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Felicity Jones on The Theory of Everything, Lena Dunham, and Spider-Man

Felicity Jones. Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones make a smashing pair in The Theory of Everything, where he plays the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and she’s his wife, Jane. Loyal to her husband but conflicted about their future and the intense demands of his physical handicap, Jane finds herself falling for her handsome church choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox), and how she and Stephen expand the parameters of their marriage to include him gives Everything its special something. Jones recently sat down with Vulture to talk about her sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated role, her brief guest stint on Girls, and whether we might see her playing a superheroine sometime soon.

I was pleased to find that the movie isn’t just a tortured-genius biopic; that, at its heart, it’s the progressive story of an open marriage.
Well, that’s what I loved about it. The film wasn’t afraid to explore the female sexuality of a woman who’s in the very complicated position of falling in love with two men, and it’s also not afraid to explore the sexuality of a disabled man. Reading it, I thought in no way is this a conventional biopic. As you say, it’s the anatomy of a relationship in many ways. It’s understanding what couples need to do in order to make a relationship survive, and sometimes you do whatever it takes to ensure that. I love that it’s bringing that to the cinema.

When I’ve told people that it’s a movie about Stephen Hawking, some people will say, “But does it gloss over the fact that he had an affair?” as though it’s some salacious detail that wouldn’t be mentioned in the stuffy movie they’re picturing. When, in actuality …
… You’ve got something very bohemian going on! And that’s what I kept finding with Jane and Stephen, is that the surface tells you nothing. When you dig deeper, they are two people who were actually incredibly rock-and-roll. Because of having experienced disability and prejudice, I feel like that made Jane and Stephen even more courageous and defiant. Actually, Jane told me this story where they were at a Cambridge ball and everyone was dancing together, and they were on the sidelines thinking, What do we do in this situation? And then Stephen just zoomed into the middle of the floor in his electric wheelchair, and Jane starts dancing around him as he’s spinning in the center. I just loved her telling that story, and it tells you so much about them: They got to a point where they didn’t care what people thought.

There are plenty of movies about tortured male geniuses and the patient wives who love them, but this one is unusually dedicated to Jane’s point of view, and her own life and desires.
You don’t get those parts very often. When I sat down and read the script — and I always read it on paper, I hate reading it off an email — I just read it straight away in one sitting. And it was that thing: The film kept getting more and more intricate, and a huge part of that was that it was very much a story of two people, not just him. What I love about their relationship was that it could be quite antagonistic because they’re so similar: They both have academic ambitions, and that conflict actually helped the relationship last for so long. What I felt when I met Jane and had dinner with her is that she has this amazing ability to command a room, but she does it in this very light way with a very whispery 1950s voice. There was something of the battle general in her, and there’s that scene where she’s talking to her father-in-law, who tells her, “This is going to be a huge defeat,” and for me that moment was Jane responding, “No, this is going to be a call to arms. We’re going to get through this, and I’m going to make sure we are.”

It’s rare in the movies to have a religious woman whose sex drive is actually dealt with — and respectfully, at that.
Absolutely! I got excited when you said that, because so often, we get used to cliché: The idea that because you’re religious, you must be repressed. That’s not the case! That’s what I kept discovering in playing Jane, was that these seeming opposites can exist within the same person. She was someone whose sexual identity was important to her and was brave enough to admit to it, and that was a revolutionary thing to do.

Did you feel like you had to put Jane at ease when you first met her?
Instinctively, I felt like it was something where we had to earn each other’s trust — particularly, I had to earn hers! [Laughs.] I felt that going in, and I was really apprehensive before I went to meet her. I knew how much she was revealing of herself and Stephen, and actually, it took our screenwriter Anthony McCarten eight years before she agreed to make the film of her book. He had pursued it, and she was very reluctant: She wanted to make sure that Stephen was onboard with it and that she had his blessing. As Stephen does, Jane considers things very deeply. They’re not glib people, and you can see that in the movie: She’s in love with two men, and the way they negotiated that was extraordinary. She and Jonathan had huge philosophical debates about it, because they’re both people of faith, and there was actually a scene that was cut where they went to speak to a reverend and ask his permission to find out what they should do about this growing love between them. That takes a lot of people relinquishing their egos, to bring about that unusual family situation where they could support each other and protect their integrity as a family.

And let’s be real: It’s not so bad to roll into set and have both Eddie Redmayne and Charlie Cox as your love interests.
I mean, exactly! I loved it. A woman with those two men in her life, it sounds great. [Laughs.]

How did your small role on Girls come about last season?
That came from a mutual appreciation between Lena and I for each other’s work. Her film Tiny Furniture and my film Like Crazy came out at a similar time, and we’d seen each other’s work and really liked it, and then we had a meeting in L.A., and a year or so later, she asked me, “Would you come and play this part called Dottie?” I said, “Well, if she’s called Dottie, I’ve got to come and do it! I can’t give up that one!”

You played the daughter of Richard E. Grant, and you were a hilarious mess.
Which I loved. I love working with Lena. She’s a huge fan of Mike Leigh, and I love Mike Leigh’s work, and it felt like that. I love what she does on that show, and in some way, what I was trying to do with Jane is what Lena and her team achieve on Girls: They never fall into cliché, do they?

And the female characters on Girls can contain opposing wants and sexual desires, like Jane.
And I loved that with the male characters in the second season, it almost becomes like Tolstoy. They got richer and richer and more nuanced, and it felt like the show was such a relief. Thank God someone is saying the truth of things.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the female-driven Spider-Man spinoff. Sony hasn’t yet announced who the protagonist would be, but some people think it might be your character, Felicia Hardy, from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Well, I know as much as you, but I loved playing that character. I think she’s a rich character, and I’d love to continue with her.

It was a very small role, but did you take it knowing that the character could eventually become Black Cat, a significant Spider-Man figure?
Absolutely. I know nothing of it yet, but I would love to do something like that, definitely. It would be exercising a different muscle.

And you’d be exercising even more muscles to train for it.
Literally! All the muscles! [Laughs.]

Felicity Jones on The Theory of Everything