THE CANADIAN PRESS – “Cinderella” star Lily James says she was “profoundly” moved by the film’s message to “have courage and be kind.” With the topic of bullying making headlines in recent months, James says the cast and the crew felt the film would speak to the issue.

“I remember reading it in the script and being really moved, and then when you hear it echoed throughout the film it would make me cry,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I think ‘Have courage, be kind and all will be well,’ there’s a sort of grounding to it and a reality to it as well. I found playing her quite inspiring, and the fact that if you can live like that, actually you can find joy just from within.”

James plays the title character in Disney’s new live-action reimagining of the classic tale of a downtrodden young woman who overcomes maltreatment from her evil stepmother and stepsisters — thanks to a little magic and a monarch. Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) wrote the script.

Five-time Oscar-nominated star Kenneth Branagh directed the cast, which includes Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmom, Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother and Richard Madden as the prince. James, who’s known for playing rebellious Lady Rose on “Downton Abbey,” said she had to take horseback riding lessons for the role.
Branagh also encouraged her to read books by Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and watch films including “Amelie” and “Annie Hall.” “He wanted her strength and her goodness to be something real, and so to look at people that have that kind of strength and courage,” she said.

Then there were the dance lessons for the big ballroom scene.

“We had months and months of classes, me and Richard, and we thought we were getting really good,” said James. “Then they were like, ‘Now, wear the dress,’ and suddenly both of us were in complete chaos mode and thought we’d never be able to do it, because it was so big. Richard always says that there were three of us in the relationship — me, him and the dress.”

For the scene in which the fairy godmother makes a pumpkin into a stagecoach, James had to sit in a rubber version of it and pretend to be squashed. “That whole sequence I did all this crazy stuff,” she said. “I was on a trampoline, I was on a zipwire, I was in a harness and I was swivelled around.”

James admits the pressure of taking on such an iconic character was “totally overwhelming and daunting.” “Because you think, ‘How can I take on this character that everyone loves and not ruin it?’ But Ken Branagh is such a wonderful director and the script was really strong,” said the genial 25-year-old, who was born in Esher, Surrey in southeast England. “I guess the thing we wanted from this Ella was that she had a strength, that she wasn’t a passive, that she wasn’t a victim, that she wasn’t waiting for a prince — that she was sort of trying to get through her life on her own terms and with courage and kindness, and in doing so she becomes a wonderful woman and someone that’s really to be admired.”


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