Breath In

The last time Felicity Jones played a British exchange student, hearts were broken in Like Crazy, the bittersweet 2011 indie romance that won her a special acting prize at the Sundance Film Festival. In Breathe In, another Sundance movie from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, Jones plays another British exchange student who falls in love with an American. But this tale is much darker and more complex.

Jones plays a piano prodigy named Sophie who comes to America to experience the thrills of New York. Her host family, however, lives in upstate New York, far away from the bright lights and excitement. The doldrums of suburban life are broken when she forms a deep connection with the married man of the house (Guy Pearce), a high-school music teacher whose dreams of playing in an elite orchestra are no longer encouraged by his wife (Amy Ryan). What starts as a shared passion blooms into something more dangerous that threatens all the characters’ well-being and sense of identity.

The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and opens in theaters this Friday, March 28. Click below for an exclusive video from the film and a chat with Jones.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You worked with director Drake Doremus before, on the film Like Crazy, which was one of the highlights at Sundance in 2011. How was making this movie a different experience?

FELICITY JONES: Like Crazy was quite free-form and we were just finding stuff out as we were going along. I think on this film, we felt a little more prepared, so we had more of an idea of what we’d be doing in a scene before we came to it than we did on Like Crazy. We spent a week together just going through the scenes and rehearsing some of them and making sure that everyone felt comfortable to make mistakes. But also, I find with this kind of improvisation, it’s about having a very clear idea of the character’s backstory before you come to set. So I make sure I know what schools Sophie went to, what she had for breakfast. There’s some real pre-preparation so you can be as spontaneous and free as possible when you come to work. Drake and I just have such a great time working together. It’s argumentative at times, but also it’s full of humor and it’s a really productive working relationship.

Interesting. So whether it was schools or breakfast, was there something specific that you built for Sophie that you found especially helpful in locating the character?

Absolutely. A lot of it was to due to — Drake and I discussed it a lot — building this idea that Sophie was in a lot of pain. That she was grieving. That she had lost her mother and grown up with her father and then consequently been adopted by her aunt and uncle. It wasn’t necessarily important that the audience knew all of that, but for me, playing that character, it was important that there was real turbulence in her life. So that when she comes to stay with the family [in America], she’s at a really difficult point in her life.

The exclusive scene that we’ll feature shows you calming down Guy’s stressed-out Keith. Was that a scene of heavy improvisation?

That was actually one that was scripted. We had more dialogue with the scene, but then again, we improvised around it and did lots of takes and wanted to keep the naturalism that you see in the rest of the film. Guy is so brilliant to work with. We had lots and lots of discussions actually, and Guy and I were keen that it wasn’t just a relationship about lust. Instead it was embedded in a genuine connection between the two of them. One of my favorite scenes is on the swing when they’re just looking at each other. I really like that moment. Often it’s the moments where there’s no dialogue, I think, where you really see the intensity of their connection. And Guy and I just hit it off. We had very similar senses of humor. Even though it’s quite tragic on screen, we’d often be laughing and joking off screen.

You’re mostly famous here for your work in indie films, like Drake’s films and The Invisible Woman, but you’re also a new part of Sony’s Marvel universe. Is the practical day-to-day work on a movie like Amazing Spider-Man different than what you’re used to?

With Spider-Man, it was just great fun. It’s the first time I’ve done anything on that scale. I loved it. Just an amazing cast to be part of. I really like Marc Webb’s work, so it was just really exciting. It was just nice because it was different from what I’ve done before.

Post Spider-Man, what will we see you in next?

I just finished a film called Theory of Everything with Eddie Redmayne, which is coming out later this year.

That’s the Stephen Hawking movie, yes?

Yes. It was an absolute labor of love. And an incredible experience to meet Jane Hawking and Stephen Hawking.

Is the story told from her perspective or both of theirs?

It’s about both of them, yeah. They fell in love when Jane was 18 and Stephen was in his early 20s, and he was diagnosed with his illness within the early stages of their relationship. We play both of them from their teens, in Jane’s case, through to 45. So it’s all the different stages and emotional upheavals of that relationship for that period. It’s about how they coped with that and both their own ambitions. They’re both extraordinary people and it’s a really phenomenal story. I read Jane’s book, which is very detailed about their relationship and then just spent a bit of time with her and got to know her and wanted to do her story justice. I had huge empathy for their situation. So it’s quite intimidating when you’re playing someone who’s alive, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for them. It must be very strange to have someone playing your life, but they were supportive of the film and very trusting of us.

Felicity Jones’ Pop-Cultural Obsessions

“I’m reading Larkin’s poems again, which is awesome when you’re doing press. It’s nice to read poetry because you get sort of bite-sized bits of literary feeding, so to speak.”

“I thought it was an incredibly beautiful film. It won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. It’s absolutely brilliant. I would definitely recommend it.”

TV: Girls

“I haven’t seen my own episode yet, but I love Girls. It’s quite a thrill when you’re a huge fan, to suddenly find yourself talking to the people that you’ve kind of observed and admired. I think they’re all so talented, and it was so cool to be a part of that. I was so trusting of Lena [Dunham]. I think her ideas are always so spot-on, so I was like, ‘Yup, I’ll do whatever you want. I’m game.'”