The Stunning Transformation Of Lily James

Lily James has undergone a stunning transformation. The British actress has truly taken the film industry by storm, thanks to her hugely impressive acting CV, which includes starring roles in critically-acclaimed projects like Cinderella, Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again, Baby Driver, and Downton Abbey (via IMDb). And, with millions of Instagram followers, it's clear that James is one of her generation's biggest movie stars.

James is best-known for playing a range of bright eyed, ingenue, English rose roles — and based on what we know about her quintessentially British upbringing in the countryside, that hardly comes as a surprise. Nevertheless, she always brings a captivating subtlety and nuance to her characters. Additionally, her robust theater resume proves that she's way more than just a pretty face. 

Wondering how James managed to become one of the world's most famous and promising young actresses? Here is the stunning transformation of Lily James.

Lily James had a typical English upbringing with a creative family

In 1989, Lily James was born Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson; she grew up in the town of Esher, Surrey, and her upbringing was exactly what you'd imagine for a middle class British girl. As she explained to Harper's Bazaar, her childhood was like something out of an Enid Blyton book — think summertime picnics, frolicking in rural English fields, and old-school boarding schools.

Unlike many other British girls of her generation, however, James was raised in a notably creative family. Her grandmother, Helen Horton, was the well-known American actress who famously played the AI voice of Mother in the original Alien film. As James recalled to AnOther, she was "an actress through and through." Additionally, James spent her childhood watching her mother in TV shows and films. 

It would seem that James' father also inherited that creative gene, as he "told us made-up stories every night, with different accents and different voices." He even tried acting for a while, but ended up working as an entrepreneur and playing in a band part-time. It sounds like James had a lot of creative inspiration around her from a very early age.

Lily James was really into princesses as a girl

Like many little girls, Lily James had a bit of a princess obsession as a child. "I had a Princess Jasmine outfit that my grandma made me, which was see-through and a bit weird for a 7 year old, and I had like little plastic princess slippers," the actress explained to ColliderShe added that she was definitely "one of those girls" that grew up with a Disney obsession.

Luckily, her two brothers kept her in check, and James grew out of her princess obsession. However, her old childhood love for princesses ended up being extremely beneficial for the young actress later in life. Apparently, she'd auditioned to play one of the stepsisters in the live action Cinderella, and when she read for the main role, her love of princesses came flooding back. "Once I started reading Ella and being her, I was totally desperate to play her," she explained. Sounds like her early childhood obsession became pretty useful!

Because of her family, Lily James has grown up with a temper

Lily James usually comes across as a fairly demure, mild-tempered woman in both her roles and her interviews. However, it turns out she has a pretty fiery streak, thanks to her family. "I grew up in a house where tempers rose quickly," she recalled in an interview with Harper's Bazaar. She added that her dad had "a bad temper," which she thinks got passed onto the rest of her family.

This genetic temperament means that James has become "quite explosive" as an adult, though these days, she can easily go from one extreme to the other. "I can be really happy and I can be the opposite; I throw things and shout," the star confessed. 

Apparently, this temper tends to show itself when James is feeling stressed. And even though she's literally living the dream, it's easy to imagine that being such a huge star can come with a whole lot of pressure, too. No wonder James needs to let it all out from time to time!

Lily James admits she was insecure as a teenager

It's hard to imagine beautiful movie stars feeling insecure about their looks. However, just like the rest of us, Lily James went through an awkward phase when she was a teenager.

As the actress confessed to Mirror, she used to worry she had a "duck nose." But as it turns out, she was pretty much the only one who thought that. She was eventually voted head girl, and one of her old classmates said, "She got all the leads and she was phenomenal but very gracious in doing so." 

Funnily enough, some of James' insecurities have followed her into adulthood, despite her success. For example, in 2015, she told The New York Times, that she felt more suited to play an ugly stepsister in Cinderella than the beautiful titular role. "It was an easier leap of the imagination for me to play an ugly stepsister than the princess," she said, humbly. And in 2020, she confessed to AnOther, "I'm definitely an insecure person." It's clear that James' awkward teen years still haunt her.

