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Interview: Felicity Jones Excited to Play Young Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In On the Basis of Sex, Felicity Jones plays iconic Justice Ginsburg in her early years.

Jan 07, 2019

By: Lynn Barker

You might best know actress Felicity Jones from playing Jyn Erso in the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Felicity in Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryFelicity in Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryCourtesy of Disney

Now, starring in the film On the Basis of Sex, she takes on the role of another feisty, determined woman in the amazing real life story of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The movie is about Ruth’s early fight as a young lawyer out to change antiquated laws covering gender equality. Until Ruth doggedly took on the courts, discrimination on the basis of sex was legal! She experienced this all too often when, although being first in both Harvard and Columbia law school classes, she couldn’t get a job at a law firm because she was a woman.

Ruth unsuccessfully goes job huntingRuth unsuccessfully goes job huntingCourtesy of Focus Features

Felicity took representing this amazing equal rights champion very seriously.

On the Basis of Sex Trailer 

Q:  What attracted you to play icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

  • Felicity: I had been looking for a part like this for years and it is one with a female character who is fiercely devoted to what she does but, at the same time, it explored the fuller sense of her life. It was just that combination. And, there was so much humor in the screenplay as well. It was a wonderful way to tell Ruth and Marty’s story.

Felicity as young RuthFelicity as young RuthCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: What is the movie really about?

  • Felicity: It’s a film about someone who is incredibly determined. The forces of society are against her a lot of the time. She’s ahead of her time. She constantly found that things weren’t happening in the way they should be. It’s as though she were twenty years ahead of the time she was in. It’s a very true portrait of her working life and her family life.

The real Ruth during law school yearsThe real Ruth during law school yearsCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: Where do we pick up Ruth’s story in the movie?

  • Felicity: We first find Ruth when she is going into Harvard University Law School. She was one of only nine women attending at that time. One of the opening scenes is just Ruth (in a classroom) sitting in a sea of dudes (she laughs). There are a lot of guys around and it is the beginning of her journey to being a lawyer with many obstacles along the way.

Ruth in law school in a sea of dudesRuth in law school in a sea of dudesCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: What was Ruth’s relationship with lawyer husband Marty Ginsburg?

  • Felicity: The film explores, very truthfully, a relationship that was very supportive. Ruth and Marty were incredibly devoted to their careers almost to the point where the work and (home) life didn’t have a separation. Work was their life in many ways. It was something they were both passionate about. When they were in their 20’s and they’d had (daughter) Jane, Marty became very sick and was diagnosed with cancer. We see them overcoming that and, as a couple, making it over many difficult situations.

Marty encourages Ruth on the day of the trialMarty encourages Ruth on the day of the trialCourtesy of Focus Features
  • It was a partnership in that they took turns. If one had a big brief to prepare then the other one would cook and take that responsibility. They didn’t limit themselves by being these conventional 1950’s husband and wife, man and woman. They were throwing all that up in the air and saying ‘No. That doesn’t work for us’.

Q: Was Ruth’s relationship with her daughter Jane difficult, especially in Jane’s teens like in the film?

  • Felicity: Jane is the means by which Ruth understands how America is changing. That is a huge theme in the film. It’s about the state of America (at that time). It’s about America needing to shift and needing to adapt itself due to a shifting generation and you see that very much in the difference in Ruth’s coming from the 1940’s and 1950’s and her daughter who is a product of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. She goes ‘Hold on. Society’s moved on and the law isn’t reflecting that. That law has got to catch up’. In that legal context we also understand the relationship between a mother and daughter and its tensions and difficulties but it’s a very special relationship.

Jane looks on as her parents celebrate the case winJane looks on as her parents celebrate the case winCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: She took the case of Charles Moritz who wasn’t allowed a tax deduction for hiring someone to care for his mom because he was an unmarried man. Why do you think that resonated with her?

  • Felicity: Ruth’s mother had been very ill when she was growing up and died with Ruth was very young so I feel that there was a deep connection with Charles Moritz in that she knew what he was going through. She knew what it was like to care for someone.

Ruth tries to endure insults to her intelligenceRuth tries to endure insults to her intelligenceCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: You met Ruth. What was that like?

  • Felicity: When you are playing a real person, that comes with an enormous responsibility to understand who that person is, why they behave like they do but also, on a more minute level, do they wear nail polish and what time do they get up in the morning? All those little details that are, in some ways, the most fun in playing a real person because you research and become like a forensic scientist.

As a young law student at the Dean's partyAs a young law student at the Dean's partyCourtesy of Focus Features
  • I was very fortunate to meet Justice Ginsburg. We met at her apartment in Washington. It was a very moving encounter with her. Having read everything there was to know about someone then meeting them and being slightly speechless when you first meet them, I suddenly became very shy. I feel great respect for her.

Ginsburg was a woman in a man's worldGinsburg was a woman in a man's worldCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: How do you feel about her struggle for gender equality etc.?

  • Felicity: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a true revolutionary. She has a fire in her belly but her skill is in changing the law bit by bit and changing society’s perception of the law so that great, great changes could happen. It came from Ruth, very painstakingly, going through and just case by case, showing that discrimination on the basis of gender was in no way a sensible thing. That had to change. But, the painstaking work and the method she took to do this is awe-inspiring.

Basis of Sex Movie PosterBasis of Sex Movie PosterCourtesy of Focus Features

See On the Basis of Sex in theaters Friday, Jan. 11th.

Tell Everyone What You Think!

Whether you are a boy or girl you haven’t lived in a world where it was legal to refuse a woman (or a guy) a job just because of what sex they were. Could you be a fighter for equality despite all odds?  Have you studied Justice Ginsburg in school? How do you feel about equality for everyone? Write a comment below and/or on your Kidzworld profile page.