In this month’s celebrity interview, Together talks to versatile, talented actress Lily James, totally transformed in her latest role as Pamela Anderson
In terms of career transformations, Lily James has been through many. From her early days of period drama grace and finesse on Downton Abbey, Cinderella and The Darkest Hour, to musical interventions – notably in the 2018 summer blockbuster, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again – and punchy, action-led drama in Baby Driver and Rebecca, charming comedy/reality fodder in the form of Beatles-inspired Yesterday, and romance-led films such as Rare Beasts and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
If a genre exists that the 33-year-old British actress is yet to truly explore, it’s the biopic; yet all that is set to change this summer when Lily stars as Pamela Anderson in the upcoming Hulu series Pam & Tommy. The eight-part series tells the story of how two stars from very opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum – she, the beach-bodied Baywatch star; he, the excess-prone Motley Crew drummer – made waves and headlines in a sensational period during the Nineties.
The role represents another significant forward step for an actress whose award roster fails to reflect the veracity and versatility with which she has approached her craft. She is philosophical about that, preferring to look at a body of work that continues to move her forward in its demands (although early indications from Pam & Tommy are that top-ranking recognition on the awards circuit could be just around the corner).
Together: A biopic of this nature is a huge undertaking, creatively and physically…
Lily James: Well I must admit, when growing up as a young girl I never had the vision or perception that I would sculpt my own look to be that of Pamela Anderson! I mean, for a good two decades she was a fantasy figure for both men and women the world over, but not someone I ever thought I would be trying to emulate, so it was a strange thing to really want to mould myself into this entity… strange but unbelievably exciting! The physical aspect was obviously the most demanding. It was a huge task each time we got on set to turn myself into her, and the make-up department did an incredible job.
How about assuming the persona of Pam? That must have been difficult as well?
I think, in film, there are a lot of characters where, from the outside you assume them to be a certain way; yet when you delve under the skin you can really see how their environment, or their circumstances have moulded them into becoming the people they have.
Whether those characters are fictional or real, every one of them starts out as a certain person and ends the journey somewhere else, and as someone else, and I think that’s always important to remember. We know how the press like to imagine and present someone, and mostly it’s to sell newspapers – it’s been going on for decades and will continue to do so. The reality though is that most people are never as extreme as they are made out to be.
Does that apply to you too?!
Actually I think the press have largely been quite kind to me… so far! I think sometimes it’s a case of giving enough out in the first place. If you play the game then you don’t become the game; and I do believe that if you are in this space and very outwardly exposed as someone people know, then you can’t expect every aspect of your private life to be private.
Is there a big secret in your private life that is yet to be exposed?!
Perhaps that I have the worst manners in the world! My mum has literally given up. My granny used to do the thing of putting books under my arms when I ate. And my dad did not have good manners – he’d chew gum, so I think I’ve inherited his eating habits. When we were doing Downton, it was a constant battle to get me to move into the right position and to move as a lady should. Alastair Bruce, the historian, would always be on my case, telling me to sit up, commenting on my use of a napkin, and where my arms were, and all that stuff. In the end it was funny.
You’ve moved in a number of different circles, and genres. Is this part of a big plan to show your versatility and adaptability?
No, not at all. I would say my career has all been very accidental. At the point of my career where I wanted to move away from ‘nice’ projects and into more edgy drama, I went back into musicals. There was a time where I hated that stuff – I think it was a result of seemingly having gone to every musical in the West End when I was a child. Then my voice started to crack and waiver – it was probably my lack of confidence in the teen years, and I sort of quit singing. I was adamant, ‘I’m not a singer, I’ll concentrate on acting.’ And then, a few years on, you find yourself singing again.
And that has really been the same thing for the rest of my career. I have had moments where I’ve looked to focus on a specific genre, but ultimately the whole package of acting is the thing that thrills me most, and if a script or a project looks good, or if I am being put in a movie where the person I am playing opposite I just happen to be in awe of, I am going to go for it.
Who are some of the most memorable people you’ve worked with so far?
Well, Cate Blanchett, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, I could go on and on and what I find is that I actually try not to think about it all in such a grand scale because it’s too overwhelming a concept for me. ‘Concept’ is the wrong word – but it’s just too big to me to comprehend sometimes. What I do, what works for me, is I keep on looking ahead. I keep going, looking towards the next job, the next job, the challenges that come with it, and I sort of break those challenges down into smaller ones, mini ones and take it step by step, day by day.
I do wonder sometimes how I got here but I try not to think of it too often. I’ve just been so lucky. And I know it will evaporate as quickly as it appeared. It’s the reality of the job.
Why do you think like that? It hasn’t so far.
Perhaps I am becoming a little more assured over time that it won’t disappear, but certainly for a long while that was how I felt. Ultimately, that feeling came from a place where I know what it’s like to be auditioning over and over and not get anything, and to be very down on yourself. When I came out of drama school, it was only a year, and a year when you’re trying to establish yourself is no time at all, but that period was very fallow for me and made me question what I was doing with my life. And then one job leads to another, leads to another – that’s how it’s gone, and I still don’t know if it’s sustainable. I’m just living in the now.
Do you enjoy the glamorous side of show business?
The best part is getting to wear a lot of beautiful outfits from great designers. I love Dior and Balenciaga and Gucci and quite a few other labels. I love transforming myself when I get into those incredible dresses, and I enjoy the feeling that comes with that.
Are there any drawbacks to being a celebrity?
Sometimes it’s odd to see photos taken of you by the paparazzi when you had no idea you were being photographed. It’s also difficult to be away from home a lot, but it’s another of those things that you get used to.
I’ve always said it, there are people with much more antisocial and challenging jobs than this, so I’m not about to start bemoaning the tricky parts of it. I recognise how lucky I am.
IMDB Pam and Tommy