Downton Abbey served up the rebellious Lady Rose MacClare, who was likely responsible for inducing more than one sharp intake of breath among viewers. In a scene that moved the drama forward—quite literally—we were transported to a London club in the 1920s. Flouting the social mores both of her time and class, Lady Rose was seen dancing and canoodling with a man who was married. We can only assume that such a raucous contrast to the hallowed saloons of Downton indicated that Lady Rose has become a force to be reckoned with. (Thankfully, her amorous adventures were finally put to a stop by Matthew Crawley.) So who is the almond-eyed beauty behind the youthful addition to the cast? Twenty-three-year-old Guildhall graduate and Hackney resident Lily James, whose previous credits include a starring role in Wrath of the Titansalongside fellow Guildhall girl Rosamund Pike, a stint on the British television show Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and the role of Nina in the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. We got an introduction to the actress and learned about her love of cider, cinema, and Maggie Smith’s infamous one-liners.
How did you get the part of Rose, and what were you doing before?
Before Downton I was doing a couple plays called Play House and Definitely the Bahamas;both by Martin Crimp, at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. I was actually going through customs on my way back from holidaying in Cyprus when I got the call that I had the audition for Downton—there was all this drama because I had blonde hair, and I didn’t have time to dye it back to brunette. Of course, I had just dyed it back to brown when they rang and said I had the part—and they wound up putting me in a blonde wig when we began shooting. Typical!
Tell us about your character.
Lady Rose MacClare is this vibrant, young blonde girl. She injects youth and energy into the show. And she’s a little bit mischievous.
You’re one of the youngest actors on set—what is it like working with people like Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery?
Well, Michelle Dockery went to Guildhall, too—so there was a bit of a connection. Of course, I was nervous coming into an established show, but they are a lot of fun. And Maggie Smith—I mean, she’s just amazing. She’s really approachable, and her one-liners keep coming after the cameras stop rolling.
What’s your favorite thing about filming?
When I started filming it was summer—we would film in this beautiful house, then go back to our hotel and drink cider and play croquet—it really is very English. My least favorite part was getting all my hair into that wig.
Rose wears what were considered to be risqué pieces in her day—tell us about her style.
I love her style because she really pushes fashion forward on the show. They lowered the neckline and lifted the hem a little for her. Caroline McCall, the costume designer, is incredible—she goes literally everywhere to pick up vintage pieces.
And what about your own style? Does it resonate at all with Rose’s character?
Well, unlike the women from that era, I am very casual. But I have come to love vintage stuff now. Rose wears a lot of hats and, funnily enough, I’ve started to wear a lot of hats, too.
Who are your favorite designers?
Dolce & Gabbana dressed me for the BAFTAs, and the dress was just beautiful—I love everything they do. I have a real soft spot for Temperley, and Peter Pilotto, as well. I think being an actress has really opened my eyes to fashion. In terms of inspiration, I love Alexa Chung. I Google-image-search her when I’m putting together an outfit.
What is next for you?
Woody Allen! Ha, no, I really want to work with him, though—I recently went to see Annie Hall at this old cinema in East London, and I was like, “Wow, that would be a dream come true.” Really, I feel happy to be working at all, fresh out of drama school.
What do you do in your Downton downtime?
I do hot yoga and then undo my good work by going for a pint of cider afterward. I love going to the cinema on my own, and I really like a good old-fashioned pub—with a backgammon board; there has to be backgammon!
Gently via Vogue.com