Breathe In: Felicity Jones Describes the Film’s ‘Thriller’ Origins

I have been trying to get an interview with Felicity Jones for three years, since I saw Like Crazy at Sundance in 2011. Somehow our schedules never matched up and Like Crazy came out, The Invisible Woman came out, but now I finally got to talk to her for Breathe In. In her second film with Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, Jones plays Sophie, an exchange student living with music professor Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce), who is not only jealous of her talent but sparks an undeniable chemistry. The way Doremus works is improvisational, from an outline but exploring their characters as they work. Now that I finally had the chance, I attempted to delve in to Felicity Jones’s process.

Oh, and spoiler alert for the ambiguous ending to Like Crazy. That was my first question.


CraveOnline: Very important question first. Are Jacob and Anna still together?

Felicity Jones: Oh no, ha. Jacob and Anna, no way. [Laughs] They probably survived another like year and then that was it.


So that’s really what you think?

I think so.


Drake says whatever I think, I’m right.

Oh really. Oh, he’s just staying on the fence.


I really am still pulling for Jacob and Ana. I think they were strong enough people that they can work through their most difficult phases.

Oh good, I’m glad there’s still some romantics left in the world.


In Like Crazy Anna was a poet and in Breathe In Sophie was a musician. Did you see a connection between two artists?

In some ways, I guess they’re similar because they’re both women who have a very strong sense of identity that comes from their work. In many ways they’re partner films. Both Drake and I were keen to explore new themes and new character, but yes, there were definitely some similarities.


In the scene where you’re trying to quit Keith’s class while he’s pressuring you to stay, what exactly were the guidelines and notes that Drake gave you, and how did that scene evolve with Guy?

Well, that scene actually we did so many times. I think we did it 25 times. I remember it was quite early on in the shoot. All the school stuff we did in the first week and it took him ages to get it right. We tried lots of different things and it was much longer. Then I think I remember we said, “Let’s try and get straight to it really quickly.” Then that take that you saw had a bit of humor to it as well that seemed to make it work.


There might have been longer takes to that scene, but did it ever evolve in different ways?

Often that happens, actually. The scene is written in one way, the outline, then we’ll try it and it won’t quite work and then we’ll keep coming and we’ll do something else. Particularly with the scene where Lauren [Mackenzie Davis] comes into Sophie’s room, that scene again took a long time for us to get it right and it’s because we kept changing what it was. At first it seemed a bit ridiculous. It was finding the truth of that situation between those two women.


One theme that really spoke to me about Breathe In is just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you love it, which is Sophie’s case with piano. Could you relate to that idea?

What, as an actor?


Maybe not as an actor because obviously you want to keep exploring that, but are there any artistic pursuits or other pursuits that spoke to that theme?

Oh God, yeah. I used to play the flute and also singing. I really like singing but I just do not have a good voice. Actually that’s not quite what you’re asking. I’m doing the opposite. You’re saying to be good at something but you don’t enjoy it, whereas I’m talking about stuff that I enjoy but I’m not very good at. [Laughs]


I think if you enjoy it but you’re not good at it, that’s okay because you can just have fun. I’m relating to being pressured to do something just because you’re good at, which I think is harder for people to understand how you can excel at something you’re not passionate about.

Yeah, that’s exactly, you’ve hit it right on. That’s exactly what it’s like for Sophie and that’s what she’s dealing with. “What do I do? I’ve been given this phenomenal talent but I don’t know if it makes me happy.” She’s sort of at the moment in her life of really questioning it, but I think that’s really, really tricky. It’s sort of a glorious situation to be in but quite tricky at the same time.


It seems like Keith would love to be that good at cello and he’s trying to be that good at cello.

[Laughs] Yeah, for Sophie it’s effortless but for him it takes real focus and determination. That’s what’s so incredible about the music world is that some people just have an innate gift.


Since you developed Breathe In with Drake, were you aware of the earlier darker incarnation of the story?

