Felicity Jones takes action as newest 'Star Wars' heroine in 'Rogue One'

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY
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NEW YORK — Two years ago, Felicity Jones was married onscreen to Stephen Hawking. This week, she’s shooting Stormtroopers.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) wields a blaster on the rain-soaked world of Eadu in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.'

The journey from arthouse movies to blockbuster filmmaking has been a “pretty interesting” road, says the 33-year-old British actress and star of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (in theaters Thursday night). “As long as I fall in love with the character and I care about them, I’m really happy to explore huge films and then go and do a tiny play somewhere with an audience of 25.”

Review: 'Rogue One' struggles with ties to 'Star Wars' past

Jones earned a best actress Oscar nomination for her role as Jane Hawking in 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, but this year has been full of franchise fare, acting opposite Tom Hanks in October’s action-packed Inferno and taking on the role of rebellious heroine Jyn Erso in the standalone prequel Rogue One.

Felicity Jones has moved from the world of arthouse movies to franchise fare like 'Inferno' and 'Star Wars.'

She’s not done yet, either: Jones takes another dramatic turn as a single mother with a terminal illness in the tear-jerking fantasy A Monster Calls (in theaters Dec. 23 in New York and Los Angeles, expands nationwide Jan. 6). The film follows a boy who conjures a tree monster to help him deal with his pain, and Jones says she wants to be in more projects like it "that move people and have an effect on them."

In Rogue One, Jyn doesn’t trust anybody or anything when she’s recruited by the Rebel Alliance to steal the secret plans for the Empire’s Death Star — a mission she takes less because she wants to do the right thing and more because it might give her closure with her long-lost father (Mads Mikkelsen).

Jones’ talent comes out when she creates internal complexity in a character who seems pretty simple on the outside, says Rogue One director Gareth Edwards.

“Everybody puts up a front, and Jyn has a barrier up to protect herself because of what she’s gone through as a kid,” Edwards says. “She’s not really part of the rebellion or this war, but you can see inside, in little private moments, that this isn’t true and there is a scar in her soul that needs to be healed.”

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire when 'Star Wars' fans meet up with her as an adult.

Little girls have plenty of Jyn toys they can ask Santa for this Christmas, but when she was young, Jones found acting to be a gift, getting her start at age 11 in a workshop in Birmingham, her English hometown.

Felicity Jones is blasting the Empire's glass ceiling as Jyn Erso in 'Rogue One'

She found that stage work carries over to a sci-fi world where she runs around with a blaster, with Star Wars crew members being an important audience.

“If a scene is going badly, literally it’s ‘cut’ and you can’t see anyone for dust. People are going to get coffee, they’ve got other things they’ve got to do,” Jones says. “And when a scene is working, no one moves. You can feel the excitement that’s created in that moment.”

Lewis MacDougall and Felicity Jones star in 'A Monster Calls.'

The action of Star Wars took her back to her tomboy days of swimming with her brother and throwing herself off of diving boards. She found that a physical role like Jyn takes as much dedication and practice as getting emotional as a dying woman in A Monster Calls.

Trailer debut: Boy meets tree in 'A Monster Calls'

“When I was younger, I’d be worrying about getting the single tear to come out of my eye at exactly the right point,” Jones says. “Now I’ve taken a little bit of that pressure off and find something a little more organic.”

That said, she's starting to prefer the fighting and running. “It’s definitely easier than crying.”

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