Emilia Jones on CODA and Filming Locke & Key Season 2 and 3 Back-to-Back - VRGyani News and Media

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Emilia Jones on CODA and Filming Locke & Key Season 2 and 3 Back-to-Back

One of the most emotionally heartfelt films so far this year, that is also truly a love letter to family, is CODA, which follows 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), the sole hearing member of a deaf family. Until now, her life has revolved around being an interpreter for her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur) and working on the family fishing boat with her older brother (Daniel Durant), but when Ruby joins her high school’s choir club and gets some guidance from the choirmaster in how to channel her passion into a real gift, she realizes that her life is at a turning point between family obligations and the desire to pursue her own dreams.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Jones talked about her journey to getting this role, the huge challenge of everything she had to learn to take on this project, her intense training in sign language, the hardest scene to shoot, narrowing down the songs that she’d sing in the film, how fun it was to play the romance, and what she’d taken away from the experience of making CODA. She also talked about playing Kinsey Locke on the TV series Locke & Key, filming Seasons 2 and 3 back-to-back, and how much her character has evolved.

Collider: First of all, congratulations on this film and on how much audiences are responding to it. What’s it like to actually hear feedback on a project like this, that’s not only a great film, but hopefully gives people a deeper understanding of a culture they might know little to nothing about?

EMILIA JONES: Yeah, exactly. That’s what drew me to this project. I love that there was such emphasis on authenticity. It’s a story about a family. It’s not about a family that’s deaf. It’s just a love letter to family. This family is not solely defined by being deaf. These are characters that people can relate to. And Troy [Kotsur], Daniel [Durant] and Marlee [Matlin] are absolutely incredible. I loved working with them. I think the family dynamic that we have on screen is what was in real life too. We had a lot of fun, playing these deep and layered characters. And I loved learning sign language. I really didn’t know anything about deaf culture and about that world, so I just loved immersing myself and learning so much. My hope, when people watch the film, is that they will wanna know more too. A lot of people that have seen it, they’ll write and go, “Oh, my gosh, I wanna know more. I wanna learn a couple of signs.” A crew member on Locke & Key came up to me and signed, “I loved the movie.” Someone will say, “There’s a man that lives on my street and he’s deaf. How do I sign this? How do I sign that?” So, I hope that people watch this film and wanna know more.

It’s one of those movies where I would imagine reading the script must’ve been a pretty emotional experience, but did you have a moment where it sunk in, just how much you’d actually have to do for this role?

JONES: Yeah, there was. I learned sign language for nine months, and then a week before I left to fly to Massachusetts to have intense training with Alexandria Wailes and Anne Tomasetti, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve taken on so much.” I had a little wobble because I just wanted to do everything justice. I wanted to make sure my singing was the best. I’ve never had a singing lesson before. I wanted to make sure all of my signs were accurate and truthful. I’d never fished before. There was a moment where I was like, “Okay, this is a lot.” But then, I flew to Massachusetts and I was like, “Nope, I love the challenge. I wanna learn and I wanna be pushed beyond belief.”

Even with the final singing performance you have, you’re not only singing and doing the sign language, but you’re having to think of the accent and do everything at once.

JONES: Yeah, that scene was definitely the most challenging to film. It’s like multi-tasking under pressure. When I was filming “Both Sides Now,” I had to walk into that scene being as accurate as possible with my signs, I had to sing in tune because everything was recorded live on set, and I had to make sure tonally my acting was on point. I walked into the scene thinking, “Okay, I have all of these things that I have to do, so I have to do the best I can, otherwise, you don’t have many takes to choose from.” If you do four takes, but your sign language is only correct in one of them, you only have one take to choose from, and your singing and acting may have been better in the other take. So, you just have to make sure that, with every take, you’re doing everything on the same level. I definitely went into that scene thinking, “Okay, I have to make sure that I get everything almost a hundred percent correct.”

When you were on set, did you feel like you’d really nailed it?

JONES: The take that (writer/director) Sian [Heder] and the editor and everybody picked for the film was a take that I actually messed up. We shot that towards the end of filming. The moment when I sign, “I love you,” I just looked up at Marlee, Troy and Daniel. We had become so close during this film. It was such a special project to be a part of and it was such a special film to make. I signed, “I love you,” and I looked up at them and got really emotional, and then I changed the melody by accident, and that was the take that they picked, in the end. I just remember that I was happy that I had done it, but also, it was such a special song to sing. Joni [Mitchell] says that “Both Sides Now” is the work of her childhood’s end, when she was coming to that point in her life where her childhood was ending. It was the perfect song to sing and it was the perfect time to shoot it too, when we were coming to the end of the film. So, that was definitely a very emotional, but a very special scene to film.