Yeah, in many ways we wanted it to be much darker than Like Crazy and to be more melancholy and more just a tone. Very casually he sent me a lot of the tracks that had already been composed by Dustin [O’Halloran] to give me a sense of what the mood would be of the film. It definitely felt like it was something that was much more about tension, more of a thriller feeling than the romance or failed romance of Like Crazy.


Do you feel it ended up as dark as you might have intended?

I don’t feel like it’s totally dark. I feel like it’s more questioning in a way. It’s sort of saying, “Do you live your life in the moment completely and follow your instinct? Or do you have responsibility and think about your family and have a wider sense of meaning?” I think that’s what the film is dealing with because in the moment, Sophie and Keith have this connection, but ultimately is it the best thing that they don’t act on it?


When I hear “thriller” maybe someone dies or is in danger. Was there ever that aspect of Breathe In in development that maybe fell by the wayside?

No, how it is in the film, the danger was that there’s a cost to this connection that these two people have. I think the main thriller aspect is this sense that you feel as the audience that something tragic is going to happen.


Did you ever get legitimately good at piano?

Well, I spent hours watching different pianists playing the same piece, which was really interesting to see how much the pianist brings to it. I mean, I learned as much as I could, but I have to say that I had an amazing coach who was just phenomenal and also doubled for me. It was a lot of her talent and a tiny bit of my talent.


When there’s a scene at the piano, how does it change the process to be improvising and feeling your way through a scene as an actor, but have this piece of music that you have to get right?

It’s just lots of preparation. With that piece that Sophie plays in the school, I just spent hours and hours listening to the piece so that it would feel a part of me and to understand how I would have to move if I was actually legitimately playing that piece. Like most roles when there’s that sort of side, it is about preparation for me.


This summer we’re going to see you in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Is this a transitional phase to bigger movies, or at least this is your first experience on that scale?

Yeah, it’s the first film that I’ve done on that scale and I just had so much fun doing it. I love (500) Days of Summer. I think Mark [Webb] is incredibly talented and it was just a really fun film to be a part of.


With properties like that, did you have to sign for multiple films like Amazing Spider-Man 3 or the Venom spin-off?

Oh, I don’t think I can actually talk about that. [Laughs]


Okay, that was one angle I thought I might get away with. Was Amazing Spider-Man 2 an offer, or did you have to audition for Mark?

It was something that came through. He had seen Like Crazy and wanted to work with me, and I equally was a fan of his work.


Then how was playing Jane Hawking in Theory of Everything?

Oh, that was an incredibly experience. I finished that. That was the last film I just worked on and it was a real labor of love. I have such huge respect for Stephen and Jane Hawking. It was a really intense but phenomenal experience.


For Eddie Redmayne to play a character who only communicates through a voice box, how did that change your relationship, rehearsals or performance?

That was such a big part of charting their relationship is as Stephen’s health fails, how their communication becomes much more through boxes and machines. It’s interesting how as a couple they become more distanced as the communication between them becomes more difficult. You’ve hit on a huge theme of the film.


So this is a long term story that’s from beginning to end and different phases of their lives?

Absolutely. Jane’s 18 and Stephen’s in his early 20s when they meet and Eddie and I play them throughout their 20s, 30s and into their 40s.


Have you ever played an age range like that before?

Not chronologically in the way that it worked out in Theory. I’ve jumped between two time phases in Invisible Woman. I was moving between my late 30s and my late teens, but this is the first time I’ve done it where you’re seeing literally the process of aging.


What did that give you to play with as an actor?

As an actor it’s a phenomenal experience because you have to show someone changing and evolving as you do as you age, not only physically but emotionally. It was just an amazing thing to get my teeth into.


You actually got younger between Like Crazy and Breathe In. Anna was in college and Sophie is in high school. Do you feel you can still tap into roles that young? Are you feeling a progression since we’re talking about roles spanning decades?

You know what, for me it always depends on the character. The character is what’s most important and in theater you often play different ages. I sort of apply that to most things. As long as there’s something in the character that I think is going to be fun or interesting to play, then that’s the way that I navigate it. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


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