Stephen Hawking is the world’s most famous physicist. Suffering from a motor neuron disease related to ALS, he is paralyzed and has been wheelchair bound for most of his life. Communicating through a speech-generating device he continues to share his ideas and write books like A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.
His story is well known; lesser known is the story of his (now ex) wife Jane.
A film at TIFF aims to fix that. The Theory of Everything is not just the biography of a great man but also the story of the great woman behind the man. As Jane Hawking, Felicity Jones portrays the strength, wisdom and occasional frustration it took to be Hawking’s partner.
“As is often the case with very famous and rich people there is someone in the background doing all the very unglamorous work,” she says. “Jane is a fascinating woman in her own right. I met her and was very intimidated. She had a tremendous force of character and strength to do what she did. It is not easy being the carer in that situation, particularly for someone who is very famous. You can feel eclipsed, so for all of us it was about bringing Jane’s story to life.”
The movie, which is based by the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, is just as much about her as it is him. Jones, who was recently seen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and on TV in the HBO hit Girls, says she met with her real-life counterpart to soak up as much of her spirit as possible.
“There is so much richness in her life it would have been stupid of me not to have her as my resource,” says Jones, who plays Jane from a teenager well into her fifties. “It was about capturing her essence. The essence of this woman is somebody who is strong willed, who is persistent and was an academic in her own right. Incredibly intelligent. It is taking that and also bringing your instinct and inhabiting that person as much as possible.
“When I went to visit Jane we sat down to look at pictures. She had old slides of her and Stephen when they first met. Looking at those pictures and seeing the dynamic between them when they were on boating holidays was fascinating. Stephen at that point wasn’t able to move so Jane would be steering the boat. I wanted to absorb as much as possible from what she was showing me. When I met her I felt a little bit disingenuous because we’d be talking and I’d be observing things about her. Like I was a detective trying to find clues about her character.”
Jones says Jane is “very pleased with the film. She has been very supportive all the way through. You don’t want the person to watch it and say, ‘Well, that’s awful. That wasn’t right at all.’ You have to care for the people you’re playing and show that in your performance.”