Decked out in a modern-cut Dior white dress and neon pink Dior pumps, English actress Felicity Jones, the star of "The Invisible Woman" was anything, but invisible on Monday (Dec. 9) night's film screening at the MoMA presented by Carlo Pazolini. Close by her side, British actor and Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes, who pulled double-duty for the film, as its director and leading man.
The film, an adaptation of a novel by Claire Tomalin, tells the story of Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his actress turned mistress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan (Jones). Fiennes plays the English writer at the height of his career, coming to terms with his fame and a stale marriage, as his affair with the young Ternan escalates and must then be shrouded in secrecy.
Q: So as a sophomore director, how challenging was the experience this time around to star in and direct your own film?
Ralph Fiennes: I have to thank my wonderful cast and crew. I entrusted them with all my anxiety and neurosis. Without them, there would have been no "The Invisible Woman." This script really enamored me. I love Shakespeare - but didn't know too much Charles Dickens. So this was very much a learning experience for me, in so many ways. I really became fascinated, and moved by Felicity Jones' character, who almost gives everything up for this man - this literary hero, who isn't perfect, who makes her go through so much. I had directed a Shakespeare adaptation and this opportunity suddenly presented itself, and I couldn't help but say yes. I could not resist the actor in me who wants that challenge.
Q: Felicity Jones's character gets more screen time than Charles Dickens. What was it like to direct her, and mold that performance?
RF: The center of this film is the character of Nelly Ternan. There are many shades and nuances that make her performance such a great achievement. I wanted the audience to reflect on the transformation of her character, Nelly, so we start the film with her and we end it with her. There's a lot on the line as a director, because of the adrenaline rush to get this film moving and also knowing that you have to nurture your actors.
Q: Describe the experience of working with someone as distinguished as Ralph Fiennes and how is he as a director?
Felicity Jones: For all of the actors - Ralph provides an environment where you can't help but be honest. I felt that I was totally in an environment that I was comfortable with and I could take risks. He was really everywhere, so immersed in the process.
Q: Your character goes through quite a 180 degree transformation, from this young woman who is awe-struck by Dickens to a mature woman who grapples with the remnant memories of the affair. How challenging was it to play this character that is unlike your average leading lady?
Felicity Jones: Dignity is so important to her. It was incredibly complicated for Nelly to admit that she was a mistress. She was someone who believed that dignity was very important to her. The role was about finding out how will Nelly come to terms with the relationship and its obvious end. It's a constant struggle for her intellectual identity, because as you see, Dickens was rather overwhelming. But ultimately, what's great, is that she feels empowered by the end. Not so invisible after all.
A fabulous after-party continued at Le Cirque. The Sony Pictures Classics Release hits theaters, in limited release, on Dec. 25.
Melissa Colorado contributed reporting.