Lily James: ‘I got sucked into the vortex. I didn’t know which way to turn’

She made her name playing sunny sweethearts, but now James is going gothic in a new Rebecca. She talks getting spooked on set, Covid bubbles and co-stars

The problem with trying to be an actor but also trying to stay sane, says Lily James, is that you need a really thin skin to do the work, and a very thick one to withstand the rejection or the criticism. “You have to let everything affect you, everything hit your nerves, so you can perform. So it feels as if you’re constantly trying to guard yourself or let people in, put walls up or break them down. Your roots are often being ripped out and put somewhere else, so it’s sometimes harder to feel that stability in life which… yeah.”

She trails off, taking a sip of her tea as we sit in the drizzly garden of the Somerset hotel where she’s staying, having decided she can keep her mask off as we are outside, at opposite ends of a table. She’s dressed in civvies: baggy dark green trousers that would vanish you in a forest, her hair its natural brown, a star who could hide in plain sight. Far enough into fame, after a decade in the business, to know how to hold some of herself back, but young enough (at only 31) to still want to give it all away.

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