RELATED: 'CODA' Trailer Unveils Moving Sundance Winner About Teen Singer and Her Deaf Family

What was it like for you, before you actually knew that you would get to play this role? When you went in to audition for the role, did you feel really good about getting cast, or do you always think you won’t get the role?

JONES: Honestly, I’m so modest that I never think, “Oh, this is mine.” I’m always like, “Well, I would love to do it.” When I audition, I do it, and then I try to forget about it. So much of acting is just luck, and you hear no a lot more than you hear yes, so I never get my hopes up. But I do remember when I read CODA, I absolutely fell in love with it. It was one of those scripts where you read it and it hits you hard. It really touched me. I loved the Rossis. loved that they’re dysfunctional and relatable. I’m close to my family, so I loved that it was a love letter to family. I love the Ruby is a deep and layered character. And obviously, it’s not everyday that you get to learn three skills, so that also excited me. I read it and I was like, “I have to audition.” I sent four dialogue scenes, and then I sang “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac because that was the song that it was originally meant to be, instead of “Both Sides Now.” And then, I had a talk with Sian and I sent another three songs. And then, we had a Skype and she spoke to me about CODA and about Ruby. We had this amazing conversation and I just remember thinking, “I wanna work with Sian so much,” because I loved how she spoke about the project. I then was sent a link. Sian said, “I know you don’t know any sign language, but can you please copy my friend signing this scene the best you can, just so we can see you roughly signing.” As I said before, I love a challenge, so I was delighted. I watched the link three times, and then I made a cup of tea and I was gonna sit down and properly work on it, but the link had expired. This was on a Friday, and I was flying to do Locke & Key Season 1 on the next Tuesday morning, so I panicked. But I remembered that Ruby finger spells Berkeley, so I just kept finger spelling. And then, I finally got the link and I stayed up until 4am, practicing. And then, I sent the tape and a few weeks later, I found out that I got the part. Sian said, “We couldn’t believe how fast your finger spelling was.” And I was like, “Well, that’s all I did, all week.

How hard was it to pick the other songs that you sang?

JONES: I was filming Locke & Key Season 1 at the time, and every weekend, I would meet with my singing teacher, Elaine Overholt, who was incredible. She really helped me. We would sing every song that they would send. Honestly, I’d say I sang about a hundred songs. And then, we’d find one that they liked and we wouldn’t get the rights or there would be an issue. It was this juggling act, of loads of amazing songs. I loved all of them. I think the songs that we ended up choosing are absolutely perfect for the film. “Both Sides Now” was the perfect song to end and for Ruby to relay. It’s just so relatable for Ruby. I had a lot of fun. I had never done anything at the level that was required for CODA. I sing all the time around the house, but I’d never had a singing lesson, so I was a little bit nervous. I love singing, so I was excited that I’d actually be able to learn properly. Elaine Overholt was an incredible teacher and she really gave me the confidence that I needed to sing on set.

At 17, Ruby has a lot on her shoulders that there are a lot of people depending on her to do things for them. And similarly at 19, you really have a lot of people depending on you to deliver for this film. How did you deal with the pressure of all of that? Is it just about putting in the work and making sure you’re absolutely prepared, or did you still have a moment of panic on set?

JONES: I was 17 when we shot it, which is a lot for a 17-year-old, but I loved that Ruby was 17. She’s at that moment in life where she’s figuring it out. I know that a lot of times, people cast older because they’ve got more experience and can work more hours. I’m so grateful that Sian wanted CODA to be so authentic. The camera picks up that kind of youth. As I said before, I love a challenge. I knew all along that it was gonna be hard work, but I wanted to take that hard work and run with it. I just remember when they called, “Wrap!,” I burst into tears. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did it.” It was honestly the hardest project I’ve ever had to do, but also the most rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity because this film taught me so much, acting wise, but also in my real life.

Was this a hard character to say goodbye to and to leave this world and this family behind?

JONES: So hard. Normally, you prep for a film a couple of weeks before, and then you go and you film it. But because I’d been training for nine months, and every weekend I would be working, when I wasn’t on Locke & Key, and in between takes I’d be signing. We were filming in Gloucester and none of the cast or Sian, we didn’t really know anyone, but each other. We became a family. We hung out all the time and we were already close and we got on really well. So, when it ended, it had been such a big part of my life for so long, I was like, “What am I gonna do with my life now? What am I gonna do with my weekends?” And then, I had to say goodbye to Troy, Daniel, Marlee and Sian, and we were a family. We have this group chat, where we text every day. I love it.

