Why ‘CODA’ Kept a Flub by Star Emilia Jones in the Finished Film | Wrap Video

In TheWrap’s newest “How I Did It” video, the SAG Ensemble nominee talks about how she made the most of her nerves while singing “Both Sides Now”

In Sian Heder’s awards favorite “CODA,” the main character Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family in Massachusetts. She attends high school, expresses a reluctant interest in singing, and helps out on a boat at sea for her family’s fishing business.

The British actress Emilia Jones, now 19, has been performing since childhood, but didn’t think of herself as an obvious choice to play Ruby, as she explained in TheWrap’s latest “How I Did It” video.

“Because I was 17 (and) British, had never had a singing lesson, didn’t know any sign language, never fished. So it was a long shot but I worked very, very hard,” Jones said. “I just feel grateful that Sian took a risk on me.”

As Ruby, Jones studied American Sign Language for nine months to prepare for working with “CODA” co-stars Troy Kotsur as her father, Daniel Durant as her brother, and Marlee Matlin as her mother. All three are deaf actors (Matlin is the only such performer to win an Oscar, for 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God”) and this month the whole company of actors scored a historic Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Ensemble Cast – a precursor for the Best Picture Oscar category, where “CODA” is favored to be one of the ten nominees.

And Kotsur, Durant and Matlin were all present for the filming of Jones’s most difficult and moving scene. In the movie, Ruby is accompanied by her family to Boston, where she has an appointment to audition for a prestigious performing arts school. Her audition piece is Joni Mitchell’s iconic “Both Sides Now.” Ruby, spotting her family watching from the balcony during her audition, sings with her voice and via American Sign Language.

For Jones, one of the challenges was that Ruby should not appear as if she’s performing. If the rendition was too smooth or confident, it would not seem convincing for the character.

So the day before filming the scene, Jones rehearsed the song with the movie’s two sign language directors. “Then I stayed up until 4 a.m. and slept for two hours,” the actress said with a smile. “I learned the whole song. I knew that the only takes they could use in the edit were takes where my sign language was accurate and all the singing was recorded live on set.”

Jones acknowledged the challenge of singing and signing at the same time. “It was kinda like tapping your head and rubbing your tummy in the scariest way possible,” she said. “Sign language really allows you to get out of your head. It’s such a beautiful, physical language.”

The scene was filmed towards the end of production, a bit of timing which proved very touching for Jones, as she was close to saying goodbye to her movie family. In the finished film, she explained, you can see a small mistake in her performance of the song, which speaks volumes about how she was feeling.

“The moment when I signed ‘I love you,’ I looked up and I saw Marlee and Troy and Daniel. I got a little emotional and forgot the melody and messed up in the song. But it’s actually the take that Sian picked.”

To see that moment in the movie, and to hear Jones explain more about how she managed to get through it, check out the full video above.

“CODA” is currently streaming on AppleTV+.