Felicity Jones knows a thing or two about literary adaptations. While many on this site likely know her best as Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jones has built her career around successful translations of Brideshead Revisited, The Diary of Anne Frank, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Dan Brown’s Inferno. Her latest, screening on Netflix, is a lush adaptation of romance novelist Jojo Moyes’ The Last Letter From Your Lover, and it was while working on this feature that Jones finally got to use an acting trick she learned from none other than George Clooney. (Nice name drop!) Watch her tell the story in the video above.
The Last Letter From Your Lover takes place in two time frames, one contemporary and one set in the 1960s. Though you might assume that Felicity Jones holds down the flashback, that responsibility goes to her co-star Shailene Woodley (though they don’t share any scenes!). Instead, Jones plays a modern journalist working on a feature story and getting distracted by a personal mystery she is uncovering in a series of letters written between Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) and Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner). And because she’s playing a journalist who is working a story, Jones often has to stare at a laptop or at a monitor in a newsroom and make the information she’s absorbing seem… well, interesting.
It’s a harder challenge than you might think, but it’s an exercise some performers seem to relish. There’s a line you need to balance when “prop acting,” as Jones describes it, because the actor isn’t looking at anything on the screen, but they have to sell progress of the story, or emotion that’s delivered with news that is shared. In one scene, Jones’ journalist character has to go back and forth between her cell phone and her computer screen, and I knew, in that moment, that I needed to ask her about her process on this.
To my surprise, she shared that George Clooney, of all people, taught her how to really sell prop acting. The two collaborated on the sci-fi drama The Midnight Sky (also for Netflix), and she had this to say about the tricks that he taught her:
I had the opportunity to learn from the best. (Laughs) He’s so good at it. He would do the scenes… there’s a lot of button-pushing in The Midnight Sky, that we did together. I’d just watch him, and he manages to make anything look convincing! Literally, he has no idea what he’s pressing or why, but he does it with such conviction! (Laughs) ANd that is the key. Don’t let the audience know that you’re just pressing random buttons. Imbue it with a sense of meaning, and the audience will follow.