Lily James: Book Worm

April 24, 2018
The star of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society discusses her passion for literature and letter writing.

Did you know the book before you were approached about the role?

No, I hadn’t come across it and yet once I did, it was such a joy, I powered through it. It’s a page turner, and I love that it’s written in the form of letters, because there’s something about putting a pen to paper to express what you feel, to get it down right and to give that to someone else, it’s so poignant and purposeful. And now where you just tweet something or Instagram something without thinking about it, this is something you’re actually committing to and therefore it’s much deeper and more personal.

Can you relate to being a writer?

I used to, my parents made me write a diary and I have a box full; until I was in my second year of drama school where I was so busy, I just stopped. I wrote the diary every day pretty much but now I don’t write as much, I think it’s something I’ll come to again. My dad [Jamie Thomson] wrote a lot, I just recently found a whole book that he wrote and poems, and so I think its something that’s in me I hope.

Are you much of a reader?

I love reading, it was one of the things that drew me to this book is that scene where she’s debating about Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, and how passionate they were about the stories and what the authors were saying and how modern they were and the power of that. At school, I didn’t like English, I found it was almost simplified in a way, and you have to answer these questions in such a restrictive way. I sometimes find it hard to explain exactly what my responses to books are because it is very emotional and instinctive so I struggled with that at school. But now I love reading, especially because it is so emotional.

Analysing texts and breaking down characters for your roles….

Always. Well that’s the thing, sometimes I find that because there’s a lot of scripts being sent to you which takes over from reading books. I just went on a holiday and I read like Voyage into the Dark by Jean Rhys and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and East of Eden by Steinbeck. I just powered through them because I had the space to do it.

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Fiction. One of my favourite authors at the moment is Eimear McBride who did A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians. I just got quite a few books for my birthday but yeah, I really really love reading. In fact, I find the one place where I do read more is on set because in between takes, there’s almost so much time where you’re waiting around and If I don’t have to be focused on the next scene, sometimes it’s good to distract myself and so I read. I actually used to read short fiction a lot like Raymond Carver because it’s easier to delve into a short story…

Most people just go on their phones in between takes right?

I smashed my phone and so I don’t have any apps on this [shows phone], it’s too old, so I don’t have Instagram, I don’t have anything, and when you don’t have it, you read more, it’s obvious. But it’s really sad that now, as a younger generation, I mean how people revise or do schoolwork when there’s a temptation of constant social activity is, I don’t know….

Do you think it’s sad that we’ve lost the art of letter writing as well?

Yeah, I really do. Recently, my mum and I were going through everything in our attic and there were all these letters that my grandmother wrote in her handwriting on this old paper and lots of typewritten letters and it’s how you get to know someone and a personal perspective on time.

What qualities do you recognise in the character of Juliet, who you play in the film?

I think knowing that you have a need to express yourself. I think Juliet as a writer, she’s got a story to tell and she needs to do it and if she doesn’t, she feels stuck, she feels incomplete and I feel that I have a lot that I want do which is about expressing myself, about being creative and whether you’ve got a bit of money or you’re technically successful, that’s not what it’s about and Juliet has those things at the start. Also I think, she’s a chameleon, she is happy dancing, singing, drinking, buying a new dress, but deep down, it takes her a while to realise that that’s actually not what she’s about and doesn’t make her happy, truly. I think I’m a bit like that, can flip from one thing to the next and I have to like say to myself ‘hey, that’s not me’.

How big of a deal was it for you to go and do Mamma Mia 2?

It was great. I have had this beautiful year last year where I was doing Guernsey, which is so about escapism and romance and the power of unlikely friendships and finding your family. And there was such hope to it all and then I ended the year dancing to ABBA on boats in the middle of the sea, there was real hope to that and total abandon, so I’ve just had this really beautiful year where I felt really happy.

Are you connected to a Danny Boyle musical as well?

Yeah, really exciting, I don’t really know how it’s being described yet, it’s certainly brilliant. I’m really excited, it’s a Richard Curtis written film and Danny Boyle’s directing.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is in cinemas from April 19, 2018. Read our review here.

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