January Jones in 'X-Men: First Class': If gentlemen prefer blondes, why does she look so sullen?

January-Jones-X-Men

Image Credit: Murray Close

Like the fiery redhead or the sultry brunet, the cool blonde is one of those old-fashioned, L’Oréal-sanctioned visual codes for female sexual temperament that white western audiences still eat up like yellow popcorn. Alfred Hitchcock knew that — that’s why he made a fetish of his blond heroines, none cooler on the outside (and, if fantasies came true, hotter on the inside) than Grace Kelly.

I’m dreaming in hair color lately as I’ve been considering the recent dye-cast career of January Jones — first and most effectively as a porcelain-doll housewife blonde in Mad Men; later and more problematically as a “funny” blonde-joke blonde hosting SNL; and now, with only intermittent success, as a very, very icy blonde in X-Men: First Class. This time around, as the descriptively named Emma Frost, Jones’ ambitious blonde works on the side of evil, clad in sexy James Bond-worthy underwear that accentuates her sides of good. The actress’s assignment is to exaggerate an attitude of platinum hauteur and high maintenance, the idea being that this Frost princess doesn’t so much flirt with the various men who admire her Barbarella bosom as toy with them, read their minds, and ruin them. And when hauteur isn’t armor enough, the lady is capable of turning, quite literally, diamond-hard.

Now look at easy-on-the-eyes photo above and tell me if you don’t agree: When Jones strives for an expression of hauteur, she looks blank, bordering on sullen. When she replicates the gestures of a dangerous Bond Girl, she looks blank. Whether she wants to convey Emma Frost’s arrogance, competence, or, indeed, her bona fides as a cool blonde, she looks blank. This is a problem — and let me quickly add that I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem of skill or capability. Not necessarily. Rather, Jones’ features and affect, her blondness and her model-trained preference for physical stillness, combine to project a composed passivity that reads not just as coolness on screen but as blankness.

Matthew Weiner and the Mad Men team knew (I should say know, since the show is coming back some time this decade, right?) how to use that negative space best. I’ve got absolutely no first-hand knowledge of the process, but I like to think that Weiner and company worked closely with Jones to draw out the variations of frustration, anger, petulance, childishness, selfishness, neediness, fear, resignation, and sexual desire that can be read into one or another of Betty Draper’s long, cold looks. The writers at SNL handled Jones’ psychic blondness and blankness worst: They set the guest host up for humiliation in sketches that alternately made crude fun of the whole Cool Blonde thing (I’m still trying to forget the comedy bit about Grace Kelly farting) or exposed an overmatched Jones to Dumb Blonde ridicule for her various comedic flubs and stumbles. (Jones has got to share the blame on this one: She clearly wanted to take the gig to show her comedic “range” and bust loose from Draper-dom.)

Which brings me back to X-Men: First Class, and the character of Emma Frost, and what, I’m guessing, probably felt like a no-brainer at the time, either for the movie’s producers or for Jones, who has been working diligently in recent magazine photo shoots, interviews, and red-carpet publicity opportunities to develop her sexy Blonde Bombshell career opportunities. The X-Men costumers put Jones in va-va-voomwear, the hairdressers framed her pretty face in a big, platinum, Angie Dickinson tousled bouffant. I assume director Matthew Vaughn told her that Frost’s mutant powers include turning her skin into diamond facets. But after that, I think they forgot to work with her — to locate the soul beneath all that cool blondness.

Next time, January Jones needs either a new acting coach, or a new hair color — and all that such a L’Oréal-sanctioned change says about a character, an actress, a woman.

Read more:
Lisa Schwarzbaum’s ‘X-Men: First Class’ review
Meet Your Next Obsession… Michael Fassbender
‘X-Men: First Class': 10 Surprises


Comments (145 total) Add your comment
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  • MWeyer

    The sad thing is that in the books, Frost has turned from a one-dimensional cold woman to a nicely compelling character, sardonic humor but also deeper pain, a shame Jones couldn’t capture that.

    • mikeman

      if this is origins, she still would be the one dimensional cold woman she is. her character’s depth currently is a result of all the horrible things that have happened to mutants in the marvel universe (genosha, house of m, and whatever that giant story with the new mutant hope is called)

      • Emilio

        Emma Frost is a great character (specially under Wheldon’s writting), but I think filmakers are not interested in bringing that into the movies. The sexual component is quite hard to shake off from her.

