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Emilia Jones Brings Reality Winner to Sundance

Name: Emilia Jones

Sundance project: She leads “Winner,” a dark comedy about NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, directed by Susanna Fogel. The film is Jones’ fourth Sundance premiere.

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Notable past credits: 2022 Oscar-winner “Coda,” which premiered at Sundance in 2021; “Fairyland,” and the Fogel-directed “Cat Person,” which both premiered at Sundance in 2023.

Emilia Jones
Emilia Jones

“Susanna told me about Reality’s story, and about ‘Winner,’ when we were filming ‘Cat Person,'” says Jones, an hour before heading over to Park City’s Ray Theatre for the film’s festival premiere. Winner, an Air Force veteran and former translator for the NSA, was imprisoned for leaking a classified document about Russian interference in the U.S. campaign in 2016. “I just couldn’t believe what Reality had gone through,” says Jones. “I thought it would be one hell of a role to take on.”

“Winner” comes on the heels of several other films about the incident, but rather than focus on the leak or FBI interrogation, Fogel’s film begins in childhood and takes a comedic character-first approach.

“I think ‘Winner’ is a fresh take on a traditional whistleblower-thriller,” says Jones. “When I read the script and I saw it as a dark comedy I was like, this is so interesting, because it’s not expected. Something really awful happened to Reality, but she is so funny — and her coping mechanism is to be funny and to make a joke about it. I remember when I flew to Texas to meet Reality and get to know her before filming, we were talking about guys, and she was like, ‘oh yeah, I was meant to go on a date with this guy, but then the FBI arrested me.’ That’s her way of dealing with it, and I’m like that as a person, too, so I related to Reality in that way.”

Jones was looking forward to seeing Winner — who she now considers a friend — and her family at the premiere. Reality, her mother, and sister Brittany earned a standing ovation from the audience at the end of the film.

“We’re trying to humanize Reality and show people that she’s so much more than just a name and a headline,” says Jones. “People like Reality don’t come along very often in life — and roles like that don’t come along very often.”

Jones is already preparing for her next role. In March she’ll begin shooting a crime series for HBO, alongside Mark Ruffalo. “I’m learning a Philadelphia accent right now,” she says. “It’s very hard, but I like a challenge.”

Emilia Jones
Emilia Jones

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