Interviews

PRESTIGE – Lily James is having a moment right now. Even if you’ve somehow missed the phenomenon that is Downton Abbey, you would have to have been living under a rock this past year to miss the buzz surrounding this young actress. From the controversy over her tiny waist in Cinderella, to her beautiful portrayal of Natasha Rostov in the critically acclaimed BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic War and Peace, to her budding romance with fellow Brit actor Matt Smith, aka Doctor Who, it seems hardly a week goes by when she isn’t making headlines.

When we meet, she’s in the middle of a four-month stint on stage in London’s West End, taking on yet another iconic role: the female lead in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Richard Madden – best known as Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark – plays Romeo to her Juliet, and Kenneth Branagh steps out as director. Having worked with both men on Cinderella, it’s a familiar crowd for James, which one can’t help but hope takes the pressure off somewhat, as she seems to be one of the busiest people in showbiz. Several projects are either in process or about to be released, War & Peace has just finished airing, she’s on stage eight times a week for four months, and she’s just been announced as the new face of Burberry’s fragrances. It’s a wonder she finds time for a personal life, but then again dating a Time Lord must have its benefits.

Not that she’s complaining. Despite being on voice rest (she sings in Romeo & Juliet, as with many of her other roles), any fears of a quiet interview and quick answers are allayed within a few minutes of meeting her. Warm and chatty, she makes it easy to forget she’s a serious rising star. Her speech is peppered with laughter, a chuckle that verges on the dirty, but with an undercurrent of nervousness that makes it truly endearing. She has a habit of wistfully repeating questions after they’re asked, as if she’s really invested in giving the best possible answer.

As the new face of Burberry fragrances – and the spokesperson for the newly launched My Burberry Black – she’s following in the footsteps of British style icons Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss. Though James differs in a lot of ways from her predecessors, she also represents many of the same things that Moss and Delevingne do, in particular an authenticity that resonates with women. “They’re both genuine people and they’re very real,” says James, “and I’d hope that would be true of myself.” Added to this is a sense of humour, which James sees as inherently British. “I feel there’s a sensibility of getting on with stuff and taking the piss out of stuff,” she says of fellow Brits. “It makes me happy.”

As chief creative officer of Burberry, Christopher Bailey has been on a mission to seek out the best emerging talent from the UK, and has proved time and again that he has the eye for it, as James is quick to point out. “I really respect [Christopher] … He has an eye for talent and I felt really honoured considering the people who have been a part of the brand, you know: Felicity Jones, Emma Watson, Eddie Redmayne … the list is endless.
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