      • JBD

        @mikeman – That giant story is Messiah Complex and Second Coming. I wish people knew this more than House of M, which really isn’t as good. I think it became overrated over the years. But I agree that Frost is really dynamic and the film did not capture that.

    • Nathan

      There are few emotions Jones can capture on screen, oh well, it’s really a great movie anyway, the best comic book movie in a couple years and the best X-Men movie by a mile. Matt Vaughn FTW!!

      • me too

        She was the worst part of a mediocre movie. She couldn’t act – just like Nicole Kidman. Cold! And no – Nicole Kidman didn’t win that Oscar, he nose did.

      • Dave

        Just like Nicole Kidman? That sounds like a compliment to me. Kidman is a fantastic actress, which is very evident in her most recent film Rabbit Hole.

      • kaloalo

        yea i agree that she can’t act at all – but nicole kidman? i don’t think so…if she can’t act then why has she won an oscar and was nominated for another (without her fake nose)

        but bottom line = january jones is nothing but a plastic barbie

      • smores

        I think you mean …just like Julia Roberts…?

      • My son is also named Bort

        Have you ever seen To Die For, The Others or Rabbit Hole? She CAN act she just chooses a lot of bad movies.

      • jmcg

        I think the movie was pretty good with exceptional performances from McAvoy and Fassbender and Bacon. Jones was the only weak link.

      • Carla Houston

        I enjoyed the movie a lot, and it is my favorite of the bunch. But that is primarily due to McElvoy and Fassbender. I actually felt for both characters, where as with some of the earlier movies I was more into the action and special effect. This movie had the action and the character development, so it is easily my favorite. But January Jones is just like watching paint dry. I love Mad Men, and almost every little detail of that show rocks, except her. I know a lot of that is written into the character, but a better actress could’ve taken that role and lifted it up, where as I think J.Jones weighs it down.

    • Brett

      I think Emma Frost came across poorly not so much because of January Jones’ performance but because the part was so badly underwritten and so incompetently directed. Vaughn lacks the subtlety necessary to have really developed the Emma Frost character appropriately.

      • nope

        umm, except she also acts like this in everything else I’ve seen her in, especially Unknown. I loved X-men: FC, and her acting didn’t bother me terribly. I thought Vaughn was great with this and kick-ass. FC was not incompetently directed

      • Lala

        She is a terrible actress – period. Lucked into the Mad Men role b/c it is basically just her in real life. No “acting” necessary.

    • Jill

      Frost was never a one-dimensional character.

  • SaraS

    This is ridiculous. Who ever said being blonde meant you need to be happy, ditzy, energetic? Why does her being sullen have anything to do with her hair color?
    EW should pull this stupid article.

    • anon

      Uh, I don’t think you got the point of the article

    • Kat

      LOL. This article is actually very interesting and well thought out. No one is saying blondes MUST be icy. No one is saying she looks sullen BECAUSE she is blonde. It’s a good analysis of why January Jones apparently sucked in this movie, and how her appearance, her past, and her image as an actress who plays frosty blondes affect her current performances.

    • AaronisThinking

      Reading Comprehension FTW!

    • jojot

      Yeah you really missed the whole pint of the the article. The writer was talking about the “cool blonde” like Grace Kelly. But January Jones can’t even pull that role off. She can only show 3 emotions when she acts . That was the whole issue.

    • Karl

      @jojot Hear, hear. She had actually only TWO looks: “Narrow the eyes” (talking to Shaw in the submarine after he put on the you-know-what on his head and talking to the CIA agents) and “look dead ahead, mouth set in a thin line” (everywhere else she appears).

      As Emma Frost is my most favorite character… I was incredibly disappointed.

  • Buffy Freak

    Because she always looks sullen.

    • Liza

      Seriously. Does she have other emotions?

    • kate middleton

      Yeah, JJ is just not a good actress. It works for Betty, but not much else.

      I think Alice Eve was originally cast as Emma in this X Men movie. I wonder how different it would have been with her instead of January.

      • Will

        She was. But I just can’t picture Alice eve as a villainous character. Which is probably why it went to jones. Between the two of them, (no offense to her) January jones has more of a “b.itch face”

      • Karl

        @Will I agree, though. Between the two of them JJ looks more dangerous. I just wish… you know, she could actually ACT.

      • Matt

        @Will: LOL, I think Zach Galifinakis will agree with you there.

  • Bedc01

    Emma Frost is one of the best written characters in comic books right now. She’s fierce, cool and a bad ass, all in one… Completely different then what J. Jones did in this movie.. Such a disappointment

    • Wrightway

      Yea, Emma is way more dynamic than January played her, it’s a shame January couldn’t deliver.

