MACAU, Dec 10 — Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson struggled to deal with stardom, despite always wanting to be the centre of attention.
For the 30-year-old British actress, known simply as Lily James, no amount of classical theatrical training from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London could have prepared her for what was to come when she first began her career nine years ago.
In a special masterclass conducted in a collaboration between The British Academy of Film & Television Arts (Bafta) and the 4th International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM), James opened up about her experiences and shared her thoughts for those who may seek to follow the same path.
“It’s not just a job. It is something you feel you have to do,” she said.
Attributing her little successes to her many mentors along the way, James revealed that it was simply about letting go and learning to have fun.
“I auditioned like 7,000 times for Cinderella, and my agent said I wouldn’t get the part, and that I should just relax and have fun” — was the tip she needed to just be herself.
Needless to say, she got the part, and Cinderella producer, Allison Shearmur, who passed on last year, also gave her advice she took to heart.
“She taught me to stop apologising, and ask for forgiveness, not permission,” James recalls.
“Everything you do has to challenge and frighten you.
Helena Bonham Carter told me it’s ok not to be ok, to have a breakdown, to cry. It lets people know you’re not a robot. It is OK to struggle.”
While many may think of it all as just glitz and glam, James said it wasn’t as many would think, as her experience on Dowton Abbey revealed.
“It can be so difficult, the relentless filming every day, getting up at 5am and finishing at 9pm.
“Doing that for months can become too much and that’s ok, as long as you’re still a good person and good to work with and don’t turn into a diva.”
And while the star of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again says actors need to have thin skin to be able to allow their emotions out, one also needed really thick skin to deal with success.
“When you get a rejection, let it hurt for a couple of hours and then let it go, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Letting go also extends to separating herself from her character once the job is done.
Having just completed a remake of Rebecca, with British director Ben Wheatley reworking the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, she said she, “found it very difficult to let go of the character.
“I had panic attacks for weeks after.”
Playing Mrs. de Winter in Daphne du Maurier’s classic Gothic novel translated to screen was a challenge for her due to the character’s “difficult headspace”.
“She’s really bullied and gas-lighted, she lives in a difficult headspace. I kept having panic attacks after it finished, I couldn’t shake it off.”
Much of her survival and preservation of her sanity in the business however is helped by camaraderie among her peers, which has helped her to be more appreciative of her blessings.
Such as when she landed the lead role for Kenneth Branagh’s Disney feature in Cinderella and the supportive cast of Dowton Abbey took to celebrating it with Hugh Bonneville delivering a speech in character to congratulate her on landing the part.
“It was the best opportunity I could ever have been given, it’s such an ensemble piece, so I was learning from the best straight away,” she said of working on the show.
James meanwhile is set to spread her wings in a new role, apart from acting.
“For the next thing I’m doing, I’m going to exec produce which will be really great to understand it from that side, which in itself is going to be exciting.
“I’m trying to get the rights to this book which I absolutely love, so producing now will help I’ll be ready for that when it comes about.”
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