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The Striking Parallels Between James Marsden and His New On-Screen Role

By Lynette Kee

Portraying a historic watchmaker in IWC’s new short film, “Born of a Dream,” James Marsden lends a window into the concealed life of Florentine Ariosto Jones.
 
Courtesy of IWC
Portraying a historic watchmaker in IWC’s new short film, “Born of a Dream,” James Marsden lends a window into the concealed life of Florentine Ariosto Jones.

Flecks of molten metal sparks dissipate across the opening scene of IWC’s short film, “Born of a Dream: A Man of the Future.” The camera’s gaze glides through a misty fog and the sound of a ticking watch intensifies until we arrive more than a century late into Boston, Massachusetts, at the onset of the Civil War.  

A wide-eyed young man — played by the actor James Marsden — enters the scene, bewildered. With a large pocket watch in his hand, held at the level of his chest, he reveals his occupation, “Watchmaker.”

The subject of this autobiographical short film is Florentine Ariosto Jones (also known as F.A. Jones), an American man who had big dreams of starting up a watchmaking factory in Switzerland when it was only a cottage industry back in the 1860s. He was an assistant superintendent at a prominent watchmaking firm, E. Howard & Co., when an idea led him to leave his post, make a passport and take his first international leap to Europe. Meandering his way through the foreign landscape, Jones eventually founded the International Watch Co. in 1868 (which, later in the 1940s, was shortened to IWC) in Schaffhausen, alongside a friend and fellow watchmaker Charles Kidder. Jones established the company on the basis of marrying the American system of industrialised watch production with the skilful labour of Swiss craftsmanship.

The story unfolds with snippets of Jones’s curious endeavour as he grapples with overwhelming odds, in which he prevailed. But he was eventually expelled from his own company due to conflict of interest with a portion of his shareholders. In 1876, Jones left Schaffhausen, and the watchmaking industry altogether, and made a devastating return to America. Equally paradoxical, IWC in the 21st century has not only survived the last 152 years, but succeeded because of the values Jones had instilled.

Courtesy of IWCOn the set of IWC ’s short film, “Born of a Dream: A Man of the Future,” the actor James Marsden plays the role of its founder.
On the set of IWC ’s short film, “Born of a Dream: A Man of the Future,” the actor James Marsden plays the role of its founder.

Today, little is known of Jones as a person. Photographs of Jones are also incredibly scarce. IWC’s newest instalment of its “Born of a Dream” short film provides a window to the enigmatic, and historically significant, figure in the history of American and Swiss watchmaking — brought to life by the actor James Marsden, who is also the friend, and fan, of the brand for several years.

“When I first went to my first SIHH [with IWC] five or six years ago, I learned everything about their whole line of watches and their movement numbers: What a perpetual calendar is; who designed it — it was Kurt Klaus,” Marsden says in an interview with T Singapore. “So, I’m very familiar with the brand and they are very familiar with my love for watchmaking.” It’s not surprising then, that Marsden is more than thrilled when he was asked to play F.A. Jones.

Having that underlying connection with the brand, Marsden found humanity in his own experiences to bring depth to his portrayal of Jones. “We all struggle in life where we have to make a living. We want to be passionate about what we want to do for a living — sometimes those two don’t always coexist,” says Marsden, who is more than familiar with the adversities one might face when dreaming big. Marsden was 19 years old, fresh out of college when he joined the massive Hollywood business. This wasn’t the James Marsden as we know him now, but a young boy from the detached city of Oklahoma.

Courtesy of IWCAs an avid watch lover and IWC’s brand ambassador for many years, James Marsden gracefully captures the underlying nuances of his character as a watchmaker in the short film.
As an avid watch lover and IWC’s brand ambassador for many years, James Marsden gracefully captures the underlying nuances of his character as a watchmaker in the short film.

In what seems like a parallel universe from his role in the short film, Marsden made a bold decision to travel away from home, in a truck, to pursue a career in acting. “It didn’t feel risky to me — I was happy to be pursuing my dream. To me, I felt like I had nothing to lose,” he says now with the confidence of someone who has been swooned over for his entire career as a critically and commercially successful actor.

Marsden reflects on his 19-year-old self. Perhaps, he admits, there was a little self-doubt behind the brave gesture of moving across the state. “But when you’re young you take stances that you normally wouldn’t take because you don’t know how bad you can mess up,” he says. “In my career, I’ve always tried to maintain that sort of youthful fearlessness because we have to take chances in art. You can’t be too cautious with art — it’s expression and you can’t really put shackles and limits on expression.”

In that vein, taking on the role of F.A. Jones for Marsden became a rediscovery of his own past and perceivable future. “I admire people who don’t give themselves permission to quit. They almost will themselves to success,” he says. As a child growing up in a small-town city whose dreams were weighed against cynical commentaries like “going to Las Vegas and hoping to hit the jackpot,” Marsden finds F.A. Jones’s relentless journey relatable, saying, “He believed in himself, he believed in his ideas.” And that transcended in his performance in “Born of a Dream: A Man of the Future.”

 

Marsden is now, or has been, colouring outside the lines of his beautiful, curated image from his roles as “the jock or the popular guy who relies on his looks” and asking questions like “how do I maintain my sense of invention”? As FA Jones, Marsden explored the effects of being fallible and the precipitation of mortality. To him, it is like “being a part of an important [untold] story that resonates in the current day and age.”

Of course, Marsden’s relationship with the brand has played a large part in the ingenuous effects of the film. But it is one built upon mutual understanding and similar values. In the age of technology, when it’s become second nature for most to read the time from an omnipresent mobile device, the actor proclaims that he much prefers the act of raising his wrist to look at his timepiece. “I don’t think we should make choices based on what’s easiest,” he muses. “A watch has a soul. It asks of you to communicate with it in a tactful way.”

Courtesy of IWCFlorentine Ariosto Jones’s era at IWC was short lived, but he had managed to earn the respect of his employees.
Florentine Ariosto Jones’s era at IWC was short lived, but he had managed to earn the respect of his employees.

We change our mobile phones every few years. But a well-made timepiece is designed to last for decades or longer — its mechanism will continue to tick in response to the pulsation of our bodies. For more than 150 years, IWC has kept its unwavering sight on Jones’s original vision: fine engineering, excellent production systems and functional products. “The craftsmanship that goes into sitting there and putting those pieces together, you feel it,” says Marsden of his own IWC watches.

Towards the end of the film, Marsden’s F.A. Jones displays an air of despondency. He asks, “Did I dream too big?” Jones never had any significant involvement with the watch industry since he left Schaffhausen in 1876. Despite that, Marsden who played his character defines his success by his undertaking itself. “My definition [of success] has changed from when I was 19, and when I was 30 to now at 46 years old. Success now to me is being proud of your choices.”

Often times, failure transcends undecipherably into tiny steps to success. As of now, Jones’s legacy is alive in the spirits of likeminded individuals like Marsden and the brand he founded.