When her father passed away, Lily James was devastated

Tragedy struck Lily James' family when she was still young. In 2008, her father passed away at just 54 after battling cancer, according to The Sun. James was 19 at the time (via Mirror). 

Sadly, this tragedy came on the heels of two other family deaths: James' father's uncle passed away from motor neuron disease, and her father's mother, actress Helen Horton also passed away. As the actress explained to The Times, her father's death was, quite understandably, extremely traumatic. "Who my dad was as a person, then losing him, has defined who I am. I always try to feel closer to him."

James had to confront her father's death while filming both Cinderella and War and Peace, as both characters went through eerily similar experiences. As James confessed, she actually found it difficult to summon real emotion during these scenes. "Sometimes, when things are closer to home, it's harder to access it in your work," she said. "It almost feels like too much of your life you're exploring through your characters."

James paid tribute to her father by taking his first name as her stage name — James (via AnOther).

Lily James' career took off right after drama school

While many actors spend years working behind a bar while going to a series of unsuccessful auditions, Lily James never really experienced this struggling artist lifestyle. She attended Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2010. As she told AnOther, her career took off shortly after. "I started working immediately and I haven't really stopped," she recalled. Her first roles were in theatrical productions in London; after that, she landed a role in the BBC adaptation of the children's book series Just William.

However, James' first really big role was in the stratospheric hit series Downton Abbey, in which she played Lady Rose MacClare for three years, starting in 2012. As James explained on an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, it was this role that gave her first taste of fame. Apparently, she and her friend had been on a two day boat cruise in Vietnam, and when her fellow passengers found out she was in the show, they were seriously star struck. "I said those words, Downton Abbey, and from then on it was chaos," she quipped.

Lily James learned to deal with rejection and stardom from her agent and from Dame Maggie Smith

For Lily James, dealing with the pros and cons of the industry hasn't always been easy. "As an actor, you have to have thick skin when it comes to dealing with failure or success, or just what it means to be an actor outside of actually doing your job," she explained during a Masterclass session at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (via Variety).

Apparently, when James first began auditioning, she struggled with thin skin. Fortunately, her agent helped her re-focus on her actual acting work — rather than the feelings that comes with rejection — by giving her a list of great books and movies. "She just told me to lose myself in that, rather than worry and panic about not getting it right," she continued. Sounds like great advice!

Another person who was super helpful for James was the one and only Dame Maggie Smith on the set of Downton Abbey. When James asked her for advice, her response was simple. "You're doing it," she said. For James, this reassurance that she was on the right path was incredibly beneficial.

Lily James wasn't always an "English rose"

Anyone who is familiar with Lily James' career probably remembers most of her films as being filled with flowing dresses, peaceful green landscapes, and clipped British accents. With roles in British period pieces like Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Darkest Hour, and Rebecca, it's safe to say that James has made a career of playing the stereotypical "English rose" character.

However, it may shock fans to learn that this casting type wasn't always the go-to for James. "I didn't play those roles at drama school, or in my first theater job," she revealed in a chat with AnOtherIt turns out, she isn't even a natural blonde!

As it became clear that James was destined to play these types of roles, she found that her own personality began to shift. "Over time, I've sort of morphed into a version of myself that I've been cast as," she mused.

For Lily James, making the Mamma Mia sequel was "one of the happiest times" of her life

By the sound of things, the two Mamma Mia! films were dream-come-true experiences for everyone involved (via Daily Mail). With the irresistible music of ABBA and the opportunity to film on an island in Greece or Croatia, it's easy to see why. For Lily James, who played a younger version of Meryl Streep's character, Donna, in the 2018 sequel, the experience was pretty much perfect. "It was one of the happiest times in my life, living on an island and singing and dancing with the most wonderful group of people," she gushed in an interview with The Guardian

The role itself also proved to be loads of fun for James. "It was so much fun to try and think about what Donna would be like at 20, having so much to draw on from this magnificent woman and character that Meryl Streep created in the first movie," she explained to The Hollywood Reporter.

