CASE IN POINT
Transforming into US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her latest role, British actress Felicity Jones is fighting to let her work speak for itself.
British actress Felicity Jones transformed into US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her latest role.
Felicity Jones has spent the better part of the last year perfecting a Brooklyn accent, but when she answers the phone it is with a crisp English lilt. It’s a Friday night in Los Angeles and Jones is discussing her latest film, On The Basis of Sex, for which she steps into the shoes of US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film passed its highest test before the press tour even began. “I heard that she’s been telling everyone that there’s a movie about her and to go see it,” Jones recounts of Ginsburg’s reaction to the film. “Which is great: she’s on the front line of marketing!”
The front line is exactly where Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been for most of her life. In her earlier years, the Brooklynborn lawyer rose to prominence for choosing cases that would challenge gender discrimination in the courts, inching the bar forward towards equality while fighting for women’s rights, case by case. Now, at 85, she still serves as a Supreme Court justice, but she has also become a fully fledged feminist icon, earning the nickname ‘the Notorious R.B.G’ for her trademark dissents. “She’s a rebel, she doesn’t conform to ideas that she doesn’t believe in,” explains Jones. “There’s a true punk in her.”
Jones, who lives in London, spent three months researching Ginsburg for the film, which was written by Daniel Stiepleman (Ginsburg’s nephew). Jones says it is as much a love story as it is anything else – it follows the tale of Ginsburg tackling her very first gender discrimination case in 1971, which she does alongside the unwavering support of her husband, Martin D Ginsburg. “I listened to all of Ruth’s cases to see her development as a lawyer and how she gained her confidence,” Jones recalls. “It’s almost like suddenly everything comes together in the 70s – social change is happening [and] that allows her to do the work that she’s doing. With that, she works out what her thing is and she works out her vibe. So that’s what we wanted to show.”
To become Ginsburg, Jones wore grey contact lenses over her green eyes, capped her teeth and carefully practised the justice’s slow and deliberate gait. Then there was the accent. “She has a beautiful voice, she has real power in it, but she’s very, very carefully spoken. The voice gave me lots of clues about the times as well, when having a regional accent was not expected, was not allowed almost. What’s amazing in those recordings is when she’s really emboldened, her Brooklyn accent spins out and is unmistakable.” Jones had to learn to perform the accent of someone who was herself performing an accent. “It is about becoming another person and it’s about making those physical and vocal changes so I could be as much like Ruth as possible.”
It’s this careful approach to her work that has secured English-born Jones her place in Hollywood. Jones says her love of acting was instilled in her by her mother and grandmother, who were “huge cinephiles”. The 35-year-old has starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Theory of Everything, the latter of which secured Jones an Oscar nomination. Next, she will play a lead role in The Aeronauts, a hot-air balloon adventure film that will see her reunite with her Theory of Everything co-star Eddie Redmayne.
And yet, unlike other Hollywood actresses, Jones has managed to keep her personal life, well, personal. Even details of her wedding last year to director Charles Guard are scarce, although she has confirmed she wore Erdem for her big day. “I feel like it happened naturally, just because my private life isn’t that exciting,” Jones says with a laugh. “I’ve managed to keep a focus on the work.” Indeed, she carefully selects roles that allow her to portray “someone who’s got a bit of life”, always aiming to let her films speak for her. “I grew up a real tomboy, so I’m not afraid of a bit of a fight,” Jones concedes. That’s something she has in common with ‘the Notorious R.B.G’. On The Basis of Sex is in cinemas February 7.
“I LISTENED TO ALL OF RUTH’S CASES TO SEE HER DEVELOPMENT AS A LAWYER”
Felicity Jones plays Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On The Basis of Sex.