Check the new “CALIFUK” issue (september) of Flaunt magazine featuring Lily. You can also read her interview below, she talks about her role as Natasha Rostova in the BBC adaptation of ‘War and Peace’.
Magazine Scans > 2015 > Flaunt (September)
Studio Photoshoots > Outtakes & Sessions > Session 067
FLAUNT – Though Lily James grew up antithetically to Cinderella, she wears a gown sewn with similar thread: grace and charm, humility and wisdom. While the CALIFUK editorial team awaited a call from the 26-year-old actress (and impending talk of the globe), hushing gossip dominoed down the hall, murmurings bounded from office to office. “Is Cinderella calling?” Yes, the star of Disney’s latest incarnation of Cinderella (2015) carved time in her shiny schedule to briefly talk about what the princess does after the ball. A Google image search of the future superstar yields a catalogue of marvelous gowns for Cinderella’s summer premieres in Tokyo (Shinderera), Berlin (Aschenputtel), Paris (Cendrillon), and Mexico City (Cenicienta) and every other metropolitan fiefdom thrilled to screen the big-budget fantasy masterpiece. The Guardian praised the film’s “straight-faced sentimentality” and “unashamedly old-fashioned” nature, even offering contrarian commentary supporting the protagonist’s modern spirit of independence. Written with anti-revisionist mentality, and maintaining the trope-ish ethos—i.e. 18th-century European baroque-ness meets good ol’ pack-the-station-wagon Disney Americana—the film grossed $132 million on its opening weekend. Director Kenneth Branagh skipped fixing what wasn’t broken, and James—true to her hallmark character—filled the allegorical slipper perfectly.
Refined audiences might have found James’ success in the rags-to-riches princess role a refreshing switch. During her “day job” as Lady Rose Aldridge (née MacClare) on Downton Abbey (2012-2014), she’s recognized moreso for her disregard of mores, as the rebellious youngest daughter of the MacClare family. James’ character means well, though, balancing capable charm and innocent curiosity, arcing from an illicit rendezvous with jazz singer Jack Ross to a safe-but-loving marriage with Atticus Aldridge. She told Zap2it in March, “Part of me wants her to like lose her shit and come back completely wrecked and a ruined woman, and part of me wants her to keep her happily-ever-after.” But happily ever after is subjective. Fans might beg Lady Rose fair stay, while James’ real-life happiness—in the vein of Flow’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—could require roles of increasing challenge, rising to her performative level.
And James’ challenge is arrived. The Surrey-born player, whose childhood friends swore she had that spark given to the flame of fame, is set to enthrall audiences who tune in for portrayal of Natasha Rostova in the forthcoming BBC adaptation of War and Peace. Created by bustier-busting master Andrew Davies, the sprawling saga stars Paul Dano and James Norton as Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, respectively. Given Natasha’s shining legacy—she’s reputed to be the single most complex and wide-sweeping female character known to film, literature, and every performative/literary medium in between—the pressure’s on for James. Consider the novel’s longstanding repute—“This is the first class work!” exclaimed Gustave Flaubert in 1880; Thomas Mann said it was the greatest war novel in history; Ernest Hemingway cites it as his guide to writing stark, straight-forward depictions of war. Then check the alumni of prior adaptations—Anthony Hopkins as Pierre in the 1972 BBC miniseries, and immortal icon Audrey Hepburn as Natasha in the 1956 film.
And then there’s the arc that James must synthesize to bring “Tolstoy’s ideal woman” to life onscreen. Spoiler alert:
Tolstoy’s masterpiece takes Natasha Rostov from bright-eyed 12-year-old crushing hard on Prince Boris (he’s living it up on the Rostov estate); to BFF with symbolic older-bro Count Pierre (he’s rubbing Rostov elbows like a boss); till shit gets real and Boris becomes a career army officer moving Natasha to sad girl club at the ball (Pierre kindly introduces her to hot and—debutante loving—stud Andrei); to spellbound, bewitched, and engaged but on Andrei’s dad’s shitlist (he postpones the wedding, uhhm, right, because he’s paying for it); to “it’s complicated” Facebook status update when Andrei joins the army and heads to the Polish border; to confronting Andrei’s dad and pissing off his daughter; to heartbroken and vulnerable and taken advantage of by major creeper Prince Anatole; to eloping with said creeper; to being intercepted by her cousin who helps her figure her shit out; to attempting suicide upon realizing she does not have her shit figured out; to dealing with the reality of Napoleon invading her country (it’s 1805 btw); to getting her family’s shit together, moving out of the estate and into Moscow; to evacuating Moscow via casualty-loaded carts; to heaviest feels ever when she discovers her dying fiancé is among the wounded; to nursing him till he passes (mom vibes are strong in this one); to moving past all the drama with Andrei’s sister (she was hating hard on Natasha years earlier) so they can watch a fiancée and brother die; to reuniting with Pierre (he’s had it rough; his estranged wife died); to marrying her teen crush Pierre and birthing four sturdy Russian children.
And that is the character Lily James will be portraying in the coming War and Peace adaptation, one of the most complicated—and in essence real—characters that has ever been given a name and written into a page. ‘Nuff said? Nah. Now that we’ve macerated fine literature into text-slang, a transcontinental conversation with the unbelievably talented actress who will realize it, Ms. James:
Natasha’s got a lot going on.
Oh, I sort of just fell in love with Natasha. I was daunted by her, really, so I was excited since there’s so much on the page, so much to draw from.
Is that a blessing or a curse for you as an actor?
Oh well, I actually was so excited because I think in that book, Natasha is one of the most manically complex, brilliant [characters]. She goes from a wide-eyed, optimistic Lolita to slatternly matron who obsesses over her kids.
I start with her at 15 and go right through to when she had to have babies and was married to Pierre. From page to page, she changes. She’s so extreme and so—I can’t even think of the word to describe her.
The change in age seems small. It doesn’t compromise the arc, though?
It’s the same journey [for Natasha] she’s got this young life, still fiery.
Did you glean anything from the novel?
I found that Tolstoy described her bright eyes over and over again, her animated bright eyes and that was something I really clung onto throughout. I have the book like a Bible and I carried it around with me everywhere because his descriptions of her—and I worry, because I just so want to do her justice.
Audrey Hepburn also played Natasha, wonderfully. Given creativity’s combinatorial nature, did you borrow anything from her interpretation?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t even watch it actually because I’ve made that mistake before and then you just have someone else’s interpretation of the character stuck in your head and I’m sure if I watched Audrey Hepburn, I would just want to copy everything she did; I love her.
Audrey’s the best. And you’re the best. Natasha, Cinderella, Lady Rose.
Yes. I feel really, really lucky because as a lady in my career, I felt like I’ve had incredible female characters. I got to play strong women, girls that grow into women, and Natasha, told by Tolstoy, she’s the most vivid, wild, wonderful, girl, that’s totally fucked up, who swallows her heart and becomes so torn and then grows into the matriarch next to her husband and yet still has such strength within.
Through Natasha, fans will get to see many facets of you.
She really covers all bases.
What about Natasha haters?
I think it’s amazing how some people think maybe at the end she’s not lit to her full potential or that fire in her has gone, I disagree. I think the way that her life goes and how it ends feels just right and she’s still such a strong woman.
We’re with you, Lily. All the way. Really quick, before you go, tell us about your visit to CALIFUK.
Well, I’d want to walk out of my beautiful old, old flat in Lost London and go down the sort of dauntless park hill which is crumbly and old with a beautiful view of London but then instead of ending up at a tube stop or a pound shop, I’d rather it take me right towards the beach.