Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Con­tents - Bri­tish ac­tor Lily James is swap­ping pe­riod drama for a mod­ern thriller.

“Iknow,” ac­knowl­edges Lily James with a blush, “it does seem like I’m hav­ing it all.” The 28-year-old Bri­tish ac­tor is siz­ing up her cur­rent cir­cum­stances as she sips tea in­side a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel suite. The navy off-the-shoul­der pantsuit she wears is a far cry from the corsets and starched pet­ti­coats she has been cinched into for much of her ca­reer.

Af­ter first sashay­ing into the world’s sit­ting room as the will­ful Lady Rose in Down­ton Abbey, au­di­ences pre­sumed this English rose to be ev­ery bit as con­fi­dent as her al­ter ego. But James in­sists she has noth­ing in com­mon with her im­pos­ing on­screen per­sona. “I did more than 50 au­di­tions be­fore I ever got a part,” she tells Stel­lar. “It was such a strug­gle and I would get so ner­vous. I’d go bright red.”

Once she mas­tered her fears, and af­ter Down­ton Abbey raised her pro­file, James found suc­cess in the ti­tle role of Cin­derella – spar­ring op­po­site Cate Blanchett as her on­screen step­mother – and ap­peared in BBC minis­eries War & Peace and hor­ror send-up Pride And Prej­u­dice And Zom­bies. Rarely do her old in­se­cu­ri­ties resur­face, though James ad­mits, “It de­pends on what day you get me. I’m quite a ner­vous per­son.”

TO­DAY IS CLEARLY a good day. James is up­beat as she talks about Baby Driver, a con­tem­po­rary thriller in which she plays Deb­o­rah, a mis­fit diner wait­ress. The film, which co-stars Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Ansel El­gort, gave James her first op­por­tu­nity to try on an Amer­i­can ac­cent. “It’s a real old-fash­ioned romance between two dream­ers,” she says, “with a lot of car chases in between. It was

bril­liant fi­nally get­ting to wear jeans and a T-shirt, or my cute wait­ress uni­form.”

The part was not a nat­u­ral fit. Un­like seem­ingly ev­ery other ac­tor in Hol­ly­wood, James has never waited ta­bles – al­though she says she can pull a mean pint, hav­ing once spent a year work­ing in a pub out­side Lon­don.

She took that gig be­fore start­ing drama school, which marked the real­i­sa­tion of a child­hood dream. Born Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson in a bu­colic Lon­don sub­urb, James grew up want­ing to be an ac­tor. Her dad James Thomson – who acted in his youth – and his mum He­len Hor­ton, who voiced Mother in

Alien, in­spired her. Mum Ninette was the sen­si­ble one, who “would have a heart at­tack if you asked her to act”.

James was a pre­co­cious mid­dle child who enjoyed rough-hous­ing with older brother Char­lie, now a sports reporter in Mel­bourne, and younger brother Sam. “I was big-boned,” she says. “My win­ning move was to jump on them and pin them down.” As a stu­dent at Tring Park School for the Per­form­ing Arts and, later, Guild­hall School of Mu­sic & Drama, “I did all the plays and loved danc­ing and singing – ba­si­cally just show­ing off. There’s tapes of me re­ally young, reading po­ems and singing with my dad. I al­ways wanted it.”

Her bed­room wall was strewn with posters of Ryan Phillippe and Justin Tim­ber­lake, but it was her high-school drama teacher who held pride of place. She gig­gles at the me­mory: “I had the big­gest crush on Mr Newell. I stuck his pic­ture above my bed – it’s so wrong! Maybe that’s why I got into act­ing? He was, with­out a doubt, my first ma­jor crush. I hope he reads this.”

JAMES SAYS SHE can’t re­call a time she was not in love. In fact, she is in the midst of a three-year romance with The Crown’s Matt Smith, yet she prefers to keep the re­la­tion­ship pri­vate. The pair met on the set of Pride And Prej­u­dice And Zom­bies, and she only speaks of him in va­garies: “My boyfriend and I went to In­dia for New Year’s Eve…” or “It’s good to spend qual­ity time with the per­son you love...”

But there are hints the two may be in it for the long haul. James does not miss a beat when asked if she wants a fam­ily: “Oh yeah, yeah, def­i­nitely – a big one! I love chil­dren. I’ve al­ways wanted to be a young mum, for sure.”

Still, she in­sists she won’t be rushed. “The time when peo­ple get mar­ried, have fam­i­lies and have ca­reers has shifted along with the ma­ter­nal clock,” she says, “so I don’t think we should stick to rules or put pres­sure on our­selves.”

James is cur­rently film­ing Guernsey, an adap­ta­tion of Mary Ann Shaf­fer and An­nie Bar­rows’s novel The Guernsey Lit­er­ary And Potato Peel Pie So­ci­ety, set dur­ing World War II. Then she plans to re­alise a long-held dream: “I’ve al­ways longed to live in New York, and I’m hop­ing to move there this year with a friend, and maybe do a show on- or off-broad­way. Lon­don will al­ways be my home, but it’s im­por­tant to try out dif­fer­ent places.”

Much like her Baby Driver char­ac­ter, James seems to have an in­nate de­sire to break free. “I’m a day­dreamer at heart,” she ad­mits. “I like es­cap­ing my world by lis­ten­ing to mu­sic or tak­ing long walks on Par­lia­ment Hill near my home in Hamp­stead. I need that re­lease from my job, which can be manic and stress­ful.

“Some­times I think how nice it would be to just hit the road… and never look back.”

Lily James will be at­tend­ing the Aus­tralian pre­miere of Baby Driver on July 12 be­fore its re­lease in cin­e­mas on July 13.

“i had a crush on my drama teacher ”

THROUGH THE AGES (clock­wise from right) Lily James (right) as Lady Rose in Down­ton Abbey; op­po­site Cate Blanchett in Cin­derella; with Ansel El­gort in Baby Driver.

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