Interviews Photoshoots

Lily gave an interview for The Times magazine and it’s definitely a must-read. I thought it was impossible to be more admirative that I already was but I was clearly wrong as she proves once again how down-to-earth and absolutely adorable she is. It also means new photoshoot and an outtakes in high quality can now be found in our gallery as well as the cover. Enjoy!

THE TIMES – Is Lily James a bit of a diva? With a big-bucks action blockbuster coming up, three series of Downton Abbey, the starring role as a Disney princess, not to mention dating Matt Smith, all by the age of 28, she might be entitled to a bit of hair toss and foot stamp.

And given the effort it’s taken to get to the point that I am sitting opposite her (Lily can do Wednesday. No wait, Thursday. Morning. No, afternoon. Venue: a pub in Kentish Town. Scratch that, a café in Mayfair), I was prepared for this possibility. This is an actress, after all, whose star is hugely in the ascendant – a scriptwriter friend in the industry says he can’t move for scripts touting her as their most desired lead.

So I’m surprised to find her alone, twisting her hands, dark eyes surfing the room, cheeks blotching almost like a shy child. It’s as if she’s up for the magistrate. Even the way she talks is coy. As she echoes my request for a coffee, she admits she’s very nervous. “Is it obvious?” It is.

“I am a nervous person. I go red at anything, the drop of a hat. I also get a rash, on my neck and chest,” she says.

This is borne out early on when I ask her about her boyfriend, Matt Smith (former Doctor Who star and a heart-throb to billions of young girls, including my own) and she glows in abashed agony.

Later she apologises for this, and then sort of apologises for apologising, saying that she needs to learn to be more assertive and to stop apologising. So not at all a diva. This is all charming in a delightful café filled with grannies and small dogs behind the Royal Academy, but surely a little fragile for the hard-arsed, sharp-elbowed world of Hollywood?

James is aware of this. She says Alli Shearmur, one of the producers of Cinderella, tried to coach her to be more forceful. “Alli is amazing, a force of nature and she’s only 5ft 2in.” Apparently there are three golden rules. “Never apologise. Never repeat yourself.” She forgets the last. “Oh yes – and don’t explain yourself.”

“It’s so boring to apologise all the time, isn’t it? I have to slap myself out of it.”

It’s also really important to learn how to say no, she adds. “When someone says, ‘Can you stay late tonight and do an extra meeting?’, you say, ‘No,’ and leave it at that.”

Would she be tempted to add an apology? She smiles. “Desperate.”

For interviews, her “trick” to overcome anxiety is a “glass of wine” (perhaps the reason for the initial suggestion of a pub), but she doesn’t “hate” the process exactly, just feels that, “It’s hard to talk for ages about yourself. A lot of actors are like that, aren’t they?” she asks, hopeful. If only.

There’s no arrogance or vanity or cynicism about her. It’s a refreshing change from the posturing and potty-mouthed excess of so many who catch their first snort of power.

I can’t imagine her throwing a tantrum or being rude, or even drunk (although she assures me this is the only way she can sleep through the noise in a tepee at Glastonbury).

We start with a discussion about voting (it’s the day of the general election) and – breaking golden rule No 3 – she explains that the constantly changing venue plan was down to finding the time to get to the ballot box in her constituency in Islington, north London, as well as being on time for a dress fitting and organisation for her forthcoming press trip to Los Angeles, Australia and Paris for her new film, Baby Driver. She then apologises for messing me around, thereby breaking golden rule No 1.

Certainly she’s nothing like Debora, the gutsy waitress she plays in Baby Driver (co-starring Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm), or indeed the wasp-waisted Cinderella as envisaged for the children of 2015, or our favourite Downton floozy, Lady Rose Aldridge.

And while this is to compliment her versatility as an actress, it’s also because – as she says – “Without all the make-up and stuff I look quite different. On a day-to-day basis I am not that.”

She’s more blue-stocking home counties, in the mould of the next generation of actresses of which, dare I say, Emma Watson might be queen. Lily is the sort of brainy, engaged young woman who spends her days wandering round Highgate bookshops and then reading on the grass in the park. Evenings – naturally – might be spent watching friends in theatre productions (last night Don Juan in Soho) or enjoying immersive experiences like the current Moulin Rouge production by Secret Cinema. (“So debauched, I loved it. Booze; food; actors pretending to have sex; freak shows; everybody singing and dancing. Heaven!”)

