Star Wars’ warrior princess
growingup, I always felt Star Wars belonged to the boys, however much I played with lightsabers. When the galaxy finally included a female lead – Daisy Ridley’s Rey in 2015’s The Force Awakens, I rejoiced. Rogue One, which takes place 34 years prior, gave us another bold woman: Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, a character who is rash and assertive – messy, thrilling traits that too few actresses get in big-budget action movies. And Felicity understands how Jyn changed the game. As a little girl, she dreamt of playing love-struck Ariel from The Little Mermaid. But at 33, the Oxford-educated actress got the chance to play a new kind of Disney princess: “a very contemporary, kick-ass princess,” she says. And her CV is filled with take-charge roles like Jyn – her first Oscar nomination was for her portrayal of Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Says the self-proclaimed feminist, “What I love in my work is showing a full-sided woman, a woman who is strong but flawed.”
glamour You started acting as a kid. How did you persuade your parents to let you go on auditions?
FELICITY They never put up huge obstacles. But there was an emphasis on getting a good education. So I would work as hard as possible at school so that I could keep acting alongside. Most of the time I was in the background. I never played [the Virgin] Mary. I was always kind of the third angel.
Where did you get your work ethic?
My mother worked incredibly hard when she was bringing us up. She was a working mother and a working single parent. [Felicity’s parents divorced when she was a child; she lived with her mom.] That instils determination in you. But my father, a journalist, is a feminist as well. He talked to us about school and work, and also gave us a strong sense of identity in terms of finding what we wanted to do.
Was it important to you, even as a kid, to make your own money?
I always had a strong sense of independence. I liked being able to buy my Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill album. I wore that as a badge of honour. I love not having to rely on anyone.
Which role did you want as a kid?
The first film I ever saw at the cinema was The Little Mermaid, so I wanted to be Ariel. Now I’m playing a Disney princess. [Disney bought the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas in 2012.] A kick-ass Disney princess!
Who introduced you to Star Wars? My boy cousins used to sit my older brother and me down and take us through a film-studies course. It included Tremors, The Goonies and, of course, Star Wars. That was when it began: sitting cross-legged watching as the opening crawl goes up the screen.
What was your audition process?
My agent called me and said, “There is a tremendous female lead in the new Star Wars film, and I think you’re going to like it.” The opportunity to play someone determined, who is trying to find her skills as a leader; to be in a fantasy movie; to be able to do a leading female role in a film of that scale – that’s very, very rare.
Jyn is reckless, aggressive and undisciplined, traits we see in male heroes, but rarely in female heroes.
She’s a bit of a wounded animal when you meet her. There were moments when she’s been blown over, she’s scrambling to get up, and she falls. It’s important that she’s not perfect. [The director] Gareth Edwards and I wanted to see her being a human being.
You could describe Han Solo using those same words.
She’s obviously completely her own woman, but I felt like she was a rather beautiful blend of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo – and that came up in discussions around the costume design.
Was your costume utilitarian from the start, or did you have to push back against sexing it up?
Not for a second. Everyone wanted to create a character that was not in any way objectified. We didn’t want to sexualise Jyn.
So... no moment where Jyn is a prisoner in a gold bikini?
No way! We don’t even see Jyn’s arms! That’s not her priority. She’s a survivor and she has a mission to complete.
It’s a big deal that there were no eye candy moments for teenage boys.
Gareth said early on, “I want guys to watch it and be like, ‘I want to be Jyn!’” A female friend of mine said, “I love that Jyn looks how we look, with trousers and a long-sleeved top.” We aren’t in hot pants. When do women walk around wearing hot pants?
Were your feminist needs met by this movie?
What I love in my work is being able to explore a full-sided woman and not patronise her. Particularly with Jyn, it’s a rare opportunity to play a female who’s not just thinking about romance.
Did Daisy’s Rey in Awakens help to put gender wariness to bed?
Absolutely. I hope we’re now in a place where, of course, women are going to be leading action films as well as men. I feel like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and then obviously Daisy in The Force Awakens, all passed on the baton.
How did you feel on stage at the Star Wars Celebration fan convention, holding up Jyn Erso’s action figure?
It felt really momentous in how far we’ve come from when I was growing up.
My mother wouldn’t allow me to play with Barbies. I was a tomboy running around the garden. I grew up with all boy cousins, for the most part, and my brother. My mother was in the kind of late ’60s, early ’70s origins of female emancipation. And she was very much like, “You’re not going to be defined by how you look. It’s going to be about who you are and what you do.”
How did you earn the nickname ‘Tiny Warrior’?
I’m small and I’m petite, but I’m a bit of a fighter inside. In my work I fight for, I hope, showing women in a true way. They’ve got brains.
That’s true of your new string of roles. Is that deliberate?
I’ve never taken a role where I don’t like a person on the page.
Have you suggested a change to a character?
I’m keen to make sure the woman isn’t asking too many questions. Sometimes that can be an issue – always asking and never speaking in statements.
How else do you negotiate between work and your personal life?
I’m keen to have balance, as much as possible. I put every ounce of myself into work, but also it’s important that I don’t miss every single wedding of my best friends. I couldn’t do what I do without my friends and family.
Do you feel comfortable talking about equal pay? One report says you made twice as much as your male co-stars for
Rogue One. I want to be paid fairly for the work I’m doing. That’s what every single woman around the world wants. We want to be paid on parity with a man in a similar position, and I think it’s important to talk about it. It’s brave of women to come forward and make a point about it. Now younger actresses will have a confidence in those discussions with their agents and they will be able to say, “Can we make sure that I’m being paid the right amount for my work?”
A Monster Calls,
In you play a mom who has cancer, but she is more than just the ‘mom with cancer’.
Lizzie is still a bit of a child herself. She’s not always sweet and light. To cope with what’s happening, she’s quite tough. And she’s physically stripped down, too. I hate it when, in films, the girl looks perfect in every shot. It’s quite nice if there’s a bit of dark circles under the eyes, if we see the reality of the situation the person is going through. I was so obsessed with all the details. So very quickly, the “How do I look?” thing goes out the window. Those moments when you don’t feel self-conscious, when you escape that, are when you produce something meaningful.
It’s nice to hear an actress say she feels least self-conscious when she’s not trying to look glamorous.
I do, particularly.
Playwright Polly Stenham, called you “hellishly funny”. Who makes you laugh?
My friends, family and my boyfriend [director Charles Guard].
When was the last time you really laughed at a TV show or movie?
I both laughed and cried at Girls. I just have such respect for creator and actress Lena Dunham. And I got to be in it, which was fantastic.