Playing the notorious RBG
Felicity Jones feels great force in Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The “Star Wars” universe is in a galaxy far, far away from the United States Supreme Court, but Felicity Jones has found a connection. After her heroic efforts as Jyn Erso in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Jones has stepped into the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”
“In some ways, playing a ‘Star Wars’ heroine prepared me for playing Ruth, who I deeply believe has the Force in her,” Jones says. “When anything is really loved, people have a great sense of ownership. I adore Ruth, and in some ways, the only person who could play Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So I had big shoes to fill with ‘Star Wars,’ and with Ruth.”
“On the Basis of Sex” looks at the early life of Ginsburg, going from a struggling attorney and new mother to one of the most powerful legal forces in the courts when fighting for equal rights. Her earliest challenge comes through a groundbreaking tax case she takes on with her husband, attorney Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), that could change the direction of her career and the way the courts view gender discrimination.
One reason Jones can so easily compare the Supreme Court justice with a space warrior comes from the admiration she has for Ginsburg.
“She had been involved from the very beginning and had given notes on every single draft of the script,” Jones says. “She said she had seen my work and knew I could do it. That gave me enormous confidence.
“I knew we had her blessing going into the film, and that made all the difference because I was absolutely petrified playing someone who is so beloved, and rightly so because she has operated with such integrity and stood by her beliefs. She has not been affected by money or fame. It has come from the truth of fighting against injustice.”
Other works of Jones that Ginsburg could have seen includes “Like Crazy,” “Inferno,” “A Monster Calls” and “The Invisible Woman.” Next up for the British actor is “The Aeronauts,” a film that reunites her with “The Theory of Everything” costar Eddie Redmayne, followed by the animated “Dragon Rider” and a film version of “Swan Lake.”
Mimi Leder noticed the positive effect Ginsburg’s pep talk had on Jones. The director says Jones embodied Ginsburg in an honest way and that she found her essence to make Ginsburg her own.
This isn’t the first time Jones has taken on a project based on the life of a real person. In “The Theory of Everything,” she played Jane Hawking, wife of Stephen Hawking and in the TV miniseries “The Diary of Anne Frank,” she portrayed Margot Frank. Jones has felt a deep responsibility each time.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to play real people because they have entrusted me with their life story. You don’t take that for granted and you don’t take it lightly,” Jones says. “What was fascinating with Ruth was navigat-
ing someone who I similarly share an adoration for.
“At the same time I have to play the reality of someone. I have to play their human experience and the truthfulness of that.”
Taking on the role comes with an additional bonus because of story’s inspirational nature. Jones loves taking on a project that has huge potential to change the way people think. She expects “On the Basis of Sex” to give people “a little bit of hope” in making positive changes in the world.
It wasn’t always the legal scenes where Jones was able to play the truthfulness of Ginsburg. The film also mixes in life at home with Ginsburg as a mother and wife. One of the biggest helps Jones got in taking on the latter aspect came when she and Hammer met for the first time with the Supreme Court Justice in her office. Jones noticed Ginsburg could not stop staring at Hammer.
“That’s when I thought ‘Ah, you are human,’” Jones says with a huge laugh. “You could see the love and affection she had for Marty through the way she was looking at Armie.”
Felicity Jones portrays Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”
Armie Hammer portrays Marty Ginsburg, left, and Felicity Jones portrays Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”