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Interview: Felicity Jones on playing Stephen Hawking's rich and complex wife

The "Theory of Everything" star says Jane Hawking is just as much a rock star as her ex-husband.

Felicity Jones is making a habit of playing female partners of powerful men, though ones that are just as fascinating and rich as the man next to them. In “The Invisible Woman” she played Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, Charles Dickens’ secret mistress. Equally formidable is Jane Hawking, the now ex-wife of theoretical physicist Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), in “Theory of Everything” — a fellow academic as well as a devout Christian, albeit one who spent decades married to one of history’s most famous atheists.

Are you at all a science person?

I’m much about reading poetry than about science. But what was interesting here was that Jane and Stephen, they’re both trying to understand the fundamental questions but through different means: Jane through philosophy and literature and poetry and faith; and Stephen through science and rationalism. I loved that juxtaposition.

Jane has a very interesting perspective. She’s not portrayed as a routine churchgoer who’s not interested in science.

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I was always trying to understand Jane’s ideology. Her faith has helped her. She got very depressed and had a difficult time after she met Jonathan [a man with whom she fell in love as Stephen’s condition worsened]. She was a full-time mother of three children with a career. Faith helped to continue doing that. She’s someone with a strong sense of commitment. She fell in love with Stephen, but she stuck to her beliefs.

It’s odd that she and a hardcore atheist got along so well.

They shared an intellectual empathy with each other. Jane was very much a part of Stephen’s intellectual life. When he lost the ability to write, she would type up his theses and the early drafts of his books. She was very much a part of his academic life.

She’s very much not portrayed as simply The Wife of a Great Man.

What I liked is she’s vulnerable. She has this love, but at the same time she’s incredibly tough. But she’s not just tough. Nowadays everyone’s obsessed with women being tough. But for me it’s about character who are rich in many different ways. And there was something particularly interesting about Jane. At first she seems quite unintimidating. But there’s this cool determination and survival instinct. Both she and Stephen just don’t care. They’re really rock ‘n’ roll. They’re not bothered about what everyone is thinking.

She suffers a lot but she never makes a meal of it.

In my notes I was always writing “unsentimental, unsentimental, unsentimental.” There was no self-pity. I think that’s a very English, postwar mentality. It’s that idea of you’ve got to get on with it, keep calm and carry on.

It’s pretty unusual that this doesn’t make a big deal out of her falling for someone else while married to the ailing Stephen, much less that it ends with them amicably divorcing.

It’s a very unusual love story. They don’t ride off into the sunset at the end. It’s saying happiness doesn’t always lie in these conventional modes of thought. You can have happiness and sometimes life doesn’t go to plan, though you could still be happy. By the end they live their separate lives and it’s all OK.

This is a case where you actually got to speak to the person you were playing.

Meeting Jane after reading her book gave me so much more material. I was watching her intensely — watching the way she moves, the way she picks up a teacup. She has these very ladylike qualities. I worked with a movement coach to capture how that changes over 20 years. Then her voice is very high-pitched — a very finely spoken voice.

What was her reaction to the film?

She said I got her voice. That meant a lot.

Token Marvel question: You had a small role in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which was by far the largest film you’ve ever been in. How did you take to that?

It was really fun. [Laughs] I was so used to very intimate, small rooms and intense scenes. It was great to do something that was a little more lighthearted. And [director] Marc Webb is someone who cares about character and story.

You played Felicia Hardy, who in the comics becomes Black Cat. Are they prepping you to take that character on?

You know as much as me. [Laughs]

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge

 
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