Lily James may have only just turned 27, but she’s already achieved many of the unofficial requirements for mega-stardom. She starred in a critically acclaimed TV show (“Downton Abbey”), carried a behemoth of a fantasy blockbuster (2015’s live-action “Cinderella” reboot) and posed on the cover of a leading U.S. fashion magazine (Marie Claire’s January 2016 issue). Next? A global ad campaign.
On Monday, Burberry announced that James is the newest face of its My Burberry fragrances, succeeding the likes of Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, and marking the actress’s first-ever advertising campaign. We’ll have to wait for the goods, though: The images and accompanying film — shot by Mario Testino — won’t be revealed until August, in tandem with the launch of My Burberry Black, which the brand describes as “an intense and sensual new fragrance for women.”
“I am thrilled to be officially joining the Burberry family. I am so proud to be British, so it really means a lot,” said James in a statement. “Shooting my first campaign was so special – I don’t want to give away too much but I had a lot of fun showing a different side of myself…”
When you think of the lissome maidens on-screen today, there’s good reason that Lily James comes to mind. The English actress showed off her poise and golden ’20s finger waves as Lady Rose Aldridge on Downton Abbey before stepping into Cinderella’s shoes in last year’s live-action Disney film. With her fine porcelain features and pitch-perfect accent, she seems so cut from the Jane Austen cloth that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t appeared in one of the many adaptations until today, when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hits theaters.
Of course, the film, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 mash-up novel, isn’t just any adaptation—and the skills her Elizabeth Bennet displays go far beyond ballroom dances and piano playing to include martial arts, swordplay, and hand-to-hand combat. “I’ve been training for this my whole life,” her character says of her zombie-slaying prowess, and, in turn, James underwent serious training of her own. Speaking recently by phone from Los Angeles, she talked about her unorthodox early-morning workouts, off-screen bonding with her fellow Bennet sisters (including Bella Heathcote and Suki Waterhouse), and why Angelina Jolie Pitt in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was an inspiration.
Did you come to this script already a Jane Austen fan?
I feel like just by being born in England as a girl, it’s sort of ingrained that you will love Jane Austen. I studied her at school, and I’ve seen loads of the adaptations. So when I saw the title, I was quite mortified—I hadn’t heard about this Pride and Prejudice book that Seth had written and that it was a best seller. Then I read the script and really fell in love with it, and it washed away all those fears I had about tampering with Jane Austen and adding zombies into her work. [laughs]
You’ve done a number of fair-maiden roles where you’re decidedly not ripped, but here you play a character whose arms Mr. Darcy describes as “surprisingly muscular.” Was that an unusual twist for you?
Yeah, it was great. I loved the fighting. The Bennet sisters were like Spice Girls with swords, and I felt so proud that it was the girls leading the action and on the front line, and the boys [who] were the damsels in distress. To do that in a period drama is so surreal because it just would never have happened.
Your Elizabeth Bennet trained in the Shaolin temple. Who did you work with to prepare for the role?
James Farmer. He’s an incredible trainer in London. I was really unfit—I’ve been doing Downton Abbey and having way too many biscuits and just drinking tea, really—so I got really, really strong. He would come around to my flat, and I felt like I was waking up the entire block of apartments. He had me whacking baseball bats against punching bags and working on my coordination, and then I started doing boxing, which was really useful. He even had me pushing his car around the car park where I live! The exercises are not only really hard, but they’re also very inventive and fun. After that, all the girls got together, and we started working with the fight coordinator, Maurice Lee, and also this dude from Lithuania, who was a martial arts king.
What was the mood like among the five of you? Did anyone emerge as a total natural?
Each of the girls is so perfect for that character, so all our fight rhythms and techniques and strengths were really different. And that was the point—that we all sort of had each other’s backs. That emerged really organically and naturally. Ellie [Bamber], who plays Lydia, was much more fiery and feisty and had little needles, whereas I was a bit more graceful and had a sword and a dagger, and [Heathcote was] the most graceful and much more kung fu. We all really helped each other out because half the time we were way out of our depth. Poor Sam Riley—in the proposal scene where I fight Darcy, I got so carried away in the heat of the moment that I was whacking him so hard! He was very patient.
What’s your usual exercise plan? Is there a quintessentially English approach to fitness?
I go through phases of exercise, and I do begin to feel bad if I’m not moving my body and stretching. But at the moment, I’m not doing anything, and I kind of love it: My boobs get really big when I don’t exercise [laughs]. But I walk everywhere and also cycle. I’m doing a play next year in the West End—Romeo and Juliet—and if I cycle from where I live to work every day, that would be quite a good hour. I also enjoy training for work. I just did a film called The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, and I knew I had to get naked for the first time. I didn’t want to lose weight or anything but just wanted to feel really confident, so I did some work with [Farmer] focusing on the back of my legs and my bum. I like it when you’ve got a reason to be exercising. It takes a lot of willpower just to do it for nothing!
Was there a horror-film heroine who inspired you?
I have to admit, I watched Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider as my woman-power inspiration. I just think she rocks in that. I also love Linda Hamilton in The Terminator, the original one. So strong and so real. I really wanted the fighting to feel convincing, and I didn’t get to go as far with the muscles and the strength as she did, but I thought that dedication and that determination was really necessary.
How did you get in the zombie-slaying mind-set during filming?
Radiohead and FKA twigs was my go-to [music] to get me pumped up. I would blast that out in my ears. And I totally [worked on my] diet—having a big, healthy appetite with meat and fish—to keep my energy up.
Today Lily was at the London Premiere for Pride And Prejudice And Zombies I have add 16+ HQ photos of the premiere.
I have add stills for Lily up coming movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the gallery.
Lily James got into shape by pushing a Smart Car round a car park.
The ‘Downton Abbey’ actress stars in the upcoming film ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, which is a stark contrast to her usual period drama roles.
In order to shape up for the film, which has some very physically demanding scenes, Lily was put through her paces by a personal trainer.
She said: “I had just been doing ‘Downton Abbey,’ where you don’t have to exercise at all. You just drink tea and eat biscuits, so I had to get really, really fit. “I had this amazing trainer. He had me pushing a [Smart Car] around a car park and doing like martial arts and boxing and stuff.”
Lily added that she finds the tale, based on the book of the same name, “refreshing” as it sees the women take charge.
She added to HuffPost Live: “I loved the fighting in this, especially because it was all girls. It was the Bennett sisters that do all the bulk of the fighting. It’s like a real feeling of girl power and that we are the ones saving the day and saving the men, and that’s really refreshing.
“We were in the corsets and look sort of like these gentle girls, and then suddenly, when it got to it, we were like so fierce and like a pack of wolves. And I think strength is always sexy.”
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