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VANITY FAIR – With each new role James takes, she is looking to test her acting abilities. She’ll next play Winston Churchill’s secretary in Darkest Hour before starring in the upcoming Mamma Mia! sequel.

AGE: 28.

PROVENANCE: London.

ROLE MODEL: “My grandmother Helen Horton was an actress; I looked up to her in every way.”

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS: After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, James brought mischief to the manor-born as Lady Rose, on Downton Abbey. “Being cast was life-altering. We were like a family, and it was as good as it looked.”

FULL TANK: Since then, she’s played Cinderella for Disney, Shakespeare’s Juliet onstage for Kenneth Branagh, and an American waitress, Debora, for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. “I was ready to break loose of the mold and try something different.”

WAR ROOM: This holiday season, in Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s W.W. II biopic, James stars as Elizabeth Layton, the secretary to Winston Churchill, played by Gary Oldman. “I read her book and it was endlessly fascinating hearing about Churchill’s quirks and their relationship.” As for working with Oldman? “I’ve only met Gary out of costume a handful of times. It’s awe-inspiring how he transforms as an actor—it took my breath away.”

DANCING QUEEN: This summer, in the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, she’ll share a role with Meryl Streep, singing the part of Donna during her early years. “There’s no cynicism; it’s all joy. You can’t help but be completely drawn in and dance like a lunatic!”

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