Though the 2013 Sundance Film Festival certainly hasn’t been lacking in coming of age stories or tales of ennui over the past week, the fest also played host to a peculiar western called Sweetwater. Directed by Logan and Noah Miller, the film stars January Jones as a woman in the 19th century west who runs up against a flamboyant and dangerous preacher (Jason Isaacs) and a rambunctious sheriff (Ed Harris) when her world is thrown into chaos.
I had the chance to speak with Jones in Park City earlier this week in anticipation of the film’s premiere, and she talked about keeping her character grounded opposite the colorful performances by Isaacs and Harris, the ambiguity of her character at the beginning of the film, and what influenced her performance. In addition, Jones talked about her non-involvement in the sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past and the evolution of her character Betty on Mad Men over the past five seasons. Read on after the jump.
Collider: The characters played by Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris are kind of colorful and a little larger than life, and your character by contrast is more grounded and easier to relate to. Was it important to you to kind of keep that character a little more down to earth?
JANUARY JONES: Well I think the sort of broadness and very theatrical way they both play their characters gives them an edge of fear in their characters, where I think my strength and the thing that I wanted to do—it wouldn’t have been believable if my character did that, you would be scared of her. The moment I put on the war paint and the dress and I go and stalk these guys and seek my revenge, I don’t say hardly anything for the rest of the film, and I thought that the power made it that much more frightening to have that. And then in the beginning of the film, hopefully she’s just portrayed as a regular housewife who’s had a very sort of sad and dark past, but she’s come around and she’s trying to turn her life around and be a farmer with her husband who she loves. But when that is taken away from her, that past, I think, lends the strength and the violence comes from that past, I think. It has to have.
That’s another thing I wanted to ask you about, when you see the beginning of the film you kind of assume that your character is gonna be “the good girl” who might take justice into her own hands, but it’s all in service to doing what’s right. We quickly realize that that’s not exactly the case, and there aren’t many clearly black and white, “good” or “bad” people.
JONES: Right and that was done intentionally, you’re not supposed to know if she’s gonna be in it very much or where she stands or what role that is, is she just gonna be the sad widow? How does her character play into the rest of the film? So when it does happen, it comes as a shock.
JONES: I didn’t any influences from any other films, certainly not Westerns because there wasn’t a character like her—that was a female character anyway. Maybe like a Clint Eastwood or something but that’s such a sacred genre and role, we’re not trying to emulate that in any way. I would listen to certain music before certain scenes. You know those stalking scenes I’d have the Jaws soundtrack in the back of my head (laughs). It was in the story and I didn’t feel like I needed to do any research, I mean I know what prostitutes do, I’ve never been one but I can only imagine that it was a very hard time for her, I mean you see this scene with her mother and it wasn’t something that she wanted or chose for herself, but I really love the fact that instead of—when she makes the decision to go take her revenge she doesn’t garb herself in men’s clothing or do a Calamity Jane, she uses her past and her sexuality to lure them in, and that’s her weapon. I love that she does that, she’s not hiding, she’s not camouflaged, she’s wearing a bright purple dress and this crazy makeup and she’s dangerous.
I was a big, big fan of X-Men: First Class. Are you looking forward to going back to that world for the sequel?
JONES: I don’t know that I’m in it, I don’t think Emma’s in this one. Well they haven’t told me if I am (laughs). I wouldn’t put it past them though, I got the script for the first one on the airplane on the way there. It’s called Days of Future Past I think, and I think it’s more about James [McAvoy] and Michael [Fassbender] and then Patrick [Stewart] and Ian [McKellan], and I think it’s gonna go back and forth with those so I don’t think Emma’s in those bits. I don’t know, I really don’t know.
We just learned that Mad Men is coming back in April and I know you can’t talk about the new season, but I’ve been thinking about how Betty is kind of one of the characters that has changed the most over the course of the series. As things are kind of winding down to the final two season, how do you feel reflecting on Betty’s arc over the past few years?
JONES: I mean it’s my favorite thing about playing her, she has changed. Every season she’s essentially a different person, and that’s been great for me because the fear that you have as an actor when you’re signing a five-year contract for a TV show is where are they gonna take my character? Am I gonna hate what they do or am I gonna be bored out of my mind playing the same stuff over and over again? So I hope that she continues to change until we stop, and I hope that—I mean [creator] Matthew [Weiner’s] been amazing at continuing to challenge me and make me do things out of my comfort zone and play this very believable character and believable because she keeps chaning. I’m not the same person I was five years ago.
Click here to catch up on all of our 2013 Sundance Film Festival coverage thus far.