collider: What did you think when you learned that Drake Doremus wanted to create another character and develop another film, specifically to work with you again?
FELICITY JONES: I was incredibly flattered, and really happy to come back and work with him again. We have such a similar sense of humor that, even though we can be telling quite mysterious, complicated stories, we’ll always be laughing, off set. We just have a shared sensibility. It’s funny how the more serious the film, the more humor there is outside of it.
Would you have said yes, regardless of what the story was, or did you want to find out what it would be first?
JONES: Well, I was keen to read the script, and after reading the script, it was very much the kind of thing I was looking to do. I wanted to play a character that was a little darker than I’ve played before, and Sophie really is quite troubled. It felt like there was a challenge to be playing someone who wasn’t always totally likeable and who was a little bit anarchic.
When you work with what amounts to an extensive outline, how much are you told about the story and the character ahead of time, and how much do you discover through the filming process?
JONES: Well, it’s a combination of both. The outline is very detailed. It reads like a treatment, in that it has descriptions of character and it gives you a jumping off point, really. A lot of it is working out a backstory for the character. While you are improvising, you need to be prepared, and I like to have a sense of who the character is, what she likes to read, where she grew up, where we went to school and what she has for breakfast, so that when I go to set, I’m free to explore.
Is that kind of backstory work something you typically do to prepare for a character?
JONES: Depending on the nature of the role, I usually like to prepare and know that stuff about a character. But with this, it felt really important that we had a strong sense of the characters before we started shooting.
How did the process of making this compare to the process of making Like Crazy?
JONES: It felt very different, in the sense that they were completely different people. That brings a different energy and a different atmosphere. Drake sent me some of the tracks that Dustin [O’Halloran] had composed for the film before we started shooting, to give me a sense of the feeling of the film. Just because the tone was so different, it did feel like a very new experience.
Did you ever find yourself deliberately making sure that the character from this film was never too similar to your character in that film?
JONES: Exactly. That was so important to both of us. We wanted it to move in a different direction. It was important Sophie was not as open as Anna. She was much more guarded, much more troubled, and had a much more difficult family history, so we were keen to move away from it.
Did you have a favorite scene or moment to shoot?
JONES: I love that moment when Keith and Sophie are on the swing. I love moments in film where there’s no dialogue and somebody communicates something with a look that kills you. That’s why I love going to the cinema.
Were there any scenes you found particularly difficult to figure out? Were there any moments where you got stuck and couldn’t figure out how to make it work?
JONES: Oh, gosh, yeah. That happens all the time. You’ve got half an hour to shoot a scene, and it ends up taking two hours. That often happened. That scene between Lauren and Sophie, when Lauren comes into Sophie’s room, after finding out about her and her father, and that took quite a long time to get right. We didn’t want their relationship to be just a bitchy relationship between two girls. It was important that it was nuanced and that there was a lot of affection between them, but at the same time, there was competition. We just didn’t want it to get too melodramatic. That was one scene that particularly look a long time to get right.
What do you enjoy about working in this way and having this much creative freedom? Does it change your approach with your other roles?
JONES: Yeah. Working on these films is hugely educational because you have to bring so much. Because you’re inventing the dialogue on the spot, you become very aware when you work on something where there is dialogue that you want to make sure is right, and you work very closely with the writers. I think it’s really good preparation for going into more conventional ways of working.
When you make films this way, that are so all-encompassing creatively, does it spark a desire in you to get more involved in other aspects of the filmmaking process?
JONES: Yeah. At the moment, I feel like acting is pushing me and stretching me enough, but I would never rule out being involved in other aspects of filmmaking. It’s such a passion of mine that I feel like I’d love to know more about the entire process. Particularly when you lead something, the responsibility of telling the story is through that character, so you do inevitably learn a lot about filmmaking.
Do you see this film as a love story or as a family drama?
JONES: I think it’s both. It’s about all different aspects of love and how love changes. It’s about how you can be with someone for 25 years and there’s huge amounts of love, but suddenly you meet someone and in sparks something very different in you. The film is an exploration of the different kinds of love.
How did you view Sophie? Was it difficult not to judge her, when you see the affect her actions are having on this family, or were you able to not have that judgment when you were embodying her?
JONES: It’s important, when you’re playing someone, not to judge them. I just become obsessed with her motivations. My responsibility is to tell her story, as truthfully as possible. I wouldn’t be outside of it enough to be able to judge it.
How challenging was it to make this character more than just the other woman? Were there specific directions that you wanted to avoid her going in, so that she didn’t come off as one-dimensional?
JONES: Yeah. Guy [Pearce] and I were always keen that the relationship wouldn’t be a cliched relationship of lust between an older man and a younger woman, which we’ve seen a million times and have heard a million times before. It was a much more nuanced connection between them, which was rooted in a sexual attracted, but was also something of more profundity.
How was it to work with Guy Pearce on this, with him not having worked in this way before? Did he look to you for guidance in how to do that?
JONES: We helped each other out, really. We spent a lot of time discussing scenes before we would come to shoot them. He’s such an accomplished actor that he took to it so easily. He’s so willing to test himself. He’s not embarrassed or driven by ego. He was comfortable and really amazing at it.
When you make a film like this, where you know the story, but not the journey in getting there, and you don’t really know what the finished product will be like, does it make you more excited to see the final film, or does it make you even more nervous?
JONES: You always get nervous. You have to really trust your director, but that’s why it’s important that you appreciate the director that you’re working with. It’s all about the trust.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to shoot next?
JONES: Well, I’ve just finished a film, called Theory of Everything with Eddie Redmayne, which is about Stephen Hawking and Jane Hawking, and that comes out at the end of the year. So, at the moment, I’m just reading scripts and seeing what else there is. At the moment, I’m just having a bit of a break.
What was it like to work with Eddie Redmayne, in that role?
JONES: Oh, it was absolutely a phenomenal experience. We both met Stephen Hawking and Jane Hawking. They went through an extraordinarily difficult experience. They were so young when they met and fell in love, and then Stephen was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease. But they’re both wonderfully eccentric, determined people. It was an amazing experience.
What was it like to be on Girls, this past season?
JONES: It was so much fun. I’m such a huge fan of the show, and I was so happy to be a part of it. It’s nice to do things that are a bit more lighthearted, in between the more serious. Although Girls is wonderful because it moves between the light and the serious so effortless. It’s nice to come in and do a few scenes on something that you’re a really big fan of.
How did that come about? Did they just know that you were a big fan and a role came up that they thought would be right for you?
JONES: Yeah. Lena [Dunham] and I met in L.A. and really hit it off, and we’re fans of each other’s work. And then, I got sent the script from my agent, who said, “They’d love you to do it.” And I said, “Yes, I’d love to.”
Are there any other TV shows that you’re a fan of, that you’d love to do a guest spot on?
JONES: That’s my number one, so I’m lucky that I got to be a part of it. It was great.
Being in a business that has so many ups and downs, with times that you’re working a lot and times that you aren’t working at all, at what point in your career did you fully commit to being an actor and realize that all of that heartache was worth it?
JONES: I don’t know. It’s hard to isolate. I guess I’m still in that process. You still slightly down that you’re ever going to work again, every time you finish something. That’s the territory of being an actor. It’s like anything that’s competitive. It takes a lot of determination. I just feel lucky to be able to do something that I really love.
Breathe In is now playing in limited release in New York City, and opens in Los Angeles on April 4th.