Essex actress Gina Jones talks to Mark Kebble about her first leading film role, how she dealt with the tough subject matter, and moving on from the bullies
Gina Jones is recounting a story of an awkward meal she had during the filming of her new movie, The Sun Also Rises. “I had gone out for dinner one night, I took my cardigan off and I had all these bruises on my arms,” she recounts. “My partner was horrified. I looked down and I felt I had to cover them up.”
Thankfully, these bruises were the result of some expert make-up on the set of the film, but served as a timely reminder of what some people have to go through. We are talking because, later this summer, Jones will be seen in her first leading movie role, playing Raye, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. The film charts her struggle to survive, her journey to escape, and how the cycle of violence affects everyone who comes into contact with it.
It doesn’t flinch on its tough subject matter, but wasn’t one that put Jones off. “It was my birthday weekend and I received an email from my agent,” she says. “It was pretty much 5pm, on a Friday, on my birthday weekend – you know, just when you are ready to switch off. They sent the whole script and said to pick two scenes, tape [an audition] and send it back to them for the Monday. I begrudgingly took my iPad upstairs and started reading it – and, wow, it really gripped me. I sent the video back and I think it was maybe three weeks from audition to filming.”
That’s such a quick turnaround for a subject so important, let alone the fact it was the leading part. “I did as much research as I could online,” she says of those precious three weeks. “I just really tried to understand her as much as I could, why she made the choices she did, how it must feel to be trapped in certain scenarios. I had such a short time to prepare for the role, including learning the lines, so it was less stress about the fact it was a leading role, more that I wanted to do a good job of telling this because it’s such an important story. Domestic violence is a heavy topic and I didn’t want to do it at a surface level, I wanted to give it everything I had.”
From what I have seen of the film, Jones certainly does that and then some. Was it difficult to leave the job behind at the end of the day? “I look back and it’s a little bit of a blur,” she says on the filming, “but in a good way. The days were long, sometimes 12-14 hours, but I trained in the Meisner technique [where the goal is for an actor to not focus on themselves and instead concentrate on others], so for me when you finish a scene, you finish. You get everything out in that scene when you are acting and hopefully not carry too much of it with you when you go home.”
The Sun Also Rises is directed by Roland Manookian, better known as an actor in films like The Football Factory and RocknRolla. “Roland was such a dream to work with,” Jones smiles. “As an actor, he knows what it’s like to be in that space, all the different things you are worrying about, and he gets it. He’s just really generous and patient – I have had directors who just physically move you, or say ‘just do it like this’, and it’s not really helpful. Because he’s an actor and had that language, he was just able to guide me, or if sometimes I wasn’t quite getting the emotion he would come over and talk about how she’s feeling, and his eyes would well up and that would set me off! Then I would be in the right state to do the scene…”
The Sun Also Rises is the culmination of many years in the acting game, which she started when still at school. Growing up in Brentwood, her mixed heritage – Jones describes her background as being a mix of British, South American and Caribbean – wasn’t embraced positively by others. “I don’t want to sell a sob story, but school was really hard,” she says. “This was many years ago and I was the only non-white person in my school and there was a lot of racism. My parents are two different colours, their friends were Asian, Chinese, Black, White. I just took it in the same way as people who have different hair colour – people also have different skin colour. It was normal for me.
“And then, suddenly, going to school and being ostracised because I was a different colour was really hard,” Jones continues. “For a long time, it knocked my confidence, and I was quiet and shy because of that. I thought I disliked acting, but because I was in such a negative environment, I didn’t enjoy it. At 15, I joined my local acting group and I just fell in love. We went up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was an amazing opportunity, then I did a few acting groups – and since then it’s what I have always done.”
Despite her difficulties at school, it didn’t diminish her love for our county and today she lives in Witham. “I do love Brentwood,” she says of where she was brought up, “but it has changed so much. I also love Colchester, the castle is beautiful, and I also love going by the sea in Maldon.”
She’s currently back at home mulling over some potential projects, which as a leading actor always says, she can’t reveal anything about just yet (the part suits her), so for now it’s all about the impending release of The Sun Also Rises. “I am super excited to get it out there,” she says, “but also a tiny bit terrified. I just hope I have done a good job and told her story well. If I have done that, then I will be over the moon.
“I was so lucky to get this job,” she adds on why it could be a key moment in her career. “It’s such a good role to sink your teeth into. Not just because it’s the lead, but in terms of the journey she goes on, the story she is telling. I am really proud and grateful that I got the role.” Given what I have seen so far, Gina Jones will soon be catching the eye in restaurants for all the right reasons.
The Sun Also Rises is due to be released later this year