It's pretty clear that James has nothing but fond memories of the film. In May 2019, she even revisited Vis, Croatia, the filming location, according to an Instagram post.

Lily James decided to move away from period dramas

As we've already noted, Lily James has spent most of her career on playing English rose ingenues in quaint British period dramas. And while James was grateful for the plethora of opportunities coming her way, she unsurprisingly began to yearn for new acting challenges. So when she was offered a similar role in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, she wasn't initially too keen. "I was just about to start a Second World War film The Exception, and I felt like I wanted to move out of doing period dramas, or at least try to explore different avenues," she explained to iNews. Fair enough!

Even though she ended up taking the role — as she explained, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss — in 2019, James confessed to Harper's Bazaar that she was still on the lookout for new kids of characters. "I'm actively seeking characters from now on that are different, who don't rely on charm or the qualities that I think I've explored quite a lot," she shared. Sounds like we can look forward to some interesting performances from James in the future!

On her 30th birthday, Lily James realized she still feels like a child

Lily James celebrated her 30th birthday in 2019, and much to her surprise, she found that she felt just as naive as she always had. "Lots of girlfriends said to me, 'Oh, you feel so much relief in your thirties, you know who you are,'" James explained to Harper's Bazaar. "I thought I was there, but then realized I'm actually not." 

James also shared that she thought she would always be growing and re-examining herself rather than settling into adulthood. "I still feel like a child," she continued. We suppose this childlike curiosity and self-examination will only help James portray more nuanced characters as her career continues.

As James told Vogue shortly after her big day, she's also re-adjusting her career expectations. "Sometimes I'm like, 'I can still play an 18 year old, right? I'm still a young heroine?'" James joked. Of course, getting older will mean taking on some more mature roles, too. Nevertheless, James said that she felt positive about the change.

Lily James' complicated love life has made her a tabloid target

After her breakup with actor Matt Smith in 2019 after five years (via The Sun), Lily James was romantically linked to some familiar faces. First, in July of 2020, Lily James and Chris Evans appeared to get cozy; according to the Daily Mail, the pair enjoyed a night out in London before heading back to his hotel. 

Then in October of 2020, James was seen in some scandalous snaps with fellow actor Dominic West. The pair were seen cuddling up in Rome, which led to West posing with his wife and publicly announcing, "Our marriage is strong" (via Page Six). Needless to say, this kind of intrusive publicity can't have been pleasant for anyone.

Later in 2020, James spoke to The Guardian, but refused to comment on the tabloid attention; she also cancelled several interviews. James finally made a public appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, but the photos weren't mentioned. Whatever you think about James' alleged love life, it's safe to say that the constant media attention isn't easy to deal with for the actress.

Lily James found it hard to say goodbye to her character from Rebecca

In 2020, Lily James starred in the Netflix adaptation of Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. As the actress explained to AnOther, the role affected her more deeply than usual. "I found it really hard to let the second Mrs. de Winter go," she confessed. "God, the inner workings of her mind." 

Apparently, James started to feel a little too connected to the character while filming, as she even experienced real panic attacks. "My heart would beat so fast," she revealed. "For a while after filming I felt unsettled and discombobulated."

As James explained to The Guardian, her co-star Kristin Scott Thomas apparently had the same experience at her age. Based on what James said about the character, it's no wonder she found the experience a little traumatic, as she "doesn't know whether she's in a dream or a nightmare." Wow, sounds like this character literally got under her skin!

Lily James was forced to re-evaluate her creativity during lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic forced all of us to make some serious changes — and Lily James was no exception. In 2020, she told Koko that having some time off during the pandemic made her focus on "getting back to basics." One of the most important things for James was to commit to was daily exercise to release stress and anxiety. She also used the time to discover the joys of cooking recipes from scratch, using her own fresh vegetables. Sounds like James had a chance to find some balance and calm in her life thanks to the extra time off!

However, as James told Harper's Bazaar, the pandemic also had a profound effect on her creativity. "Lockdown forces you to confront things about yourself, and part of stopping was realizing that repeating yourself is the death of creativity," she said. She added that the time off left her feeling more re-invigorated than ever for the next project.