Some of you may know her as Lady Rose in Downton Abbey, but Lily James has moved onto the big screen in a big way. As Cinderella in Disney’s new live action film of the same name (out March 13th), she brings a multi-faceted version of the princess to life, a princess so much like the animated Cinderella but so much more.
“Ken Branagh rang me himself and I screamed so loudly I’m sure I burst his eardrum.” she laughed as she talked about when she found out she got the role.
“He said ‘I want you to be my Cinderella.’ And I just, my heart, I screamed. And then Ken was like, ‘you’re not allowed to tell anyone.’ And then, later that day, Hugh Bonneville announced it on the Downton Abbey set at the dinner table. It was really sweet.”
Lily James is beautiful, coy, and lights up a room when she walks in with her infectious smile. As she talks about Cinderella her whole face brightens and you know she truly loved the role.
“I think with our film was being really faithful to the fairytale. This is a girl that’s not sitting around waiting for a prince to come and save her. That she’s got this unbelievable strength and it doesn’t come from fighting or from what happens, it comes from within. And the strength is her courage and her kindness and that, if she has that, she can, in a way, deal with as best she can what life throws at her.”
“She’s being the best version of herself. And with such an open heart when she does meet the prince not knowing who he is, he falls for her because she’s a strong, powerful, beautiful from within woman. That’s the idea.”
Lily’s Cinderella is an independent and optimistic character – similar to what we all remember in the 1950 Disney animated version, yet Lily expands on that by showing a spirited side – horseback riding, daydreaming, and believing that she is courageous and kind as her mother taught her – “Ken asked me questions like ‘does Ella sleep with the blinds open or closed, what does she dream about, what’s her favorite food.’ He wanted for me to know all those details so that I could sort of just exist on set being her.”
Cinderella’s dress has always been an iconic piece in Disney (and film) history, so with Lily’s role came wearing Sandy Powell’s version of the dress. She says that when she first put it on she felt like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, swooshing in front of a mirror and feeling every bit a princess. The dress was so delicate that it would rip if “Richard Madden looked at it”, and it took a full 20 minutes to get into and 20 minutes to get out of. This became the subject of a little joke on set.
“The only thing was if I needed to use the toilet”, she laughed – who ever thought princesses had to use the toilet? “And you’re always so rushed when you’re filming so it would be like a forty minute break, so the crew would be like, ‘god, where’s Lily?’ In the end me and Helena (Bonham Carter, The Fairy Godmother) had same problem so in the end we had these like port-a-loo’s that we’d put under us. And it was like the most unglamorous thing ever.”
But the dress did make her feel beautiful “I put on that gown and I just felt transformed. It felt like a suit of honor.”
Another gown in the film is her wedding gown – a beautiful cream silk with handpainted flowers cascading down the train, also by Sandy Powell. The dress was only in the film for a short time (about 30 seconds), but Lily wanted it to have its moment to shine. “I was like, ‘Ken, you’ve got to shoot it from the back, you’ve got to shoot it from the back.’ because the flowers were hand painted and, the detail that goes into these dresses.”
Even the crown, hair and veil were a nod to the original film, as hairdresser Carol Hemming coiffed Lily’s hair to pay homage to the classic Cinderella.
“I was doing a photo shoot in it one day when we were so busy and I rushed in and we did the photos. I rushed in, I was so cold and I was walking past this heater and my skirt caught on fire. And I didn’t care about myself I was like, ‘the skirt!’ They had to redo, like a whole section of the skirt.”
Next she talked about the other quintessential part of Cinderella – the Glass Slipper, which I found out wasn’t glass at all: “They were really made out of Swarovski crystal, so, even more amazing. And they’re so beautiful but, sadly, I hate saying this, but, they don’t fit any human foot. If it was just my foot it didn’t fit I’d feel really un-Cinderella-y. So the prince would still be looking for his princess.”
Thankfully for her she didn’t have to wear them during her dancing scene with the Prince (Richard Madden), so she could enjoy the moment and feel like a princess.
She said that her scene was so beautiful to film, even “big burly guys in the crew would like come over with tears in their eyes”. She says that was a magical moment – “It was really lovely, it was such a special moment”, she says, beaming like a new bride.
Lily James was a natural choice for Cinderella – elegant, youthful, wise beyond her years, and of course – kind and courageous. See her as Cinderella on March 13 and come back to tell me I am right.
As part of the #CinderellaEvent blog team, I was invited to Hollywood to be treated like royalty courtesy of Disney. All opinions are my own.