PARK CITY, Utah -- In “Sweetwater,” which is set for its world premiere Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival, January Jones plays an avenging fallen angel of sorts, a former prostitute who strikes out for revenge against the men who killed her husband on the barren plains of the frontier of late 1800s New Mexico.
Written and directed by twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, the film finds Jones’ character entangled in a triangulated collision course with an oddball lawman played by Ed Harris and a crooked clergyman played by Jason Isaacs.
Jones’ role seems at first something of a supporting part, but as the film rolls along it becomes more and more her character’s story, as she methodically tracks down men to gun down in the name of vengeance.
In a variation on “The Bride Wore Black,” she wears a fine purple gown while doing her dirty work, and the movie could be thought of as a feminist revision of the damsel in distress.
In an interview on Tuesday afternoon, however, Jones seemed hesitant to have the film declared a “feminist Western,” preferring perhaps to instead think of it as a “feminine Western.”
“Feminist is just a tough word. I think it means anti-men or something, and it’s not that,” she said in another interview on Wednesday. “The character is not anti-men either; in the beginning of the movie, she is madly in love with her husband, but I think if it’s feminist in the way that she is a female character who is strong and stands up for herself and takes revenge on the people that wronged her, then sure. She is not a fragile flower. She takes charge.”
Though probably best known as an unhappy housewife on TV’s “Mad Men,” Jones has also been seen as a villain in “X-Men: First Class” and “Unknown.” She is currently in the middle of filming the next season of “Mad Men” and for now has no film projects lined up for her next hiatus. She said she is still under contract for the “X-Men” franchise but has not been contacted to appear in the upcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
“Sweetwater,” which was shot at the end of last summer, is the first feature film Jones worked on following the birth of her son. It also includes her first topless scene in a film. At one moment during her murderous rampage, she is quietly bathing in a river, her bare back seen from behind. As two villainous thugs approach, thinking they have her in a vulnerable position, Jones turns with both guns drawn. And she shoots them down too.
“I’d just stopped nursing and I think modesty just kind of flies out the window sometimes when you’re a mom, and I was like, whatever,” she said of deciding to do the scene. “Also, that scene in particular when I read the script was so ... amusing to me, I couldn’t not do it. I’ve never seen a scene like that in a movie when you think a woman is just swimming in a river and you realize she’s using her sexuality to lure these men in and then turns around and blows them away. And that’s pretty awesome.
“There were certain times in my career where I felt, ‘I don’t really need to do that.’ But then, I’m a human being, I change my mind,” she added. “I might change my mind when there’s a theater full of people watching it, with my parents.”
She said that of all the things she did in the making of “Sweetwater,” by far the one that made her most uncomfortable was shooting the film’s climactic shootout, which takes place amid the mud and refuse of a pen of sheep, which when the production ran out of actual sheep had to be rounded out with goats.
“That was a lot worse,” she said. “By far.”