What she hadn’t bargained for when she left the Guildhall School of Music & Drama was the speed of her success and the uncomfortable heat of fame.

“Suddenly people care what I say and think,” she says, before exploding into a panic that this might sound presumptuous. “I mean, I don’t mean, actually, I mean … You know what I mean.”

Her ambition to be more forceful might be helped by getting older, she decides, and so can’t wait to get out of her twenties and into her thirties, because friends say to her that she’ll give less of a shit. “I’ve been told that you become more self-assured and more confident, and stop caring what people think,” she says. “I do that too much. I love it when people just say what they want to say and don’t care or adjust it. It’s a very rare quality now, isn’t it?”

An example of this attitude is demonstrated by Dominic West, she says, star of The Wire and The Affair, whom she “adores”. When she shared a stage with him in Othello in 2011, he spent the whole production trying to make her corpse. “Anything goes with Dom. You don’t know what to expect: he’s going to shock you, challenge you and be outrageous. Or try to make you laugh, which is basically what he did all the time in Othello.”

Being a “worrier”, on the other hand, is crippling. And her worrying is sometimes off the scale. For instance, she tells me – with a touch of humour – that she’s worried she has early onset Alzheimer’s, and the reason for this self-diagnosis is her inability to “grasp at names”, and the fact that she has to write down the titles of books and films she has seen. “I often start reading and then realise I’ve read the book already.”

You’re too young, I say.

“Yes, it’s too early,” she replies, “But could I be a special case? I worry.”

Her mother, Ninette, who was also an actress, provides constant reassurance – and what sounds like massive doses of therapy. “She knows what to say to me to calm me,” explains Lily. “She grounds me. She’s very wise – and very funny. We’re quite similar.”

Lily’s father, James – an actor and musician – died ten years ago, when she was 18, a trauma that she still doesn’t feel comfortable talking about. But it resonates when she talks about the conflict she feels over having gone to boarding school at 13.

“Not that I blame my parents. I begged to go. I’d read my mum’s old copies of St Trinian’s and I had this romantic, exciting idea of midnight feasts and escaping morning call. But I wouldn’t want my kids to go. I would be torn apart. It’s quite precious, the time you have with your family, and it doesn’t last for ever.”

Her real surname is Thomson, but she used her father’s first name in his honour after learning there was already an actress called Lily Thomson.

Her father’s mother was also an actress, the American Helen Horton, who appeared in Superman III, and was the voice of the ship’s computer in Ridley Scott’s Alien. James remembers her as “beautiful, glamorous; a real actress with so much grace. There was a star quality to actors of that generation. It’s harder to achieve that now because social media breaks down that wall.”

Otherwise, it sounds like a fairly typical middle-class childhood in Surrey – although with “no dog and no Aga”.

James was the middle child and only girl. She was the sort of child who sang all the time, belting out Abba’s Mamma Mia to the disgust of her brothers, Charlie and Sam. “There are videos of me doing songs and reading poems and there’s one of me doing The Pied Piper, overexpressing every word. My brothers were like, ‘No, Lily. Stop singing!’”

Amazingly she didn’t watch Doctor Who as a child. (Imagine Matt Smith’s face!) “But I watched some episodes recently,” she says. “Matt is a phenomenal actor. His charisma is incredible. He’s magical and it’s a hard part to play.”

Music and storytelling were important in her family, she says, and her father “could do every single accent under the sun – literally everything”.

When everyone else grew up and gave up singing and dancing, “I stayed really focused and passionate. I decided that it was acting alone that I wanted to focus on when I did my big round of drama schools.”

Her audition at Guildhall was memorable, because, “I first experienced what it felt like to be pushed.” As she began reading a monologue – acting as she thought acting was supposed to be done – the teacher stopped her, saying, “‘No, just talk to me.’ And I suddenly realised how connected to you and your experience and your emotions it could be.”

She found this “addictive”, which I find an odd choice of word. Is she able to separate herself from her emotions enough to draw on them when required?

“I have had really horrendous moments in life where something really bad is happening and I’m distraught and crying. And then a tiny bit of my brain goes, ‘Ooooh, this is more than I thought.’”

Despite her success, she has a fear that it will all evaporate if she stops working. “It’s the most unstable career you can get. Everything is so transient.” In this way, acting is like “being a gypsy”.

Right now it is safe to assume her career is, in the short term at least, gold-plated.

“Baby Driver felt like a very welcome change for me, to be playing a modern character,” she says. It was the first movie she had done in America and she stayed in accent throughout filming. “I tried to really live it.”

