Some weeks ago, Felicity Jones was strolling the streets of London when she was stopped by a “model-y” woman who asked to take a picture with her. Jones, an Academy Award-nominated actress, obliged, then walked a short distance before she was stopped by another passer-by. “Who was that?” this pedestrian asked her.
As a humbled Jones recounted, “I just went, ‘I don’t know, but she seems cool!’”
She added, “My feet are kept, very much, firmly, firmly on the ground.”
This is what it means to be Jones, 33, the British actress and fashion star whose career was accelerated by the critical and commercial success of “The Theory of Everything,” the 2014 biographical film about Stephen Hawking.
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By her own assessment, she is hardly worthy of recognition, just a diligent performer whose résumé includes some modest cult favorites (“Like Crazy”) and some big-budget crowd-pleasers (“Inferno”).
Whatever claims to obscurity she can still make will not last long after the Friday release of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” In this latest chapter of the outer space epic, Jones plays Jyn Erso, the scrappy leader of a team of rebel fighters tasked with stealing the plans for the Galactic Empire’s planet-killing war machine, the Death Star. (These are the events that precede the original “Star Wars” film, known as “A New Hope.”)
“Rogue One” could be a breakthrough role for Jones, who is not usually seen swinging her fists or piloting interstellar vessels. Jones played down this possibility, however, instead emphasizing her passion for strong, relatable characters in whatever form they take.
“It’s hard to find an indie that has a great female lead — it’s hard to find anything,” Jones said. “We wanted the audience to relate to Jyn as a person. Like all of us, she’s trying to work out what the hell to do.”
Filmmakers and co-stars who have worked with her say this is typical of Jones, who would rather keep her head down and work than look up and see where her accomplishments are taking her.
“When you meet Felicity, it doesn’t really add up,” said “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards. “She’s incredibly — and I mean this in a positive way — incredibly normal. None of this, so far at least, has in any way affected her. It’s kind of remarkable.”
The film that helped bring Jones to America’s attention was “Like Crazy,” the 2011 feature that cast her and Anton Yelchin as lovers trying to maintain a trans-Atlantic relationship.
Directed by Drake Doremus from a lengthy outline rather than a traditional script, “Like Crazy” required Jones to invent large swaths of her own dialogue, including a romantic poem that she reads to Yelchin in a tender moment on their bed.
“I’ve had people send me pictures of that poem tattooed on their bodies,” Doremus said. “It’s a tribute to her.”
What Doremus said has stayed with him about Jones’ performance was how she set aside self-consciousness to play such an open and vulnerable character.
“The cool thing about Felicity is she’s not an actor, she’s a person,” he said, “and there are a lot of people out there that are actors first and people second.”
Edwards said that “Rogue One” deliberately reverses some of the tropes of the original “Star Wars” trilogy and the story of Luke Skywalker.
“‘A New Hope’ is the story of a boy who grows up in a tranquil home and dreams of joining a war,” he said. “What if we have the story of a girl who grows up in a war and dreams of returning to the tranquility of home?”
To that end, Edwards said he was not looking for “an action star in the classic sense — the clichéd expectation of a soldier or a rebel.”
“You can teach anyone to fight, with enough stunt training,” he said. “But you can’t teach someone to have that soul in their eyes. Whenever you point the camera at Felicity, there’s just so much going on inside.”