Meet the New Cinderella, ‘Downton’ Actress Lily James

Kara Warner
Senior Reporter
Movie Talk

Truth be told, we were excited about and onboard with Disney's upcoming live action adaptation of the classic fairytale "Cinderella" for two key reasons: the excellent selections of director Kenneth Branagh ("Thor," "My Week with Marilyn") and the evil stepmother to be played by Cate Blanchett. We could go so far as to say that our tickets were figuratively bought when the involvement of those seasoned professionals were announced, no matter who else might fill out the cast.

Fortunately for us, an extra layer of excitement has been added to the project with the news that Lily James has landed the role of the celebrated titular protagonist Cinderella.

"Downton Abbey" fans will recognize James immediately as the vivacious, not-at-all innocent but manipulative wild-child relative Lady Rose MacClare, who caused quite a bit of trouble for herself and the main characters in the popular show. Despite being banished to the country for her antics, Lady Rose did have moment with which to showcase a softer, more compassionate side last season which is more in line with Cinderella's more angelic persona. James' scene-stealing turn on the show was noted not only by fans but she was touted as "the next big British star" by the media as well.

In addition to her work on "Downton Abbey," James had prominent roles in Showtime's "Diary of a Call Girl," and in BBC's "Just William" series, along with extensive work in theater appearing in critically-acclaimed productions of Chekov's "The Seagull" and "Othello and Iago," which starred "Wire" alums Dominic West and Clarke Peters.

The British actress was bitten by the bug at an early age; she attended the prestigious Arts Educational School, whose famous alums include Jane Seymour and Thandie Newton, followed by studies with the prestigious National Youth Music Theater and finally gained acceptance into London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Acting is in James' blood, her father was an actor before he passed away from cancer in 2008 and her grandmother appeared in "Superman 3" and "Alien."

In addition to her rising star appeal and obviously convincing audition for the role, James' theater experience was likely a great selling point for her casting in Branagh's "Cinderella," given the veteran thespian and director's extensive work on and love for the stage as well as Blanchett's (Blanchett is currently serving out a final season as the co-director of the Sydney Theater Company alongside her husband Andrew Upton). And with that being said, although no other details about the production have been released we might expect this version of the classic tale to be as dramatic and emotionally-engaging as it is romantic.