  • chris

    ugh… WHAT is with the january jones hate?! from damon lindelof to ew. it’s a little much.

    • spiek78

      ugh.. Chris, I don’t think Lisa was hating in this article. She was just observing the facts about Jones’ performance!

    • Brittany

      It’s because she sucks at acting and is the worst part of any film that she is in. Only showing one emotion does not a performance make.

  • Kevin

    Back when I first saw Mad Men, I thought she was a great actress… until I realized that she is just playing herself. She has no range… simple as that.

    • Bedc01

      I have to agree with you. She is fine in Mad Men, but has been bad in other stuff she’s in

      • erin

        She’s barely fine in Mad Men half of the time. I’m a big fan of the show, but I don’t care for her or her character. I was very glad she was in it so little last season.

    • Mandy

      You may be right. I thought she was such a talent. Getting Betty Draper right cannot be easy. There are so many emotions there and she can be such an annoying child, but JJ makes us still like her, or at least pity her, deep down. But maybe this was just perfect casting and this is all January Jones is capable of? I hope not.
      Maybe she should try a totally un-Betty character, like in a romantic comedy? That was the comparisons won’t be there.

    • James

      She’s just playing herself? You must have a close personal relationship with her to make that statement.

      • John

        Yup. I knew her.

  • Flyer

    I think Jones needs an acting coach PERIOD. She lucked into the Betty Draper role, which perfectly suits her frozen “acting” style. But the fact that all of her other roles (including her sullen, wooden acting as Liam Neeson’s wife in “Unknown”) just show that she’s a one-note actor. When I think about how much flak Keanu Reeves got for being a pretty face with limited acting abilities, I’m surprised January Jones keeps getting passes for her poor acting skills.

    • Ashleigh

      Amen.

    • Dave

      But how exactly is she getting a pass if everyone is always criticizing her?

    • whatevs

      Yeah, I’m not sure what you mean by getting a pass. Keanu Reeves has had a much more successful movie career than January will ever have.

    • Pittner

      I’m always annoyed by the Keanu Reeves bad-acting comments.

      • Brittany

        Get used to it. His acting certainly hasn’t improved muck over the years.

      • Brittany

        *much

    • Will

      I read somewhere that Ashton kutcher once told her she needed acting lessons. Now you know you’re not very good when Ashton kutcher tells you you need acting lessons

    • @flyer

      I think she is pretty proud of the fact that she is “self taught”.

  • Clarissa

    Isn’t that how she always looks?

  • Canadian

    She’s simply a bad actress who gave a terrible performance. When she was on the screen, the movie came to a screeching halt.

    • Karl

      OMG i totally agree. The pacing was fine, Kevin Bacon was owning it on-screen… *cut to JJ* BAM! The entire suspense of the movie somehow vanishes. She looks dead ahead and recites her lines.

  • commentor

    Saw X-Men last night… when I JJ was on screen, I kept thinking “Why does she sound so bored?” There wasn’t a lot of emotion, physical or verbal, in that performance. Too bad.

  • Clete

    Didn’t watch Mad Men much. When she came on, I turned the sound off. Impressed with her two large talents.

  • Stacie

    I can only assume she thinks she’s doing some Catherine Deneuve impression. I remember her being cute in Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, but she seems almost drugged-out nowadays.

  • JLC

    She was good in Pirate Radio, but that amounted to little more than a cameo. Plus you hated her character’s guts when all was said and done.

    • Otay

      I was thinking the same thing!

  • Rose Tyler

    It’s just that her people are Nordic.

    • Pizazz

      Yeah, that must be it. Idiot.

      • Tessa

        Pizazz, lighten up. Rose’s comment is an amusing Mad Men quote.

    • Uganda

      Way to overgeneralize there, Rose. There are many actors out there from Northern climates who consistently heat up the screen. Alexander Skarsgaard for one.

      • Tessa

        Wow, you too Uganda? Doesn’t anyone here watch Mad Men?

    • La

      @Rose: V. funny. Don’t worry, most of us got it.

      • Rose Tyler

        Thank goodness! I’d hate to be branded some sort of Nordic racist.

    • CBC

      Bahahaha! Nice.

  • ATK

    She kinda helped kill X-Men First Class for me. It was pretty bad all around but I was looking forward to seeing Emma Frost on screen and she kinda ruined that dream.

    • Karl

      I agreee… I was looking forward to watching X-Men FC so much because of Frost. But she ruined it. Darn.

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