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Felicity Jones talks about love, Guy Pearce, and her favorite film characters

Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with Felicity Jones in Manhattan on March 20, 2014. Jones plays Sophie, an exchange student from England in indie drama, “Breathe In.” Sophie has come to stay at the home of Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce), a high-school music teacher in a mid-life crisis, his wife Megan (Amy Ryan), and their teen daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). The married couple has obviously drifted worlds apart over the years and their only cement is a shared love for Lauren. Megan keeps herself busy and distracted. Keith broods.

Felicity Jones
Felicity Jones
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

Keith is Sophie’s music teacher and can’t help but become concerned that Sophie never practices piano. He and the rest of the family grow puzzled by her aversion to playing music. Another thing Keith can’t help but notice is how beautiful Sophie is.

One day Sophie surprises Keith and his class by sitting at the piano, slowly lifting her hands, and then launching into a remarkably professional rendition of a song by Chopin. Keith is immediately drawn to her musical skill. After that, the electrical charge they give off is almost painful to watch. They are so hot for each other. Drama ensues.

Breathe In” is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted and directed by Drake Doremus. It opens in theaters March 28.

Dorri Olds: How was it working with Guy Pearce?

Felicity Jones: Fantastic. I’ve always admired his work I think he always chooses really interesting directors. He’s always about the acting. He’d never done a film where he was improvising before and I could see him relishing the challenge. He’s an actor who is always pushing himself. He really loved the process of making it.

Was there a lot of improvisation?

Yeah, a lot. Some things were scripted but most of it was how we made “Like Crazy.” We had an outline and then there’d be thoughts about a character and what happens in the scene and then we’d bring dialogue in on the day.

How did you become involved with film?

This was really unusual, it never usually happens, Drake asked me to do it because we had worked together on “Like Crazy” and he had this idea. In many ways this film is like a twin to “Like Crazy.” He said, “Do you want to come back and see what we can do this time?” So, that was quite nice that I didn’t have to audition. Auditions are really, really frightening. After a while you get used to them but they can be really quite intimidating.

What type of research and preparation did you do for this role?

I felt like Sophie was a very troubled young woman. There was a play called “Master Builder” by Henrik Ibsen and there is a character in that called Hilda and she was a real inspiration. I felt like she was a good foundation for understanding Sophie. There was a French film, “Le Casse” that had a similar kind of thriller mood. With any part you look at other films. There is a fairytale quality to Sophie. She was coming into a family that was heightened by her and her presence. I think that the main thing to me is the back-story for both Anna and Sophie. What was she like? What was her house like? What did her parents do? Having a really sure understanding of the character’s background is so important.

After playing beside Hugh Dancy in the light comedy, “Hysteria,” is it strange to see him playing such a dark character in “Hannibal”?

I think that’s what we always want as actors, to be able to move between different characters and take on different personalities. For me, that’s part of the joy of doing it and I imagine he loves that too.

Do you have a favorite role?

I did a play called, “The Chalk Garden,” which is an amazing play by Enid Bagnon. I played a 16-year-old who was obsessed with fire, a pyromaniac. She was a very troubled young girl and I absolutely loved the play. I was with two fantastic British actresses.

Did you ever forget your line?

Sometimes you do and you panic and look to the audience and hope for the best. That’s why it’s so brilliant to do it. You literally freeze onstage and think, ‘Why the hell am I doing this to myself?’ But it’s really exciting as well.

What’s it like watching yourself on film?

Less fun than being onstage. It’s an odd experience. I think we humans tend to be quite critical of ourselves and it can be a hard process. You watch yourself and think, ‘I could’ve done that differently.’

Did you always know you were beautiful growing up?

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a nice compliment! I guess I don’t think in those terms. I try not to think too much about the outside. That’s not good.

See Part II

“Breathe In” opens in New York City on March 28, 2014. Drama, romance. Rated R. 98 minutes.