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