New interview and photoshoot for Lily, alongside her ‘Downton Abbey’ co-stars Sophie McShera and Cara Theobold.

Studio Photoshoots > Outtakes & Sessions > Session 025

Lady Rose MacClare is the headstrong great-niece of the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith. In the last series we saw her banished to Scotland in disgrace after she embarked on an affair with a married man and was caught in flagrante with him at the notoriously louche Blue Dragon nightclub.

Actress Lily James admits that – like Lady Rose – she is often driven by the heart rather than the head and can be impulsive. ‘A friend once asked me to cat-sit while she was on holiday,’ says Lily, 24, ‘and I fell in love with her cat so much that the day after she collected it, I drove to Essex and bought myself a beautiful black and white kitten, Coco, which was entirely mad as I was away a lot and living a ridiculous nomadic existence. She’s been staying at my mum’s but I’m about to move into a flatshare in South London, so we can be reunited.’

Lady Rose is drawn to adventure like a moth to a flame, so her return south of the border is bound to create a stir. ‘She’s a very strong-willed character. Like a coiled spring waiting to be released, she is desperate to rebel against the strictures of her upbringing.’

Not so Lily, whose grandmother Helen Horton was an actress with roles in films including Alien and Superman 3. Her father, who died in 2000, was also in the business and wrote music and plays. ‘They were both a huge inspiration, and although neither of my two brothers were interested in an acting career, I went to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and loved it.’

Brought up in Esher, Surrey, Lily began her professional career in 2010, when she was cast as Ethel Brown in a television adaptation of the Just William stories. A year later we saw her as Poppy, flatmate of Billie Piper, in the controversial Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

‘My character wasn’t a call girl, but she did have one or two risqué moments,’ remembers Lily, with a smile. ‘Would I do nude scenes? If it were necessary and I trusted the director; but really you have to be so careful. It does sometimes worry me that young girls are asked to take their clothes off a lot and because they are at the beginning of their careers, they haven’t necessarily got the confidence to question it.’

Confidence is something Lily has in spadefuls, and her poise on and off screen has paid off; last year she was cast as one of the stars of Fast Girls, a British film following the fortunes of two sprinters picked for the national relay team.
‘The training was an insane regime – it was a full-time job reaching and maintaining that degree of fitness,’ says Lily. ‘I could do hundreds of sit-ups without thinking about it, and we trained alongside Team GB athletes. I wasn’t even remotely able to keep up, but they did make me raise my game. Afterwards I stopped exercising and when I went to a yoga class recently I was shocked to discover that I’d lost all the strength I’d built up.’

Her next role is that of Cinderella. ‘To be honest, I already feel that being in Downton is a fairy tale come true, so to metamorphose into Cinderella is completely wonderful and surreal.’

She will spend more time with Sophie on the set of Cinderella than she does on Downton: while the upstairs scenes are filmed at Highclere, the downstairs ones are filmed at Ealing Studios. ‘When we do have scenes together, the whole cast stays in the same hotel and we gather for a glass of red wine in the evening and listen to Mr Carson – Jim Carter – tell the most brilliantly entertaining stories. We’re like a lovely, extended family.’

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?
I couldn’t possibly tell you!

What’s the naughtiest thing your character has ever done?
Sex, drugs and the foxtrot.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching really bad films and loving them.

Secretly, I long to…
Run away to the Caribbean with a guitar, a bikini, a bottle of tequila and a backgammon board.



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