A star is born: my early interview with Cinderella’s Lily James

27 Mar
Lily James with that tiny waist in Cinderella. It's a wonder what a corset will do – along with 600 sit-ups a day.

Lily James with that tiny waist in Disney’s Cinderella. It’s a wonder what a corset will do – that, and a history of 600 sit-ups a day! “If you do any less, you’re wasting your time.”

I hate to say I told you so, but… Actually, scratch that. I love to say I told you so.

In 2012, I wrote a cover feature on a little British movie scripted by Noel Clark called Fast Girls, co-starring Lily James as a runner determined to score Olympic gold. It was Lily James’s first cover interview, and in it I wrote that “She will end up being more than just a pretty face in empty action films like Wrath of the Titans. She’s likely to become a real star.”

And now here she is, playing the lead in the new Disney extravaganza Cinderella, which opens today in the UK. Fair makes you proud. So, for anyone who wants to know where Lily James is coming from, here are the highlights of my 2012 interview with the then barely 23-year-old star in the making. Given the fuss about Lily’s tiny waist in Cinderella, note her comments about doing 600 sit-ups a day. Petite she may be, but this is no anorexic shrinking violet, this is one tough (though fat-free) cookie.

05. The Book

My cover interview with Lily James in The Book, June 2012

Lily James on getting fit for Fast Girls: “I had to train five times a week, two and a half hours a day. I was doing weights, circuits, running, jogging. My diet was changed to six small meals a day, with protein shakes, lots of chicken, nuts and raisins. It was really hard, and I got quite down for a while. I don’t like exercise that much, though I love dancing, yoga, being active. Soon, however, I became obsessive about my sit-ups – as soon as I began to see those six-pack muscles forming, that was all the incentive I needed. I did 600 a day – 50 V sits, 50 sit-ups, 50 leg raises. If you do less than 600, you’re wasting your time. You can do 300 without pause, it only takes 15 minutes.”

Acting for Hollywood:Wrath of the Titans was insane. It was my first film, and everywhere I went there was someone holding an umbrella to shade me from the sun in Tenerife. Your every whim is catered to – ‘Do you want this? Do you want that?’ With Fast Girls it was really exciting to feel much more like we were working together and pushing to get it done. We had to work for everything, shoot the whole thing in five weeks, it was really exciting.”

Favourite film scene: “The bit in Heat where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro meet. They crossed all the cameras so they got every angle in one go and it’s JUST AMAZING.”

Acting on stage: “I feel much more confident on stage. Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where I went, was very classically based theatre training. I love the family feeling of doing a play, going to the bar after, pushing the character to its limits. When you see the great screen actors like Meryl Streep or Al Pacino, they all started on the stage. There’s something lost now with the decline of rep theatre; it would be good to have the time to develop yourself before being thrust into the spotlight. To be entrusted with big roles before you feel ready… Then again, I guess you’re always learning, so you might as well take each opportunity and go for it!”

Acting mantra: “As long as everything is truthful and from the heart, you can get away with anything. Carey Mulligan is so honest. People long to see sincerity and people being genuine.”

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: “Sometimes I wanted to scream!”

Downton Abbey: “I love period drama, exploring the history, and all the costumes. But it’s also very contained and reserved, I found sometimes I wanted to scream! You get more of a release doing modern stuff.” [At the time, she’d just started filming Downton, but no episodes had been shown.]

Her personal style: “I like long boho skirts, lots of jewellery, rings. I live in East London, and you have no choice but to start shopping in charity shops if you live in East London! It’s hard to maintain your own style sometimes in this business. When you are having photoshoots for the first time, you are presented with stylists who slip you into dresses, and you have to be diplomatic. You can really express yourself through your clothes, but it takes a lot of time and money.”

Her late father: “My dad passed away while I was at drama college so my whole world changed. I used to love singing while my dad played the guitar: Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, I was brought up singing all those. The hardest thing is not being able to share things with him: everything I have done since leaving college I can’t tell him about. But I feel everyone who’s left this world is still here with us, I really believe it.”

Lily James also stars as Elizabeth Bennett in, I kid you not, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, out later this year.

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