TORONTO—Even on her own and off the red carpet, Felicity Jones, the British ingénue who plays Jane Hawking in the biopic The Theory of Everything (now playing), is well put together, wearing 6-inch stilletos and a Dior dress that appears to be composed of recycled white grocery-store bags, woven into very elaborate raffia-like lace patterns.
Though she doesn’t look like a woman indifferent to public opinion, when the Straight met up with Jones in a hotel suite last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, she allowed that she was on the verge.
“Yep, I just had a ‘I don’t care moment’, and there is something so peaceful inside me right now,” the actress confirmed, sinking down into the couch before cheerily attributing her insouciance to a) turning 30 last year and b) feeling exhausted in only the way that a film festival can make you feel.
“Life’s short, and you literally just can’t care about what people think all the time,” she said.
Jones was similarly attracted to her Theory of Everything role by the fact that the real-life Jane Hawking was never crippled by public opinion—that, in fact, she was “very brave and real.” The film is an intimate portrait of the marriage between Jane and Stephen Hawking, the latter being perhaps the world’s most famous scientist as well as a beacon of hope for people with neurodegenerative disease. (Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at 21 and given a bad prognosis, but he has now survived another 50 years and counting. In general, ALS sufferers have an average survival rate of about five years after diagnosis.)
He is also a figure not unfamiliar to controversy, especially in his public statements about women, both in his well-attended lectures and in his widely read memoir (My Brief History). The Theory of Everything is largely based on Jane Hawking’s own memoir, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking, which is intimate and unflinching. But it refuses to be moralistic, even when depicting a failed marriage or two people who both find love, eventually, elsewhere.
“I liked that neither [Stephen nor Jane Hawking] are turned into saints. Especially Jane. She’s a strong-principled woman, but she is also a woman who fell in love with someone else while she was married. Often in films where the female has this kind of infidelity, she, well, she has to die. And Jane doesn’t die,” said Jones, with satisfaction.
“I think she’s a very special person, so loyal and self-sacrificing,” she continued. “It’s almost an old-fashioned idea in some ways. Clarity and strength of character, whereas now we live in a maybe very much more fluid society.”
The Hawkings, who are now divorced, spent a great deal of time with Jones and with actor-model Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen, to the point where Jane Hawking lent Jones clothes and showed her intimate slides of her younger self. But why, I ask, would the Hawkings be so willing to let filmmakers into their lives?
“Because they’re rock and roll, and because they’re such mavericks,” answered Jones. “I think that’s the reason Stephen’s lived for so long, because they’re really brave people. That’s the thing that’s so remarkable about both of them, is that they’re always pushing boundaries, without that sounding too cliché. They’re fearless, they really are. And I guess that’s the thing about caring for someone who is suffering from ALS, it means that you really live life to the fullest, because you never know when that person is going to die.”