With people often being quick to put on a façade of being truly blissful in their relationships, including those with their significant other, family members and friends, that faux contentment often hides the resentment and unease they begin to feel for each other as their happiness begins to fade. They not only want to give the illusion that they’re truly pleased within their relationships, but also want to hold onto the memories of when they really did love each other. That’s certainly the case with the characters in the new romantic drama, ‘Breathe In,’ which reunites Sundance Jury Prize-winning writer-director, Drake Doremus, with his ‘Like Crazy’ star, Felicity Jones. The two once gain offer a sense of realism as they fully and emotionally explore the obstacles the film’s characters are forced to overcome in order to become truly happy and accepting of how their lives turned out.
‘Breathe In,’ which open in theaters in New York on Friday, March 28, and expands to Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday, April 4, follows soulful and musical British exchange student Sophie Williams (Jones). She travels to upstate New York in search of inspiration for a semester at an American school.
On the surface, Sophie’s host family seems happy enough, but with her arrival to the Reynolds’ home, the private struggles of each family member begin to come to the surface. In particular, frustrated musician-turned-piano- teacher Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) finds long suppressed dreams and desires reignited by Sophie’s talent and inquisitive nature. Meanwhile, as Keith’s wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), focus on Lauren’s final year of high school, Sophie and Keith are drawn ever closer by their mutual longing for creative expression. Ultimately, Sophie and Keith must confront how much they are willing to sacrifice and what they truly want out of life.
Jones and Doremus generously took the time recently to sit down during a roundtable interview in New York City to talk about ‘Breathe In.’ Among other things, the actress and writer-director discussed how the filmmaker wanted to work with the performer again right after they finished ‘Like Crazy’ so much that he offered her the role of Sophie without an audition; how they created the idea that Sophie’s troubles are rooted in her family background in England, including how a couple close relatives died as she was growing up, which led her to envy the Reynolds and connect with the disillusioned Keith; and how Doremus encouraged Jones and the rest of the cast to heavily improv during their scenes, just as they did in ‘Like Crazy,’ to allow their interactions to naturally happen.
Question (Q): Drake, having co-written the outline for the story, and directing the film, what was the process of getting the movie to come together?
Drake Doremus (DD): It started right after ‘Like Crazy,’ and wanting to continue working with Felicity. Dustin (O’Halloran’s) music laid the groundwork, the tone of the characters’ world and the atmosphere we were going to create. From there, everything basically flowed. So those two things really spoke to me.
Q: Felicity, how did you become involved in the film? Did you have to audition?
Felicity Jones (FJ): Well, this film was really unusual. What happened was Drake asked me to do it, because we had already worked together on ‘Like Crazy.’ In many ways, ‘Breathe In’ is like a twin to ‘Like Crazy,’ so he asked me if I wanted to come back. So it was quite nice that I didn’t have to audition, because auditions are really frightening and intimating. (laughs) But you get used to them.
Q: Did you do any particular research for your role as Sophie once you signed on to the role?
FJ: With Sophie, I felt like she was a very troubled young woman. There’s actually a play, called ‘The Master Builder,’ by Henrik Ibsen, which was a real inspiration. There’s a character, Hilda, who was a real inspiration to understanding Sophie.
With all roles, you start watching other films, which act as inspirations. I wanted her to have dark hair and have a fairy-tale quality to her. She was coming into the story, and there was something heightened about her and her presence.
Q: Sophie seems so disturbed. Did you create a backstory for her, such as what kind of relationship she had with her mother?
FJ: Absolutely. We talked about who she was. I think a lot of Sophie’s troubles were rooted in her family situation. To me, she felt like someone who’s very lost. She’s looking for a connection and boundaries. To a certain point, I think she envied the (Reynolds) family, because I think she’s someone who doesn’t have that. So it’s important that you see, more than anything, that she wants to belong to something, because she doesn’t have that.
Q: Did you think about Sophie’s relationships with her mother and father, and what kind of home she grew up in?
DD: Yes, we came up with the idea that she was raised by her aunt and uncle.
FJ: Yes, we thought her mother had died, and her father hadn’t been able to look after her. So she had been adopted by her aunt and uncle.
DD: Her uncle taught her the piano, and she became obsessed with that world. He was obsessed with making her the best. When he died, she lost her way a little bit.
FJ: A lot about the character for us was about an exploration of grief in many ways, and how that affects someone. Through that grief, you can act in not very moral ways, because of the anger, hurt and pain.
Q: Sophie forms a connection with Keith, in part because she wants to feel that she belongs and is connected to someone. So Felicity, what was it like working with Guy Pearce on the film, and building the two characters’ connection?
FJ: It was fantastic. I’ve always admired his work. He chooses really interesting directors, and really cares about the acting. He had never done a film where he was improvising before. I could see him relishing the challenge of it. He’s an actor who always pushed himself. He really loved the process of making the film.
Q: So there was a lot of improvisation on the set?
FJ: Yes, there was a lot of improv. It was a combination, in sometimes we had things that were scripted, but most it was the same as the method in which we made ‘Like Crazy.’ We had an outline, and there would be thoughts about character, and what happens in the scene. We’d let it happen, and then let the dialogue happen on the day.
