Boston native Julia Jones, 37, began studying with Boston Ballet at age 4 and graduated from Boston Latin before earning a degree in English from Columbia University. She modeled in college, appearing in campaigns for Levi’s, Esprit and Polo Ralph Lauren, which she quickly parlayed into her objective: an acting career. Best known as Leah Clearwater in the blockbuster film adaptations of the Twilight series, Jones has appeared in Jonah Hex, Wind River and The Ridiculous 6, and she currently has three films in post-production. On television, she has appeared on ER and Longmire, and is set to play Kohana in season two of the wildly popular series Westworld. She lives in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Soroff: So is Westworld the best show on TV?
Julia Jones: Well, the experience of being a part of it, the cast and the creators and the crew—everybody involved with it feels the same way.
I think that’s the root of it. It’s a highlight of my life, one of the best, most fun jobs I’ve ever had. It’s super challenging, and I think we’re tapping into something larger than us.
Ever get sick of being Leah Clearwater? I have in the past but not anymore. It’s a funny thing because I feel like she’s sort of preserved by a bunch of strangers and fans. She doesn’t feel like me anymore. There’s a separation in my brain, so now it’s just purely lovely to be this character that people care about.
Do you do Comic Con or any of those conventions? I don’t do them anymore, but I did for a while. Those are intense.
Any bizarre stories? Yeah, so many. But more of them are really heartwarming. The most memorable aren’t the weirdest. People get so excited that they kind of lose their minds a little sometimes. You just never know what to expect in those situations.
Favorite thing that you’ve been in? I’m going to say Westworld, but it’s impossible to choose. They’re all so different. The Ridiculous 6 is so funny and absurd, and Wind River is such a beautiful film and nothing can touch that. But right now, I’m just so excited to see the next season of Westworld and I can’t believe I’m a part of it. I didn’t know what I was getting into and I just lucked out so big-time.
Most fun set you’ve ever been on? Hands down, Ridiculous 6. Three quarters of the cast were from the most exciting years of SNL. It was incredible. It was bananas every day. I’d never done a comedy before and I was literally on the floor the whole time. Also, Adam Sandler takes really good care of everybody, so we had dinner together every night. Ten to 15 of us had dinner together every night like a family.
Actor or director you’re dying to work with? That list is endless, but the first person who comes to mind is Guillermo del Toro.
How much of your acting is informed by your training in ballet? More than I’m aware of. I think every technical aspect of a performance comes from my ballet training. The ability to master that to the point where it’s something that’s happening subconsciously is a huge part of the ability to be free and act well.
How do you mean? Well, even with language stuff. Languages and dialects are more familiar because I was trained using French words, dancing to Italian or German music. I started ballet when I was 4 and I feel like there are pathways in my brain for technical memorization of things, whether they’re physical or intellectual. And for sure, the discipline of it.
When you were modeling, did you feel objectified or perceived as stupid because you were so beautiful? Well, kind of the opposite, which is interesting. But let me just be clear: I felt extremely objectified by modeling. [Laughs.] But I kind of felt like a spy, which was really fun for me. No one thought of me as a sentient being so I got to listen to so much stuff and see so many things. I was working with really phenomenal artists a lot of the time and traveling all over the world. I was a sponge. So it was a liberating and empowering thing, plus I was making money, which gives you independence. But there were prices to pay.
Biggest beauty secret? Personally? Less is more. I use pure castile soap. I’ve tried a lot of different potions and concoctions, and for me, I like the basics.
Anyone in Hollywood you get mistaken for? There aren’t that many people who look like me, but the person who people might confuse me with is Q’orianka Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in The New World.
Anyone you’d like to be compared to? Well, Lisa Joy, the co-creator of Westworld. I’ve heard from a lot of people that I reminded them of her, and having gotten to know her a little bit, I’m very flattered. Truly the greatest compliment on every level. She went to Harvard Law School. She’s no joke.
Is working for Quentin Tarantino the most intense experience an actor can have? It’s also bananas, because it’s all about the people who congregate around different circuses. The people Quentin Tarantino has under his tent are a genre of their own. The guys in that circus have hearts of gold, but they are just wild.
Wardrobe: Vitor Zerbinato dress, Gismondi 1754 bracelet and earrings
Ever work with someone you never want to work with again? That’s a good question. It’s hard because you’re serving a story and sometimes the idea that it’s an important story to tell overrides any personal likes or dislikes you might have. You try to insulate yourself from them and tell the story because you feel the story shouldn’t be punished. That said, yes, there are people that I cannot imagine working with every day.
