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It was a meeting at dawn in hushed restaurant when Felicity Jones found herself recruited for a covert mission.
Director Gareth Edwards (previously best known for Godzilla) had recently signed on to make Rogue One, the first Star Wars stand-alone film about the Rebel soldiers who steal the original Death Star blueprints, and he was considering her as the big sister to lead this band of brothers.
“We were both working at the time and we met at something like 5:30 a.m. in a hotel restaurant,” Jones recalls. “Most of the meeting was conducted in whispers as he explained the story and the character. My first introduction was definitely one shrouded in secrecy and being very careful no one overheard what we were talking about.”
With the movie opening Dec. 16, she’s finally at the stage when she can talk about it. But The Theory of Everything Oscar-nominee has a lot more to discuss, too. She’s in three other movies opening this year: the action-thriller Collide (Aug. 19), the bittersweet supernatural tale A Monster Calls (Oct. 21), and the third Da Vinci Code film Inferno (Oct. 28.)
Nothing pushed her to the limit like playing Rogue One’s Jyn Erso, the loner whose scientist father has knowledge vital to both the Rebels and the Empire. To help the Rebellion secure the plans that will eventually help Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star, her conscripted outlaw will fight in space, on land, in the pouring rain, and under a sweltering desert sun.
“I’m laughing now, but at the time, it was physically exhausting,” says the actress, 32. “It took a lot of hours of practice, and I worked with a kung fu coach, and I learned to fight, even though I never thought beating up Stormtroopers was something I’d be doing in my job. It came through hard work and lots of practice and rehearsals.”
At 5-foot-3, Jones is not the typical war-movie brawler, but she says that’s part of Jyn’s underdog appeal.
“She is absolutely a very unlikely heroine,” the actress says. “She’s someone on the edges and fringes of society. Physically, she’s smaller than everyone else around her, but… when someone has something they believe in, that’s what powers them, that’s what motivates them, that’s what can give someone enormous strength.”
Edwards says he chose Jones because she wasn’t “so kick-ass and shields-up that the audience couldn’t empathize with her.”
“There were a lot of people who could learn how to fight and beat people up and do the physical side of it. For me, the most interesting thing is when there’s a crack in the armor, when you can glimpse the vulnerability in someone,” the director says. “You can just hang the camera on Felicity and not say a word, and you can feel her having a million different thoughts. You get interested in what she’s thinking and what’s going on. She can be very observant within a scene. It doesn’t always have to be about her directly, but we’re experiencing it through her. She just has that knack for pulling you in.”
Jyn can now join Daisy Ridley’s Rey from The Force Awakens as another inspiration to girls eager to fight for a good cause, but the character also has her own hero: Mon Mothma (played by Genevieve O’Reilly), the former Galactic Senator who is uniting the Rebel Alliance. There’s no doubt a lot of dudes make up the resistance fighting force, but women — such as Princess Leia at the diplomatic level, to Jyn on the battlefield — are its leaders.
“I would say there’s a huge amount of respect for women in the Rebellion. Mon Mothma is ultimately, for Jyn, someone she looks up to,” Jones says. “So even as the film opens [Jyn] has a very strong female role model in front of her, and someone she respects.”
At a time when the United States has just nominated its first female candidate for president, Jones says fantasy can change reality for the better by showing even more female action heroes. “It’s vital,” she says. “As we’re seeing in politics, it is a world where women are becoming leaders of nations, and films should be reflecting that.”
“I’m With Her” is already taken as a slogan in our world, but the infantry tough guys of Rogue One will be following a similar battle cry: “I’m With Erso.”
For more Star Wars news, follow @Breznican.
Part One: New details of Force-sacred world Jedha
Part Three: Alan Tudyk reveals accent and origin of K-2SO
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