HARPER’S BAZAAR – When Lily James joined the cast of ITV’s period drama Downton Abbey in 2012’s Christmas special, no one could have guessed that she would be its next breakout star, following in the footsteps of Michelle Dockery, Jessica Brown Findlay and Dan Stevens.

Fast-forward 2 years and she’s not only the lead in Kenneth Branagh’s live action remake of Cinderella, but she’s also taking on Jane Austen’s popular heroine Elizabeth Bennet, albeit in the big screen adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

“Cinderella felt quite ensemble, like Downton,” she says, on the tangible jump she’s made from a cast of 20-plus people to the lead in a film. “It’s such an amazing cast that I didn’t feel like I was bearing the brunt of the movie at all, working with people like Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. I was very intimidated about going on to a big show like Downton, but if you can just get your focus there on the day you can drown out the rest of that stuff. I just approach everything the same way.”

It’s certainly an exciting time to be a British actor, with a new wave of our homegrown talent taking Hollywood by storm. Indeed, two of this year’s most Oscar-worthy films feature English leads: The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and fellow Downton alum, Allen Leech.

“There are so many British actors who I think are incredible and talented who I’d love to work with,” she explains. “There’s a really cool crew of us at the moment. British actors don’t worry about what they look like – they’re uninhibited and less glamorous. It’s nice because there’s no feeling of competition.”

Despite her newfound fame James, has managed to remain somewhat incognito, largely due to the fact that she looks completely different on screen to how she does in real life; a natural brunette with long, straight hair, she couldn’t look more different to aristocratic blonde Lady Rose.

With a new relationship on the horizon with fellow actor Matt Smith, her attitude to fame will surely safeguard her from the paparazzi. “I think I’m quite good at forgetting all the other stuff,” she says. “It’s just a day-to-day thing; it’s a normal job. I definitely don’t court that attention.”

Her sense of style also distances her from Rose; while her on-screen persona favours the boyish fashions of the flapper age, James is a big advocate of women accentuating their curves.

“I think Jennifer Lawrence dresses really well,” she says. “I like women who know how to dress their bodies. I always take pictures from magazines and look at what people wear and who has designed it – I love it.”

So, what does the future hold for the 25-year-old? “I’m desperate to do a play,” she explains. “That’s where I saw myself and I love the stage so much.”

Yet Lady Rose is ever on her mind, despite her career skyrocketing. “I always think about where everyone will be in 10 years’ time on a show like Downton. I think it’s likely that in 10 years Rose will be married and with babies but I’d love it if she was changing the world in her own little way.”

Series five of Downton Abbey is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 17, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).


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