In light of Stephen Hawking's passing on March 13, after a decades-long battle with ALS, Download.com revisits interviewsmore
In light of Stephen Hawking's passing on March 13, after a decades-long battle with ALS, Download.com revisits interviews with actress Felicity Jones and director James Marsh about the 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, based on the life of the late theoretical physicist. Eddie Redmayne went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Hawking himself.
In the film, Felicity Jones plays author and teacher Jane Hawking, who stuck by her husband for decades through his ALS battle and whose memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen inspired the film. Now best known for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and soon to rejoin Redmayne in the action-adventure film The Aeronauts, Felicity Jones sat down with James Marsh and Download in 2014 to discuss The Theory of Everything, their recollections of Stephen Hawking, and their favorite apps.
JM: What real life gives you is unarguable truths, and also surprising stories, because people do the most unlikely things. You can't make it up. In the case of The Theory of Everything, it's a portrait of a relationship that actually happened, so there are certainties from that relationship that are a given, like Jane deciding to stay with Stephen and marry him with the understanding that he'd probably die within two or three years. But that doesn't happen, so other choices have to be made as a result of the new circumstances they're in, so it's an ongoing dynamic of moral and practical choices.
FJ: In terms of understanding The Theory of Everything, it was interesting thinking about Jane and the time she lived in and how that affects her behavior. As a woman brought up in the '50s, and living in the early '60s, she was of a particular social class where she was expected to be a good wife and mother. And in some ways, she was a pioneer at the forefront of a generation of women that was starting to feel that they want their own identity. They wanted to have their own careers, and she was among the first of her generation saying, "OK, I want to be a wife, but I also want something else," and that was really interesting to explore.
FJ: I just did a full-frontal attack on understanding who she was. It was about finding out everything I could about Jane, reading her book, understanding her ideology, going to church, and meeting her, which was phenomenal. I was so scared beforehand, because I just thought, "This woman is such a trouper." And then seeing her, the way she walks, that gave me so much material. She has this very balletic way of moving, so I worked with a movement coach and with a music coach because she loved singing, and a dialect coach to change my voice to be more like hers. Then looking at images of her from her late teens to her 60's, and seeing how her dress and hair changes -- and why does she make these decisions about her hair and dress? It's a bit like being a detective, working out who that person was and understanding them both emotionally, but also how those emotional motivations are expressed physically.
FJ: Well, she just had this incredible determination, commitment, and devotion, and I loved that about her. She's a woman of many facets, that she's not only pragmatic, very organized and looking after Stephen and always trying to maintain Stephen's dignity. She was fiercely protective of Stephen, but at the same time, there was this love and very romantic side. She was someone who loved poetry, and she and Stephen had very different ideologies. She couldn't explain everything in the world, but Stephen had a much more rational approach, believing that you can come up with a mathematical explanation for everything. There was just such a rich character and story.
JM: Anthony McCarten adapted the book, and I think he was faithful to it. Along the way, of course, he embellished and added a lot. The humor in the script was Anthony's but prompted by Stephen's own wit and mischief. I think it's one of those things where when you meet him, it's clear that you're meeting a witty and mischievous person. So Anthony caught that in Stephen's character and added that layer to it, which is appropriate to the character. But certainly, the book was the source material for Anthony.
I met with Jane and later with Stephen. Probably the greatest endorsement could have been from Stephen himself. One of the things he said was it felt to him to be broadly true, which is about as good as it gets for a biographical novel of someone's intimate life. Second, he wrote an email that at certain points he thought that he was seeing himself on the screen. So those two observations from Stephen are probably the most valuable criticism I'll ever get of this film. I feel like we got the basic things right in the retelling.
JM: He's a public figure and an eminent scientist in his field who's written in a popular way to try to mediate between the abstractions of his field and the laymen. He's done that very successfully. That's the first thing he's known for, and obviously, he has a progressive and appalling disability that his scientific career transcends. So those are responsibilities that weigh upon you, to try and humanize and actually get into the messy business of a marriage that doesn't always go well, and behavior that isn't always appropriate. Being respectful to the living people in the film while also being truthful to their experience is quite a fine line to dance.
FJ: That's what attracted me to this script in the first place -- that it wasn't the straightforward biopic we've seen a million times before. It was a nuanced understanding of the more intimate sides of a very famous person's life. And I felt instinctively that those quieter stories are no less relevant. They may not be as glamorous, but they're still relevant, and all of us loved that about the script. That the people in the background are just as important as the person who's out there being famous, that they're both interesting stories to tell.
Original interview took place on Oct. 8, 2014.
I use Artemis, which is a director's viewfinder with lenses. When I'm working, that app is used every day, where you frame shots through lenses that the viewfinder shows you.
It's an app that saves long-form journalism. I go to a site called Longform.org, and I often put articles in Pocket when I want to read them later offline. I use it every single day.
I use iTunes to make and play endless playlists -- playlists for waking up in the morning or for a film I'm working on.
I'm always in new countries and need to find my way around.
I couldn't live without Skype, because it means when I'm away, I get to communicate with my friends and family. It's saved my life.
It is great for communicating for free with people back in England when I'm in other countries.