Hollywood actress Felicity Jones talks to David Johns about growing up in Bournville, learning her craft in Birmingham, the success of her blockbuster movies – and why the Children’s Hospital holds a very special place in her heart
Felicity Jones is an actress in demand. The star of most recent films Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and A Monster Calls, has lived in what can only be described as a whirlwind of fame for the past couple of years – a result initially of her stellar, Oscar-nominated portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking’s wife in the huge hit The Theory of Everything.
Today, everyone wants of piece of Ms Jones, from movie industry moguls and fellow film stars to her fans, the national and international press – and of course Birmingham Living. As a product of Bournville who discovered her love of all things acting right here in Birmingham, we’ve been tracking Felicity’s rise to the top. And when I finally got to chat to her during a very rare break just a few days before she appeared on presenting duties at the Baftas at the Royal Albert Hall, it was heartening to hear that Birmingham still figures very large in her life. And in particular, her support for the amazing staff and their pioneering work at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
DOCTORS AND NURSES
“I remember going to the Children’s Hospital with my brother and a friend to get treated for minor things – just the kind of things that all children experience,” says Felicity. “My friend’s mother worked at the hospital as a pediatrician. And his sister still works at the hospital now in intensive care. The staff at the hospital are incredible and it’s one of my links with the area so it always feels natural to support it in whatever small way I can.” Interviews such as this, which highlight and draw attention to the hospital and its life-saving work, are one of the ways that Felicity believes she can help.
Felicity was born and brought up in Bournville where she went to infants and junior school before attending Kings Norton Girls School and then sixth form at King Edward, Handsworth. “Bournville was an incredible village,” she says. “It was a wonderful community to grow up in and I still have many friends in the area.” Her interest in acting was sparked by visits with her parents (Felicity’s father was a producer on breakfast TV shows, while her mother worked in advertising) to see productions at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and also watching her uncle, actor Michael Hadley, in a production of The Lady from the Sea when she was aged just eight.
I did bits of acting at school,” says Felicity, “but I owe my actual acting career to Colin Edwards at the Central Junior Television Workshop which was in the old Central TV building in Birmingham. We youngsters were given passes to get in and we felt very special. Then the workshop moved to premises at the Custard Factory.” Felicity trained at the workshop after school from the age of 10 until 18. “We did plays there and learned about acting. I wouldn’t be in acting now without Colin and the ITV workshop. I met some incredible people there and I will never forget what a remarkable job Colin did.”
Felicity made her professional debut at the age of 12 when she appeared in the TV film The Treasure Seekers alongside an also-young Keira Knightley. A part in the television series The Worst Witch followed and then, at 16, Felicity was cast as Emma Carter in The Archers, produced from the BBC radio studios in Birmingham. She continued in the series while also studying for her English degree at Wadham College, Oxford – a challenge which could involve studying until around 1am and then getting a train at 6am to Birmingham to record The Archers. She also found time – of course – to appear in student plays at Oxford.
Since those student days, Felicity has appeared with some of the world’s biggest stars – before becoming one herself! Co-star credits include the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Ryan, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Sally Field and Jamie Foxx in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Felicity’s major breakthrough came when she appeared in the film The Theory of Everything about the life of physicist Stephen Hawking with Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne.
In her most recent movies, she starred with Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s thriller Inferno and with Sigourney Weaver in A Monster Calls. Felicity played a fugitive hunting for the Death Star in Rogue One, a performance which won her critical acclaim in a film which grossed more than one billion dollars worldwide at the box office.
Despite appearing with some of the world’s top actors, Felicity still comes back to her roots for some of her favourite small screen ‘watches’. She’s a big fan of the BBC’s hit Peaky Blinders drama series produced here in Birmingham, and has been quoted as saying she’d love to have a part where “I get to do a full Birmingham accent”.
Whether she could find any amount of time to take on another project is however debatable. With typical understatement she admits during our interview that she has had ‘a busy few months’ globe-trotting to promote her new films. Not that she is complaining. “I quite like the promoting,” she says. “There’s something cool about promoting the films you are in and getting to hang out with the people you made the film with.”
Felicity now lives in London out of necessity (ducking and diving the inevitable paparazzi photographers who follow her every move). But she always makes it a priority to support arts projects in Birmingham when she can – projects like the UK’s largest ever multi-city street art initiative which kicked off with an 18-metre high spray-painted mural at Birmingham’s Custard Factory.
As someone who grew up going to The Rep, BMAG, the Custard Factory, Ikon Gallery and Midlands Arts Centre, Felicity says she always feels lucky to have come from such a culturally-rich city. And no matter how big her star shines, she still finds time to visit friends and family who live in Staffordshire. “And I always try to go back and see Bournville as much as I can,” she says. “It’s a wonderful place.”