I also really love the love story in this because we see your character really teach this young man a lesson about how you should treat other people and how you should actually consider the feelings of other people, especially when you don’t understand them. What did you most enjoy about exploring that relationship and that dynamic and how different it really is?

JONES: That was a really fun part of the film to play. I got on really well with Ferdia [Walsh-Peelo]. We got along great and it was nice because my first ever scenes that I shot were the quarry scenes. So, right before we started filming, Ferdia and I and Sian went jumping off the rocks on the weekend, and we played on the log. We were living as the characters, in a way. I thought it was fun to play Ruby’s first love. It was fun to play that someone who’s not sure what to do and who doesn’t know how to handle it. We just had a lot of fun. Although, while we were filming in the quarry, I wanted to jump off the really, really, really high rock, but Sian wouldn’t let me. I didn’t tell her I did it on the weekend. There was a five foot long eel in the water, and I didn’t know that at the time. Apparently, one of the divers who was really tough was screaming and ran out of the water. The stunt coordinator was like, “What’s going on?” He was like, “There’s an eel!” The stunt guy was like, “Don’t tell Ferdia and Emilia.” So, we were just swimming along with this eel, not knowing. It was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun filming those scenes. I haven’t really done romance on screen, so that was also fun to explore.

Season 2 of Locke & Key premieres in October and you’re almost done shooting the third season. How different does the character feel now than she did when you first started playing her? How much does she feel like she’s grown?

JONES: A lot, actually. That’s what I’ve loved about doing Seasons 2 and 3 back to back. I’ve grown, but it’s also a transition. I really love Season 2. I think people are gonna enjoy it. Season 1 was more about these characters finding out who they are and dealing with the trauma. Kinsey, at the beginning, is wracked by anxiety and fear, and then she takes this big emotion out of her head and it’s a recipe for disaster. She’s having to realize how to cope without cheating with these keys. Season 2 is a lot about these characters growing and having fun with the keys too. They have figured out what it means to be the keepers of the keys. There are lots of twists and turns, and there’s lots of new keys too. People are gonna enjoy these characters understanding themselves more and understanding each other. Relationships have changed, and I think that will be fun for people to see.

There were some really fun twists and turns in the first season. How much are you actually told about ahead of time? How often are you surprised by the scripts, as you read them?

JONES: Oh, I’m always so surprised. The minute they send them, I’m reading them. The finale for Season 2, was very, very exciting. I remember reading it and I thought, “Oh, my goodness!” I didn’t think it was gonna go there, and it did and I was very, very happy about it. And with Season 3, the finale is incredible. When I was reading it, I could not put it down.

Without revealing any spoilers, with the way that Season 2 ends, how happy will fans be to know that they’re definitely getting a Season 3?

JONES: They’ll be very happy. It’s a nice ending because it wraps up, but it also leaves people wanting.

The end of Season 1 was shocking, so it was nerve-wracking to wait to find out if we’d get to see more of the story. It will be reassuring to know that, after Season 2, fans will still get more of the story.

JONES: I was nervous too because in lockdown, loads of shows were getting renewed and I was like, “Why haven’t we heard anything?” And then, I remember I got a call from Meredith [Averill] and Carlton [Cuse], our showrunners. I was thinking, “What does this mean?” And they were like, “How’s your lockdown? What are you up?” I was like, “Are they just checking in to see how I am?” And then, they told me and I was very, very excited.

After having this experience on CODA, learning sign language and working with these actors, what most surprised you about the whole experience and what you now know about the whole culture?

JONES: What a great question. Because I was so new, going in to this film, there was so much that surprised me. There was so much that I didn’t know and didn’t even think about. I remember the first rehearsal at the Rossi house, Troy, Daniel and Marlee walked in and said, “This is not how a deaf person would have arranged all the furniture in the house.” I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t think about that.” The sofa was in front of the door and the door was behind them, and they said, “We would get scared.” They can’t sit in front of a window because they’re backlit. In terms of filming, we would have to not do closeups sometimes because you had to get your signs and your hands in. I was constantly learning. I trained for nine months, but it wasn’t really until I got to Massachusetts that I had intense training with our ASL directors. All of the interpreters on set were CODAs, which I found incredibly helpful because I could constantly talk with them and find out their experiences. And then, I met Troy, Danny and Marlee, and everybody took me under their wing and welcomed me into their community and their world, and was so patient and kind. It was such a special film to make. It was very much teamwork. I honestly think that sign language taught me the true meaning of communication. I think it taught everybody on set communication. I certainly give people more eye contact now. Even when Troy, Danny and Marlee weren’t on set, people were communicating better. So, it was such an amazing film to be part of. I feel so, so grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn sign language. I’m still learning because I absolutely fell in love with the language.

CODA is available to stream at Apple TV+.



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