Q: Is there a certain way you prepare for improv? With this film, you played a character with heightened emotions and matters of the heart, in which viewers can relate to on some level. Was there a way you approached the character that was a little bit different than just memorizing lines?
FJ: The main thing for me is the backstory. For both Anna and Sophie, I had a very clear understanding of what schools they went to, what the houses they grew up in were like and what her parents do. I have a really sure understanding of where the character came from.
Q: Besides films, you’ve also performed in plays. Have you ever forgotten your lines on stage?
FJ: Sometimes you do, and you panic and look to the audience, and hope for the best. But that’s why it’s thrilling to do it. Right before you go on stage, you think, why am I doing this to myself? (laughs) This is going to be a painful experience. But once you’re out there, it’s so exciting.
Q: What was it like working with your other co-stars on the film? Did you bond on the set?
FJ: Absolutely. Amy is such an incredible actress. We actually just watched a clip of her yesterday (March 17) during a Q&A. She’s so down to earth, and has no pretention. She’s so professional and focused.
DD: She’s one of the kindest actors. She’s so gracious and kind.
FJ: It was great that Mackenzie and I had Amy as a guide and the mother in the film. Mackenzie is also great. She plays Lauren, and this was her first film. We were really lucky-everyone got along so well. There’s no gossip, really. (laughs) Everything was straight-forward, and supportive of each other.
I feel like the tone comes from the director, and Drake is really about collaboration and support. It’s all about performance. So as an actor, that’s the nicest environment to be in.
Q: Keith and Megan seemed so miss-matched in their marriage. What was it that kept them together?
DD: I think they were trying to figure that out, as well. I think that’s part of the issue. People come to a point where you remember feeling something for another person, but you can’t’ really feel it anymore. It’s sort of a grey area, where it’s not 100 percent one way or 100 percent another.
**SPOILER ALERT** At the end of the film, without giving too much away, there’s no real sense of where Keith really is. He’s not really with them, or anybody.
The idea that Keith and Sophie is fleeting and ridiculous in many ways. But in the moment, you feel something so intense, that the logical side of your brain shuts off. You almost fall in love with this reawakened version of yourself. I think that’s a situation Keith finds himself in. **END SPOILER ALERT**
Q: Have you ever felt that way?
DD: Of course. People get swept up in things. Even walking down the street, you walk past someone, and momentarily lose consciousness.
FJ: (laughs) There’s a really great (Philip) Larkin poem about how selfish you have to be to fall in love, and mess up someone else’s life. It’s so true! (laughs)
Q: Felicity, did you have any love experiences that you drew on in order to play Sophie?
FJ: I felt that this was something I hadn’t personally experienced before. It’s such a difficult circumstance. I can’t relate to the fact that they have a connection that they really shouldn’t be having.
DD: Or should they be having it?
Q: In both ‘Breathe In’ and ‘Like Crazy,’ the happy moments are very brief. Felicity, how do you and your co-stars prepare to get all of that happiness in quickly?
FJ: So much time as an actor is spent working out the chronology of what happened between the scenes that isn’t in the script. So that’s part of the process of preparing a character-you have to build a fuller life, even though you don’t necessarily see everything on screen. But you do get the sense that they’re proper, living human beings.
Q: You were also great in ‘Hysteria.’ Isn’t it strange that Hugh Dancy is now playing such a dark character in ‘Hannibal,’ as compared to his role in the film?
FJ: I think that’s what we always want as actors-to be able to move between different characters and take on different personalities. For me, that’s part of the joy of acting. I imagine he likes it, too. (laughs)
Q: Having appeared in both modern films, such as ‘Breathe In’ and ‘Like Crazy,’ and period pieces, like ‘Hysteria’ and ‘The Invisible Woman,’ how do the two types of films compare and contrast? Do you have a preference of doing modern pieces over period movies, or vice versa?
FJ: I like doing them all. My focus is always the character, so that’s always my way into something. I try not to patronize the character, depending on when they lived. I feel like that as human beings, we have the same emotions that we’ve had for hundreds of years. I love period dramas, as well as more contemporary films. I grew up watching films like ‘Howards End.’ So I do like doing period work. The hook’s always the character and the director.
Q: Besides ‘Breathe In,’ do you both have any upcoming projects that you can discuss?
FJ: I have another film coming out this year, called ‘Theory of Everything,’ which James Marsh directed. It’s about Stephen and Jane Hawking, and their relationship. It shows how they fell in love, and how he later developed a motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It spans from when they met in their early 20s until they split up in their forties. Eddie Redmayne also stars in the film, as Stephen.
I also have ‘True Story’ with Jonah Hill and James Franco. I was also in the next ‘Spider-Man’ (‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’).
DD: I’m going to start shooting my next film later this year. It’s called ‘Equals,’ and it’s a futuristic love story. It’s going to star Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart. There’s a script this time; it’s not really improvised by any means. So I’m looking forward to trying something different.