‘On The Basis of Sex’ star Felicity Jones: Ruth Bader Ginsburg fights for us all
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‘On The Basis of Sex’ star Felicity Jones: Ruth Bader Ginsburg fights for us all

Actress Felicity Jones tells Francine Wolfisz  of her admiration for the Supreme Court’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Felicity Jones with co-star Armie Hammer, stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Felicity Jones with co-star Armie Hammer, stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In the autumn of 1956, a throng of 500 male students confidently filed into Harvard Law School on their first day of college – with just nine young women almost indiscernible among the crowd.

They included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a young married mother who had already faced prejudice because of her Jewish background and upbringing in Brooklyn.

But if her adversaries now thought the addition of gender discrimination would stop her dreams of pursuing a legal career, they were very much mistaken.

She may have been small in stature (at just a little over 5ft tall), but Bader Ginsburg has more than proved her might over the decades by becoming a leading advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights.

Ginsburg also became the second female justice appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States and can still be found delivering arguments from her bench, aged 85.

Now the inspiring story of Ginsburg’s fight against discrimination and first major win for equal rights is retold in the Mimi Leder-directed film, On The Basis Of Sex, which opens in cinemas tomorrow.

British-born actress Felicity Jones, seen most recently in The Theory Of Everything and Rogue One plays Ginsburg, alongside Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your NameThe Social Network) as her husband, Marty. The stellar cast also features Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston and Kathy Bates, while the film was scripted by Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman.

Speaking to Jewish News, Jones reflects that experiencing prejudice in multiple forms from a young age was key to forming Ginsburg’s tenacious personality.

“She was fighting on all fronts,” explains the 35-year-old. “Not only because of her gender, but also because of her faith and where she came from. There was snobbery about her Brooklyn roots from people working in law.

Felicity Jones with co-star Armie Hammer, stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“What was phenomenal is just how many doors were consistently slammed in her face. She was discriminated against in every possible way – and even once lost a job because she was pregnant. But all these injustices in her own life enabled her to forge a campaign to shift the landscape, not only for herself, but also for others. Experiencing that prejudice was vital to who she was.”

Jones admits feeling a large sense of trepidation before she and co-star Hammer finally met the American-Jewish icon affectionately dubbed the “Notorious RBG”, but their fears quickly melted thanks to Ginsburg’s “very keen, almost British sense of humour” and welcoming personality.

“We were waiting outside her office at the Supreme Court before we were introduced and were trying to think of things we could say to impress her,” smiles Jones.

“We walked in rather nervously, but then Ruth just looked up at Armie and was completely entranced by him – like so many of us are!”

In that moment, Jones believes Ginsburg was reminded of her husband, Marty, to whom she was married for 56 years until his death in 2010.

Their relationship, as shown in the film, was one of great love on both a personal and professional level – rather than focusing solely on his own ambitions, Marty was a pre-eminent tax lawyer who was also “enormously supportive” of Ginsburg’s work. He also took on his fair share of parenting duties, household chores and cooking meals at a time when doing so was certainly not the “norm” for men. In fact, during that first meeting with Ginsburg, Jones and Hammer were presented with a book of Marty’s favourite recipes.

“In handing it to us, she showed just how important that relationship was to her and what an enormous love they had for each other. It was that great contrast of the icon with a human being who was like any of us, just someone who has loved and lost.”

Ruth Bader
Ginsburg,

Aside from exploring Ginsburg’s personal life, On The Basis Of Sex is also at its heart about her aspirations to slowly overturn decades of gender discrimination in the courtroom.

Interestingly, the case that sparks her mission involves a single man named Charles Moritz, who she successfully argued had been discriminated against in a $296 tax deduction, because the law did not recognise men could be caregivers.

Her tenaciousness in securing a victory is more than evident, but it was how Ginsburg handled herself against sexist put-downs as she navigated her way through the legal landscape that has most impressed Jones.

“What has surprised me is her ability not to get knocked down. Even now, there’s all these huge conspiracy theories that she’s not even alive. I was reading about all this nonsense that she has to continuously fight against and was impressed by her tenacity to just keep going and not let the negativity get to her.”

Getting to know more about a cultural icon such as Ginsburg has left a lasting impression on her, explains Jones. “We have so few leaders at the moment who we can really look up to, who have stuck by their beliefs, who can give us some kind of principled guidance – and she is someone who has done that throughout her life.

“The beliefs she has started off with, she has stuck by those. I definitely feel she has changed me in quite a fundamental way.”

υ On The Basis Of Sex (12A) opens in cinemas across the UK from tomorrow

 

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