Lily James: ‘It’s surprising how well the mixture of these two worlds works’

Actress Lily James shares her take on her new film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Downton Abbey star Lily James had to train hard for the action scenes in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kevin Winter / Getty Images
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The undead twist to Jane Austen's work isn't the only unusual thing about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Costume drama veteran Lily James – famous for playing demure characters such as Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella and Downton Abbey's Lady Rose Aldridge – wields a sword with ease and leaves bloodshed in her wake as she slashes and fights her way through this new ­horror-comedy as one of the famous Bennet sisters.

It’s safe to say this is a very different approach to the classic novel.

You could say that, yeah (laughs). When I first heard of the project I couldn’t imagine how they would bring two very different worlds together, but I read the script and was completely won over by the ideas it had. What stuck out to me was that the script kept so much of the spirit of Austen’s work – it’s still about sisters and strong female characters, but they’re kicking ass together in this wild and hilarious environment. It’s surprising how well the mixture of these two worlds works.

How did you find the action side of the performance?

I loved it. It wasn’t something I was used to, I trained a lot because you want to look convincing on camera wielding a sword, I definitely felt a lot tougher at the end of it. I’m used to the sets and costumes on Downton and when I filmed Cinderella, so it was very freeing to have all this blood and fighting break out. I definitely want to play an action hero again. It helped that a lot of the cast knew each other before we came to the film, so everyone was very supportive.

Was it a conscious decision to do something so different?

Not really, it wasn’t doing something different for the sake of it. I want to play characters that have something different about them, and this is a film that puts women in a position of strength – they aren’t waiting to be rescued by men. Something like this is equally as challenging as a dramatic role, just in a different way.

How do you think diehard Pride and Prejudice fans will react to the film?

I understand that it might seem like an odd prospect at first, but the title doesn’t tell the whole story. I hope Jane Austen fans come into it with a bit of an open mind because the film has kept the elements that people love about the original work but added all the fun action, too.

Are there more period dramas coming up in your future?

I'm actually doing a film called Baby Driver (directed by Edgar Wright) which is a bit more action-based. There's a great cast – I'm really excited to be doing it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in cinemas now