Most harrowing part of filming Angelique’s Isle? [Laughs.] I don’t even know where to start. I guess I would say attempting to eat a frozen rabbit. There are so many gnarly scenes in there, really challenging things, but that’s the only time I had to say after a couple of takes, “I don’t have another one in me.” I was feeling so sick.
Worst job you ever had? I did a bikini ad on the Hudson River in December and I got hypothermia. That was pretty bad. [Laughs.]
Ultimately, film or TV? Hard to say now. I would have said film up until a couple of years ago, but a limited series on TV is 10 amazing one-hour films. They’re really bleeding into each other. And I would even say that I like the format of a limited series more because you have so much more time with character development.
What is it about the Cannes Film Festival that distinguishes it from all the others? Well, first of all, it’s in Cannes. [Laughs.] This is going to sound cliche, but the excess and the glamour, and the extremeness of it. It’s totally surreal. Like being on another planet.
What about Sundance. Do you ski when you’re there? I do, because my birthday is right around there, and the two times I’ve gone, I’ve skied on my birthday. Last year, there was so much snow, and I actually skied with a friend of mine who I went to Park School with. He was on his honeymoon there.
Anything you were in that you regret? No. There are a few things I could have done without, but I don’t regret them. In a way, I’m grateful to those projects, because I made those misinformed decisions earlier on, and I hope I don’t make them again.
Should Jonah Hex have been up for an Oscar? [Laughs.] I wouldn’t say so, no.
Do you still take ballet? No, I can’t, because it makes me sad. [Laughs.] I should probably work on it because it was such a huge part of my life for so long, and it really helped me in many ways when I was growing up. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things in ballet. It’s pretty rigorous, and I’m so out of shape compared to what I was, that nothing is going to be as good as it should be. It’s all very frustrating. So I don’t enjoy it as much, but I gotta get over that, because I do love it so much.
Ever been to Coachella? I have, several times. I think I’m over it. I’ve gone maybe four times over the last 10 years or so, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and crazier and crazier. Now it feels like Hollywood. And that’s not to say it’s not fun. It is. The music is amazing. But I liked it better when it was more about the music.
Is working with Liam Neeson a totally intimidating experience? Y’know, I actually didn’t have any scenes with him, but when people heard I was going to do that movie, everyone said, “Liam is the best. Tell him I said ‘hi.’ Give him a hug for me.” So I think that he’s very beloved.
Anyone you worked with who had you star-struck? No. I think the idea of working with some people can be intimidating, but once you actually start doing the work, that goes away.
Do you do your own stunts? As much as possible, although I don’t feel like some actors who feel really strongly about it. If I feel unsafe or that it would be better for a stunt double to do it, I have no problem letting them. A) I’m only gonna kill myself and B) they’re only going to make me look good. Also, I remember being on a set where I said, “Oh, I can totally do that,” and someone aid, “Let your stunt double do it just once or twice, because the rule is if they do it a couple of times, they get paid.”
Any desire to do theater? Absolutely. It definitely has to be the right thing, because it’s such an immersive experience, but I’m always trying to keep a toe in the theater community. I’m on the board of a theater company that a friend of mine from Boston Ballet started. I’d love to do a play.
So you now have three movies in post-production. Which is going to do the biggest box-office? I can’t say. I haven’t seen any of them.
Hardest thing about doing a love scene? It depends. To me, if you’re comfortable with the crew and the director, and if your scene partner is respectful, it’s like doing any other scene, like a technical one. It’s just a little more annoying and uncomfortable, because you’re not wearing much or whatever. But it’s just a different set of things to navigate. But I can’t imagine doing a love scene if I didn’t feel comfortable with the crew and director and my scene partner. That would be bad.
How do you use your English degree from Columbia the most? Well, I was an English major, and I knew that I wanted to act, but Columbia didn’t have a theater department. But as an English major, you’re just reading and analyzing, and as an actor, that’s all you do until you’re on set. So it gave me some sense of material. I think I got an inherent idea of what was good writing and what was not. The arc of a story. Things you’re not conscious of but that inform your decisions. ◆
Photographer: John Russo; Stylist: Alvin Stillwell / Celestine Agency and Agency Bigoudi; Hair: David Gardner / Exclusive Artists Management; Makeup: Elaine Offers / Exclusive Artists Management; Wardrobe: Vitor Zerbinato Jacket, Ikonostas Couture Top and Gismondi 1754 Necklace