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This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Downton Abbey has yet to launch a major film star, but that could change with Lily James, whose work as troublemaker Lady Rose landed her the lead in Disney’s live-action Cinderella, out March 13 from director Kenneth Branagh. The English stage actress (her father is late actor James Thomson) also will be seen in Screen Gems’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Bradley Cooper‘s chef movie and BBC’s War and Peace miniseries, which she’s shooting in Russia.
How did you get the role of Cinderella?
It was the longest and most intense audition process I’ve done. I went in for one of the sisters, but I had dyed my hair blond for Downton, so they said I should read for Cinderella. I did loads of rounds, did screen tests with live mice and met with Ken to talk about his vision.
What childhood memories do you have of the Disney princesses?
I remember going to Disneyland when I was a little kid and meeting the princesses and just feeling like it was everything to me. I had a little Minnie Mouse autograph book and I met these girls that were probably teenagers dressed up in the costumes. It was a real moment as I was growing up.
When did you know you wanted to act?
I remember acting always being a part of what I did. I used to love to sing, so music was a big part of it. And my dad played music and he read us stories — he could do every accent under the sun.
Was the transition from stage to film difficult?
I do find film harder because onstage you’re thriving off the audience. I love that it can be completely different every night. With filming, I find that there can be so many distractions and a sense of needing to make everything subtle. That balance can be quite hard.
Now that you’re in a big Disney movie, have you had a Hollywood moment?
My WhatsApp on my phone is going crazy because there’s a huge poster on Sunset Boulevard of me. It’s massive. All my friends in L.A. are messaging me pictures or videos as they pass it. It’s so surreal.
Born Surrey, England
Big break Lady Rose on Downton Abbey
Reps UTA, U.K.’s Tavistock Wood Management
Watch a behind-the scenes video from THR’s shoot with James below and see more images from the shoot here.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival