The popularity of Chinese Martial Arts in Hollywood is nothing new, as all fans of Jet Li will attest. But the latest convert is perhaps not a name you might automatically associate with such skills.
British actress Felicity Jones is 33 years old and her Hollywood career to date has seen her star in a string of romantic comedies and dramas, including securing an Oscar nomination for the part of Jane Wilde Hawking, the wife of Professor Stephen Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything’.
It was, therefore, a bit of a leap when she was cast in the role of Jyn Erso in the latest Star Wars film, ‘Rogue One’. The movie is an action-packed sci-fi epic, taking Jones a long way out of her comfort zone.
But remarkably she has embraced the challenge, especially learning the martial arts needed for the role. Her character is a criminal turned leader of the rebel force who is trying to capture the plans for the Death Star.
For the role, Jones trained in the traditional Chinese martial art of Wushu and, as she revealed in an interview with the New York Times, found a passion for her new found skill.
“We didn’t want it to be balletic and majestic,” she said of the fight scenes her character took on in the film. “It’s all quite short, sharp movements. We wanted it to feel authentic and a little bit dirty… I absolutely love doing it. I have to be careful not to do it on my friends or on my boyfriend or on my family.”
Several different styles of wushu involve the use of weapons such as staffs and swords, and it was these elements that Jones was particularly focused on in her training. And being a Hollywood actor, starring in one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, it goes without saying that she was trained by the very best.
Wushu master and Hollywood stuntman Liang Yang was her mentor. He is no stranger to Star Wars having trained another British actress, Daisy Ridley for her role in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. He even had a small part in the film himself.
Yang explained to Men’s Fitness the type of training regimes he worked on with Jones. They did a lot of low impact pad drills, which he explained “helped her crouch in many of the low fighting stances” and also improved her lower body strength and special awareness.
“We knew Felicity needed a lot of leg and waist strength because most of the power in a fight originates from there. She had to work very hard practicing leg movements in specific martial arts stances,” he went on to explain.
As well as building the strength and skill-set to enable Jones to fight realistically, Yang also had to get her into a condition where she wouldn’t injure herself taking on the various fight scenes, which is one of the reasons why she took part in an intensive boot camp which lasted several weeks.
As Yang told Men’s Fitness, the training for Jones, and the rest of the cast involved a lot of work on flexibility and coordination, as well as strength and coordination.
It is all too easy to sit in the cinema and dismiss the action taking place on screen as the work of stunt-doubles. But this does a disservice to the huge amount of work that all actors have to put into preparing for full-on action movies such as Rogue One. This is especially true of newcomers to martial arts such as wushu, which Felicity Jones was.
And for those who doubt whether Felicity Jones really is doing the various fight scenes we see in the final cut of the movie, a recent edition of the US talk show ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’.
Jimmy Fallon invites Jones to show off some of the movies she learned in training for the movie. Despite wearing high heels and a knee-length dress, Felicity Jones soon has Fallon on the floor, to a standing ovation from the crowd. A clip of her in full wushu mode then follows!
The extent to which Felicity Jones has taken to wushu, and the obvious passion which she has developed for it, is a clear indicator of how accessible Chinese martial arts can be to even the most inexperienced of novices.
Wushu is not just the ‘go-to’ martial art for action movie actors, but a great way to keep fit and learn to protect yourself. And even if you are more of a rom-com kind of person, you can still find something in wushu for you; just ask Felicity Jones.