The Rise of Felicity Jones: Inside Her Year of Oscar Buzz, Tom Hanks and 'Star Wars'
By John Boone
If Felicity Jones is having a moment, it's the type that stretches the very definition of exactly how much time a "moment" consists of. She's been having this moment for years now, ever since she won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2011 for the indie gem, Like Crazy. It's a moment that saw her earn her first Academy Award nomination in 2015, for The Theory of Everything. All that being said, 2016 may have been her best year yet, career-wise.
"Look, I have a smile permanently on my face," the 33-year-old actress recently trilled to ET, pointing to her cheeks, which were in fact dimpled in happiness. "I'm just enjoying it. I love what I do, and it's lovely to hopefully keep doing. I'm enjoying every minute. It's a real ride."
It likely doesn't feel like a moment anymore, but the Birmingham-born actress is having quite a year: She co-starred alongside Tom Hanks in the third Da Vinci Code film, Inferno, and earned early Oscar buzz for playing a dying mother in the haunting festival darling, A Monster Calls. To cap it off, Jones saved that galaxy far, far away in Star Wars' first stand-alone "Story," Rogue One.
Director Ron Howard enlisted Jones for Inferno to play Sienna Brooks, a doctor who attempts to help our hero, Robert Langdon (Hanks), recover his memories as the two go on the run together. And run they did, through Venice and Florence and Budapest, with Jones wearing heels the whole time -- to much less fanfare than, say, Bryce Dallas Howard got in Jurassic World.
"Running in heels takes a lot of skill. But it's something that us women have to get used to," Jones told ET at the film's junket in Italy. Heels were a necessity, she explained, mimicking the confusion she would have caused had she worn flats: "Who's that midget that's running next to you, Tom?"
Jones won the Britannia Awards' British Artist of the Year honor in October, where Hanks said of her, "Turns out, Felicity could have used the professional name of Happiness Jones. Or Eloquence Jones. Or, my favorite: Elegance Good Fortune Jones. They all mean the same thing as Felicity." The actor, yucking it up onstage, continued, "That's Felicity Jones! That's who she is!"
Jones took a somber turn in A Monster Calls, from visionary director J.A. Bayona, playing the terminally ill mum of a young boy (the exceptional Lewis MacDougall). The film, in theaters Dec. 23, is a powerful story of life and death, love and loss, and a monstrous tree voiced by Liam Neeson.
"It's wonderful that people have enjoyed it and have responded to it," Jones humbly replied to awards season buzz for her gutting performance. "You never know how a film is going to turn out. As an actor, you come in and you do your part. To watch it and see all the elements, the fantasy and animation and this beautiful story underlying it, it's like nothing you've quite seen before."
Thus far, the Best Supporting Actress race is proving to be tighter than ever, and both Jones and A Monster Calls have regrettably been overlooked for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Back during the film's press day, though, Jones' maternal side shone through as she and her onscreen son recalled bonding over a roller coaster ride on a trip to a theme park and visiting the orangutans at the zoo. She also passed on Oscars advice to him.
"Hold on tight," she smiled, leaning over to MacDougall. "Like the roller coaster!"
Due to, as she puts it, "a very little amount of sleep and a lot of work," Jones managed to fit a third film in for this year: A little project called Rogue One. It is not her first time working on a big budget, franchise-type film -- she co-starred in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and was rumored to play Black Cat, before the franchise was canceled -- but with the inaugural Star Wars Story opening to hundreds of millions of dollars, it's certainly her most successful.
"It's very strange when you're cast in Star Wars, because you can't tell anyone," she told ET. "You're like, But I'm in the coolest franchise that's ever been and no one's allowed to know?! I'd start talking, and then I'd think, 'Oh no! I have to stop myself because I'm going to reveal something.'" She mimed zipping her lips. "Luckily, I think I managed to keep most of it under my hat."
With Rogue One now in theaters, fans now know that Jones plays Jyn Erso, a reluctant Rebel leader whose mission is to steal plans for the Empire's Death Star. Following Daisy Ridley's star-making turn in last year's The Force Awakens, Jones is but the latest strong, female lead in a Star Wars film.
"Rather than it being a trend or being something unusual, I would hope that we're in a world now where we have an equal amount of male leads and equal amount of female leads," she thoughtfully explained at the Star Wars celebration over the summer. "And that's absolutely how it should be."
Despite being undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the year, Jones hasn't packed her upcoming slate with projects yet. She has an action flick, Collide, opposite Nicholas Hoult that will come out Feb. 3, and it was recently announced that she will host Saturday Night Live when the show returns on Jan. 14. Whatever comes after that, it's safe to say it will be tough to top Rogue One, the experience of which Jones is seemingly still trying to process.
"You walk on to set and it was, like, stormtroopers drinking coffee and smoking," she said, breaking into a laugh. "Walking on to set and seeing helicopters going past and looking up and seeing a giant monkey hanging out of a helicopter with a blaster, shooting at you. That is not something you see every day. It is not."