The film – which has received rave reviews at festivals – is a spin on the classic heist story, centring on the life of a young getaway driver, Baby, who is a demon behind the wheel and choreographs his driving to the music constantly pumped into his ears to relieve the tinnitus he’s had ever since a childhood car accident.

Lily plays Baby’s love interest, and his reason to escape the criminal world. The movie’s soundtrack is already becoming a cult hit, featuring artists from Queen to Young MC to Simon & Garfunkel’s Baby Driver itself.

Her other projects include Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright. James plays a secretary to Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill. “My character is a real person, a typist who wrote a book about what it was like to work with Churchill during the war. It’s mad.

“She talks about taking notes while he’s having a bath, and being in his bedroom typing or taking notes while hearing him pace behind her, taking off and discarding his clothes, so that by the time she turns around he’s in his pink dressing gown.”

Actually, she’s noticed lately a spike in the number of scripts she’s sent with strong female characters: “Scripts that are quite full-on when it comes to the way women behave – with all their wonderful madness and flaws.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer and actor in the BBC comedy Fleabag, is one of her absolute heroes, as well as Lena Dunham, the creator of Girls, and comedian Amy Schumer.

There’s a need, she says, to hear women of her generation and the pressures that they are under – which are not necessarily the ones we imagine. For example, she describes Tinder as “liberating” as an idea (“Although obviously I don’t do Tinder because I’ve been in a relationship for three years”), but for a long time she struggled with social media.

“There are pros and cons. That constant ‘Like me, like me,’ ‘Friend me, friend me,’ ‘Look how wonderful my life is,’ ‘Look how beautiful I am,’ is worrying.

“Obviously, everyone wants to portray themselves in a positive way, but the truth can be so completely different. And that’s a shame. It stops real connection and truths about who you really are and how you really feel. I have Instagram – so, yes, I’m a hypocrite – but I try not to post things that feel dishonest.”

The dangers, she says, are presenting young girls with “unreal role models, unreal objectives. That pressure must be overwhelming, especially because it doesn’t celebrate difference, it only celebrates quite a narrow, rigid idea of beauty and profile.”

And in general, she says, “There’s now so much pressure to have a particular sort of beauty, and to have the whole package as a woman. You have to tick all these boxes. It’s so impossible.

“And so boring, actually. Men don’t have that same pressure.”

So far in film she has been lucky to avoid the sort of comments about her weight and appearance experienced by other actresses.

“But I do feel it with the red carpet. I feel that pressure.”

For a second she sidetracks to tell me about a funny encounter with a five-year-old who had a rigid idea of what Cinderella should look like.

“This little girl was so mortified and angry that I was Cinderella with this brown hair and in jeans. She literally said, ‘You’re not Cinderella!’ And hit me. And she grabbed my belt and started pulling me around, going, ‘You’re not Cinderella. You’re not.’”

There are aspects of success that make her angry. For example, “I hate being judged or underestimated.”

Does it happen because she’s pretty?

“I sometimes feel that. Although not because I’m ‘pretty’, because I don’t think I’m pretty enough for that to be a” – she laughs – “real chore.”

I ask what she thinks of Los Angeles, and her answer suggests she’s not moving there in a hurry. “Everyone’s so friendly and so enthusiastic, it’s like,‘Hiiiiii!’ ” – she mimics the accent. “It’s a bit like an injection of Prozac, because everyone is so happy.”

But she concedes we could do a “bit more smiling” in London. “And we need to make eye contact. We’re all so like …” She slumps as if sitting on the Tube looking into her lap. “Smiling is a good thing to do.”

After what she calls “everything that has happened” – which I take to mean Brexit, Trump and terrorism – she says her generation need to be more politicised than ever.

“Younger people are much more galvanised and involved and that’s the only positive in these very troubling times. It’s important now to be informed, to have an opinion. It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on when so much is at stake. It feels – globally – that you have to use your voice. Great change is what we need.”

Does she feel the weight of that responsibility for change is on her generation?

“Yes – and I’ve felt it’s so important this year. The environment, Trump … God, why aren’t we taking care of the planet and each other?”

She pulls on her Burberry mac to go. It’s very Emma Watson, I say. She gets madly flustered and looks at the lining because she thinks I mean she’s actually picked up Emma Watson’s coat. I laugh, and she berates herself for being foolish. “I mean, why would I have Emma Watson’s coat?”

And then she goes on to break golden rule No 1 again by apologising.

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