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Exclusive interview: Lily James on playing Cinderella

Lily James

Lily James opens up about Cinderella, being a girly girl and whether she really had to starve herself for that corset ...

Exclusive interview: Lily James on playing Cinderella

Downton Abbey’s Lily James, 25, better known as Downton Abbey’s Lady Rose MacClare, a much welcome addition who joined the cast in 2012, stars in the titular role in the live action adaptation of Cinderella.  This impressive cast, directed by Kenneth Branagh, includes Cate Blanchett as the wicked step-mother, Sophie McShera, fellow Downton cast member who plays Daisy the kitchen maid as one of the evil step-sisters, and Holliday Grainger from The Borgias plays her equally vile sibling.  The handsome Prince Charming is played by Scottish actor, Richard Madden, known for his role as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones. 

Sophie McShera (Daisy) must have enjoyed the role reversal having you in the kitchen cooking and cleaning for her while she was upstairs lounging about in fancy gowns?

Oh, she loved getting to boss me about but I actually feel that I came out on top in the end because I had that moment when I was tightening her corset so I was able to be a bit cruel back (laughs)

How has Downton changed your life?

I think it’s changed everything but not in ways people expect, like in terms of lifestyle, but it’s changed my life in that I wouldn’t have got Cinderella if it hadn’t been for Downton. 

Cinderella is the ultimate of girly-girl roles.  What were you like growing up?

Yeah, I was a girly-girl. I had fake plastic glass slippers that I wore about the house but I wasn’t allowed to wear them up the stairs because my mum was afraid that I’d break my neck.  But I have two brothers – one older and one younger – so they kept me not too princessy.  That was my saving grace.  They knocked me off my pretend princess pedestal.

How did you feel when you put on the ball gown?  That’s quite an iconic moment when she appears at the ball.

I felt completely transformed.  It was like this armour I had put on but I was so scared of those scenes because playing Ella I could do because she’s just a normal girl, although incredibly good, but the princess is the moment where people have a clear image of how she should be.  It was nerve-wracking.  I mean, how do I live up to that expectation?  But when I put the dress on, it was magical.  It had layers and layers of silk in slightly different shades of blue and purple so it was like a water painting.  It’s so beautiful and as I moved there were thousands of Swarovski crystals.

Did you get to keep the shoes?

No but I had the most amazing wrap gift from their hair and make-up team who became Carol Hemming and Amy Dunn and they became like my real fairy godmothers and they gave me a Swarovski crystal butterfly like the one off my dress as a wrap gift.   I keep it in the corner of my bedroom.  I’m a little clumsy so it’s safe that way.

Did you have to starve to put on the dress?  There was a bit in the press about your waist being digitally reduced.

No, there was no way to starve myself a shoot a movie like that.  It was so full on and the corsets are so awful but great – they pull you in and accentuate your waist, or the restoration corsets push up your boobs, but this one pulled me in.  And I naturally have a small waist.  But there was no starving for me on this

What qualities would you look for in your own version of Prince Charming?

This is probably a weird way to start my answer by talking about my brother but my brother can do this thing where I’m so angry and I’m screaming at him and he says one thing and I laugh. I think that’s what I want in a man, too. Someone that can make me laugh all the time but especially if Im pissed off . I feel like we’d have a much happier life together.  So yeah, someone with a good sense of humour for sure.

Doing these period pieces like Downton and Cinderella, has it influenced your own style in terms of fashion?

Sort of but having said that when I’m off, when I’m not working I really like to not give a damn about anything but certainly when I go out I love dressing to shape. I’ve got a small waist and hips and I like accentuating that.  It’s been funny doing this promotional tour because suddenly I’ve got these clothes on that I never wore.  It feels different and people look at you differently.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but it’s certainly I’ve been awareof it, you know.

In your everyday life are you a jeans and T-shirt girl?

Yeah.  I’m always in like ripped jeans and Converses and my granny always gets really upset (laughs). I wear a beanie and tee-shirts, yeah.

Who was your role model growing up?

Probably my granny.   My grandmother was an actress.  Her name is Helen Horton. She’s American and so beautiful and glamorous and just sort of so poised, such strength.

Cinderella has already made a huge splash on the opening weekend in the US.  You’ll become a lot more famous now.  Tell me the truth – excited or nervous?

Both!  But all these things I’m trying not to think about it too much.

Cinderella opens in cinemas March 26.

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