Felicity Jones takes on Ruth Bader Ginsburg in biopic ‘On the Basis of Sex’

The film looks at the Supreme Court Justice’s early years fighting gender discrimination.

In harrowing times, sometimes the best way to alleviate pain is to be soothed by hope. That’s the kind of performance Felicity Jones gives in the uplifting and necessary film "On The Basis of Sex."

Jones plays Ruth Bader Ginsburg before  the Supreme Court justice was a political rock star. An origin story of sorts, the film uncovers the person behind the brilliant accomplishments,  tracking the beginning stages of her career. As a struggling lawyer and new mother, Ginsburg is consistently thwarted by oppression and various forms of tribulation. But through perseverance and determination to be taken seriously, her passion for equality is met during her first riveting court case. Despite the doubts of her peers, mentors, and even those championing the same cause, Ginsburg takes on a tax case dealing with gender discrimination that becomes a groundbreaking moment in the fight for equality.

amNewYork spoke with Felicity Jones about the film, out now.

This isn’t a typical biopic. It focuses on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s determination that she had throughout her career to really make a difference and in how she rose up as a voice of hope as an advocate for gender discrimination.  

Absolutely, it’s such an important message in the film. She was working at a time when the system didn’t even want her there and she managed to use her anger over injustice and counted for something positive which, in the end, had an effort for a huge change.  

What did you learn from this specific case?

It was her determination and her hard work. She’s someone who is in a position of power who we have such great admiration for because of her integrity. She has her principles fully intact and there are not many people in positions of responsibility that we can look up to in that way. So much of what I was doing with this thing was charting that progress as to how she became the icon she is today.

I don’t think there’s a woman out there that hasn’t experienced discrimination at some point in their lives.

Absolutely. It’s incredible how when she was working as a young lawyer . . . she was expected to behave in a certain way while being under so much pressure. She managed to harness that and actually make it work to her advantage. She’s given us great hope that we can fight against the status quo.

The last few years have been very interesting politically, but through Ruth’s perseverance and other trailblazers like her, it shows that we can’t throw our hands up in defeat. What do you think it is about this current time that makes this story necessary now?

I think what’s so important about this story is it’s about what men and women can achieve when they all rise together. That’s what Justice Ginsburg was fighting for. That’s why the end of the movie gives people such hope because it’s about a woman who achieved what she achieved, had great success in her career and she does it with her relationship fully intact. That is pretty revolutionary.

I feel like it would have played very differently last year than this year. It seems like this is the right time.

Yeah. And I think it’s a really important time to just be celebrating that it’s about hope in the sense of, of gender equality. I think #MeToo definitely shows us that that change needed to happen. Building from that, I want to see even more of a push toward greater equality. I think #MeToo has provided a greater awareness and we just have to continue to fight.

How much time did you have with Ruth? Did she give you any insight?

We went to Washington to meet her before we started shooting. Ruth has been involved in every step of the way, giving meticulous notes like the good lawyer that she is. Her notes were always about [her husband] Marty, about the relationship, about the law and that being accurate. They were never from a place of vanity or trying to make herself look better, which is, again, a testament to how cool she is.

Is there something about her that surprised you at all?

I’m continually in admiration of her and the way she uses language. She was able to use words and use those words in such a way to  effect change, and that’s fascinating. Even now, she pauses before she speaks because she understands the value of the words we use and how important those words are in terms of affecting change in society.

She isn’t fearful to be challenged.

Oh, she loves a challenge! I think that’s her whole being and her love and passion. . . . She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes and so I constantly think of her in every moment that I’m in because it’s so important to have a voice.

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