Felicity Jones on why British actors get cast in American roles: 'a theatre background helps' (exclusive)

When Felicity Jones was cast as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex the news didn’t exactly go down well with some people.

There was an argument that the British actor wasn’t the right person to play the iconic Jewish-American lawyer from Brooklyn, an argument that has come up a few times when a Brit has played an American character.

Cynthia Erivo suffered a backlash after she was cast as legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman and even Daniel Kaluuya’s casting as Chris in Jordan Peele’s Get Out was questioned by Samuel L. Jackson.

“We’re just really good! What can I say, it’s a fount of acting talent in Britain,” Jones joked to Yahoo Movies UK about why British performers are ending up in these high profile roles.

“I think what really is incredible about British actors is how much access we get to theatre,” she continued more seriously. “I think that’s what really helps strengthen the acting talent in this country and a lot of actors, my friends, I know have come through a theatre background and it really helps you to refine a skill and you get to make mistakes in a safer environment.

“I definitely think that must have some contribution to the number and the skill of so many British actors that we have.”

Even with the confidence of a theatre background, Jones still approached the task of playing such an iconic American figure with “a lot of trepidation.”

“At first it can be quite intimidating playing someone who is so deeply revered by many people but I am quite fortunate in the sense that I had done it before when I had played a real living person,” she explained, referring to her Oscar-nominated performance as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Armie Hammer and Felicity Jones as Marty Ginsburg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Armie Hammer and Felicity Jones as Marty Ginsburg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“I felt I had learned so much from the experience that I could then bring that into playing Ruth,” Jones continued. “Primarily you are looking to build trust with the person that you are playing and that’s most important – that they don’t feel like they are being exploited in any way.”

The movie follows the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her time at Harvard Law School to taking on her first major gender discrimination case brought to her attention by her loyal husband Marty Ginsburg (played by Armie Hammer).

Jones says that playing the lawyer, who was a leading figure in the women’s rights movement for her work to secure gender equality, had a “huge impact” too.

“She’s such a punk” the actress enthused “I was reading recently how there are certain people in America who are trying to say that she is not even alive, she’s dead, and I thought that the fact that she manages to keep going in the face of such negativity and nonsense is remarkable.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still a Judge in the US Supreme Court aged 85. (AP)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still a Judge in the US Supreme Court aged 85. (AP)

“I constantly think of her if I ever get a little bit disheartened, of her will power and determination.”

Aged 85, Ginsburg is still serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a role she has played since President Bill Clinton appointed her to office in 1993.

Her refusal to retire while Trump is still in office has contributed to her status as a pop culture icon, which is examined in RBG. The Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles Gindburg’s life and career and also revealed that her continued ability to serve in the Supreme Court is aided by the fact that she hits the gym every week.

“Well, I finally in the New Year got myself to the gym,” Jones said, “Fingers crossed if I keep doing those planks I’ll be going as long and strong as she has been.”

On the Basis of Sex is released in the UK on Friday, 22 February.

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