Who are you call­ing ugly sis­ter? The star of Down­ton Abbey and Dis­ney’s Cin­derella proves that she scrubs up well.

Schon! - - Sister Act - Words / Huma Hu­mayun

Pe­tite, pretty and vi­va­cious, So­phie McShera fills the room with pos­i­tive en­ergy and laughs at her­self… a lot. De­spite start­ing an act­ing ca­reer at the ten­der age of twelve and star­ring in one of the most popular tele­vi­sion dra­mas in his­tory, the young Bri­tish actress hasn’t let suc­cess go to her head. Per­haps it’s be­cause she doesn’t come from a the­atri­cal back­ground and there was no pushy show­biz mum be­hind the scenes. Or maybe it’s be­cause she rarely gets recog­nised, ex­cept in the USA, where, she says, peo­ple only oc­ca­sion­ally com­ment that she looks “just like that girl from Down-Town.”

“The ser­vants have it re­ally easy, be­cause we’re so dowdy in the show,” McShera ex­plains. “So, un­less we’re look­ing par­tic­u­larly un­der the weather, we don’t get recog­nised, which is good. I think that would be hor­ri­ble if it hap­pened all the time.” McShera, it seems, is not in it for the fame. She doesn’t un­der­stand the fuss that goes with red car­pet ap­pear­ances, ad­mit­ting that “I feel like three hours is too long to brush my hair.” In fact, she only took up act­ing at a youth club to while away her Satur­days, but be­fore she knew it, was lead­ing West End pro­duc­tions such as and An­nie and Good­bye Girl. But then the in­génue re­turned to school, where her friends “hadn’t even no­ticed I’d been do­ing a play in Lon­don”. It was only af­ter uni­ver­sity that McShera be­gan to con­sider act­ing as a vo­ca­tion. She found her­self an agent and soon went from small, guest ap­pear­ances in TV shows to land­ing a ma­jor part in Water­loo Road. It wasn’t long be­fore Down­ton came call­ing.

McShera se­cured the role of feisty pantry maid Daisy af­ter one short au­di­tion. She and the other cast mem­bers knew they were onto a good thing, be­ing in the com­pany of Maggie Smith and Ju­lian Fel­lowes, but no one could have an­tic­i­pated the phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess and longevity of Down­ton Abbey. McShera’s role has also grown over time, Daisy hav­ing out­lived and out­shone many of the char­ac­ters that dom­i­nated the drama’s first cou­ple of sea­sons. Ru­mours are afoot that the soon to be filmed sixth se­ries will con­clude Down­ton Abbey, but the actress is quick to point out that the cast would be the last to know and “only find out of­fi­cially when they an­nounce it in the press”.

In the mean­time, we have her per­for­mance in Dis­ney’s hotly an­tic­i­pated rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Cin­derella to en­joy. Di­rected by Ken­neth Branagh, the star-stud­ded live ac­tion ver­sion is a giddy vis­ual feast. “The sets for Cin­derella were mad,” re­calls McShera. “You’d turn a cor­ner and they would have built a vil­lage and the ball­room was the most in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful thing. So many peo­ple were do­ing so much work to make this thing hap­pen.”

McShera plays the (not so ugly) step-sis­ter Drizella, a part she rel­ished, not least for the op­por­tu­nity to work with Cate Blanchett, who brings “so much to the role of the evil step-mother. She’s so com­plex and she’s such an amaz­ing actress that it’s not like a pan­tomime vil­lain at all. That was lovely work­ing in a three, me and Hol­l­i­day [Grainger] and Cate – that dy­namic. We’re re­ally try­ing to please our mother a lot of the time as well as be­ing so vile and silly!”

Act­ing as the foil to Lily James’ but­ter-wouldn’t-melt hero­ine, McShera is re­spon­si­ble for most of the film’s comic re­lief and you can’t help but think the brazenly bitchy Drizella would be a lot more fun to hang out with. McShera ad­mits that she en­joyed turn­ing the ta­bles on her Down­ton co-star: “I went up­stairs and she’s kind of down­stairs. She gets one dress for most of the film and I get 12, so that was re­ally funny, but it’s hard to be mean to Lily James be­cause she’s so dreamy, so nice and so gor­geous.”

Even more chal­leng­ing was the scene where she has to croon com­pletely off-key. For the for­mer West End star, it was quite a feat to “sing badly and sound con­vinc­ing”, so it was a re­lief to show her true vo­cal tal­ents in mu­si­cal com­edy se­ries Gala­vant. Other up­com­ing projects in­clude the BBC’s “scar­ily funny” po­lit­i­cal satire In­side No. 9.

So what’s next for So­phie McShera? It turns out she has been fre­quently mis­quoted in the press in terms of the roles she would like to take on. She doesn’t re­mem­ber say­ing she wanted to play Jane Eyre or star in Game of Thrones, not that any of this both­ers her. For now, she is go­ing with the flow and just hopes that she gets to con­tinue mak­ing pro­duc­tions of the qual­ity of Down­ton Abbey and Cin­derella. Af­ter her star turns as Daisy and Drizella, it’s hard to imag­ine this ac­ci­den­tal actress dis­ap­pear­ing from our screens any­time soon… Tal­ent / So­phie McShera Photography / Yu­val Hen Fash­ion Edi­tor / Kay Korsh Hair / Mark Fran­come Painter @ Salako us­ing Davines Make Up / Afton Rado­ji­cic @ S:Man­age­ment

us­ing Zoeva Cos­met­ics Dig­i­tal Op­er­a­tor / Liron Weiss­man Light­ing As­sis­tant / An­gus Gir­van @ Stu­dio Pri­vate Fash­ion As­sis­tants / Stanislava Si­hel­ska & Ser­gio Cano Her­nan­dez

Shot at Stu­dio Pri­vate Lon­don

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