'The Theory of Everything': Felicity Jones on Jane's Spousal Strength, "Phenomenal" ALS Caretakers
"They're not saints — they still have their own drives and desires — but they're also trying to be good people and good wives at the same time"
"I know I don't look like a terribly strong person," states Felicity Jones' character Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. "But we're going to fight this — all of us."
This declaration is delivered shortly after Jane's soon-to-be husband Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne, is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS) and given two years to live. Based on Jane's memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, the film is not only about the expansive universe, but also the small microcosm of a marriage — one of extraordinary circumstances involving two brilliant Ph.D. students and a debilitating disease. It is, as Stephen Hawking himself put it, "broadly true."
"She really is extraordinary," Jones told The Hollywood Reporter of Jane Hawking at a Wednesday evening screening at New York City's Lighthouse International Theater, presented by Forevermark and followed by a Lexington Brass afterparty. "Ever since I read the script, I felt such a responsibility toward this woman. She gave her life to Stephen; she really was committed from the very beginning in maintaining his dignity and keeping him alive and keeping their family together. But also, at the same time, she was a woman who had her own identity, her own career, and was wanting to pursue that as well."
Jane and Stephen met at Cambridge while Jane was pursuing a doctorate in medieval lyric poetry of the Iberian Peninsula, and Stephen one in theoretical physics. Jones' character is later tasked with raising three kids, negotiating an occasionally difficult personal life and making life-or-death decisions on behalf of her husband. "I just had such empathy for her trying to balance all these different roles."
Though preparing for such a complex and nuanced role didn't require the same physical rigors as Redmayne, who worked with a dance teacher to mold his movements after Stephen's, the part required a great degree of empathy and emotional strength. To get into character, Jones spent time with ALS patients and their families to gain a better understanding of how the disease can change families' lives.
"Well, I met these phenomenal women who were looking after their husbands. And what I found was they were in these very complicated situations where your relationship to your partner changes — rather than a wife, you become a nurse, and so it was understanding and negotiating those difficult roles," Jones noted. "They're not saints — they still have their own drives and desires — but they're also trying to be good people and good wives at the same time, and it is a difficult balance."
Jones also spent time with Jane studying photographs, adopting her specific movements and even methods of persuasion. "She was just so open. She waited eight years before she gave up the rights to her book for the film," Jones explained. "But once she trusted us, she really let go and invited us into her home and into her personal life with Stephen, so it really felt like I was getting a special insight into their relationships."
The Theory of Everything hits theaters Nov. 7.