Considering the IMAX cameras and its Telluride Film Festival debut, Felicity Jones must have assumed her high adventure drama “The Aeronauts” would be in theaters right now. And, that was the original plan for both the UK and the United States. However, after the critical response wasn’t exactly enthusiastic enough, Amazon Studios decided to do a four-wall release in the United States before debuting it on Amazon Prime this weekend. Considering the thrilling third act of Tom Harper‘s $40 million period piece, that had to be someone disappointing. But, those are the breaks when a streamer acquires your films these days.
Based on a number of record-breaking flights by British meteorologist James Glashier (Eddie Redmayne) in 1862, “The Aeronauts” finds Jones playing Amelia Wren, a composite character inspired on a number of female aeronauts of the era. She’s been hired to pilot Glashier on his mission to break the flight altitude record of the time. History says Glashier pulled it off, setting a mark of 38,399 ft, but Harper and co-screenwriter Jack Throne‘s version imagines that Wren is at the center of what turned out to be an extremely dangerous flight.
Jones jumped on the phone earlier this month to discuss just how difficult the real-life ballooning was (she and Redmayne were involved in a slightly scary crash at one point), reuniting with her “Theory of Everything” co-star and what other projects are on her upcoming slate.
The Playlist: In all seriousness, did you really almost kill yourself making this movie?
Felicity Jones: There were a few hairy experiences. We definitely found that we were a little method on this though, that’s for sure. [Laughs.]
When they approached you about it, did you realize how much real ballooning would be involved or did you think, “Oh, it’s going to be CG, we’ll be mostly on a soundstage”?
I only realized it as we were actually floating in the balloons, specially constructed for the launch with a helicopter orbiting us. And I thought, “Wow, I’m really in it now,” that’s for sure. I mean, I loved it, I took on the adventure of it. I thought this is so novel and unusual, and I love the world of Amelia’s world and being an acrobat. And I just loved how unusual it was, and how zany it was, and how crazy they were. It just seemed like it would be fun.
Was making it actually fun? Because I mean, for most of the movie you’re in a basket.
Yes, It was definitely, I think it was challenging. Like anything, you get these moments of absolute kind of a transcendence. When we were floating, we went to Germany before we started shooting and I was learning how to pilot balloon, how to pilot a gas air balloon, and you’ll be floating above treetops and looking down at people and waving down as they’re looking up and there’s great wonder in it and you get these little glimpses into the how magical it is. But I mean, on a technical level, it was incredibly ambitious, undertaking and took a lot out of us, for sure. But that’s often the case when you’re doing something completely unknown and novel.
Had you ever gone for a balloon ride before?
I hadn’t actually. It was my very first experience which was in the film. I sort of always looked at and seen, you see those pretty greeting cards of balloons, but a rainbow balloon take out anything that looks so lovely and gentle. But little did I know the sort of dangers that were ahead. So that was the first time doing the film.
Should I assume you don’t have a fear of heights?
Felicity Jones: I do now. [Laughs.] No, I’ve always been pretty gung ho. With my brother, we grew up climbing trees and I’ve always enjoyed kind of being very active, and so it felt quite second nature.
What was it like to reunite with Eddie?
It was a delight. He’s a brilliant actor. He is absolutely meticulous. He thinks in a very 360 degree way. We push each other. It’s extraordinary. I think he always brings out the best in me.
I know that Amelia is a composite character, but she’s based on a couple of real historical figures. What sort of research did you do to sort of find out what about the lives of these 19th century female aeronauts?
Well, that’s what was such a fascinating undertaking with obviously we are bringing to light these extraordinary female aeronauts. And there was one woman in particular, this woman, Sophie Blanchard, who was a French aeronaut and she was a huge inspiration for Amelia. She was someone who used to fly solo, she redesigned the shape of the balloon, she used to fly at nigh, she was quite an extraordinary character. So it was great. She was great inspiration for Amelia and obviously a lovely sort of partner toJames Glacier‘s empiricism and obsession with facts.
How much of the film would you say is shot completely outdoors in the balloon and how much is it inside on a soundstage?
We shot outside for those early scenes when we’re taking off and the whole performance scene at the beginning, we shot that outside and that was done in sort of late August where we still had the good weather. They actually hand-built a gas balloon for the film and that’s what you see at the beginning taking off. We did that for real and shot it with a helicopter circling us and I was jumping down from the hoop into the basket. And then the remainder of the film was blue screen in the wizardry of special effects.
Unless IMDb is lying – and it often is – you’ve been shooting two other movies over the past two months?
No, I just finished a film that is called the “Last Letter From Your Lover,” which is with Shailene Woodley directed by Augustine Frizzell. And then I’m about start my next film, which is directed by and starring George Clooney.
So, no holiday break for you.
There’ll be a little bit of pajamas and eating, hot chocolate and watching films.
What was the experience like making “Last Letter for Your Lover”?
Oh, it was just wonderful. I had such a lovely time. Augustine’s a very special director. Creates a very lovely atmosphere. It was love. I was playing a character who loves humor and so we got to do some comedy with another great actor that I was working with Nabhaan Rizwan. Yeah, we had great fun.
“The Aeronauts” is now available on Amazon Prime Video.