If you've been reading the Internet at all, you'll know that there's been quite a brouhaha surrounding Disney's new live-action version of "Cinderella," which was directed by Kenneth Branagh and opens in theaters March 13.
From Cinderella's waistline in that gorgeous Sandy Powell-designed dress to how the fairy tale could possibly be retold in 2015 without seeming a bit behind the times in terms of girl power, the movie has definitely struck a chord even before its wide release later this week.
Lily James, of "Downton Abbey" fame, stars as Cinderella. She sat down at a press conference earlier this month to chat about these topics, as well as reveal what it felt like to play the iconic underdog princess.
There has been talk about your waist being Photoshopped for some of the prints. Can you talk about that, and how comfortable was it to wear that dress?
It absolutely wasn't ever Photoshopped, and as soon as you see the film you could see that it wouldn't be, and it would be impossible to be in every frame of the movie. And also I have naturally a really small waist, but on top of that, that's the point of a corset. It's weird because people compare pictures, but it's entirely different because a corset pulls you in at the waist and then the skirt is so big that the proportions—it makes [my waist] look smaller than it is.
And I loved wearing that dress. I thought it was so beautiful, and I felt like a princess in it, but there was definitely a lot of struggle involved in getting around because it was super-heavy and really big and very tight — so I burped a lot. Dancing in it was really hard as well because there were so many layers, it was so delicate. But for all the sort of how uncomfortable it was, it was so worth it because I felt amazing in it.
How comfortable were those glass slippers?
Not comfortable because they didn't fit my foot, which is totally breaking the illusion. The good thing is that they fit no foot, so it's not just like they got the wrong Cinderella. They're made of Swarovski crystal, so they'd just break, and they're incredibly beautiful and incredibly valuable, so they were CGI'd onto my foot.
There's a huge princess culture, and a lot of backlash that's often coupled with girl power (or the lack thereof). What do you hope girls will take from your portrayal? How did that influence your version of Cinderella?
Ken (Branagh) was so clear about this Cinderella; he said straight away she's not sitting around waiting for a prince to save her. And right from the start that was one of the most important things — she is too busy dealing with her life to be dreaming about a prince. Not only that, she's succeeding in getting through her life with hope and happiness despite her situation. She does that through great courage and great kindness and her inner strength, which I think makes her almost a superhero.
When she meets the prince, they don't know who each other are — they're equals, they're both on horses, they're both strong, and they both challenge and save each other. In a moment when she's almost given up hope, he proves that there is kindness and people left in the world who are nice. He's about to lose his dad, and she shows him there's a different way to live. I think it's a really beautiful love story that's really balanced. Even at the end, when the prince comes, she says, "This is who I am. Take me. Love me or don't, but you have to know this is me," which again I think is a really strong and much more up-to-date message.
Photograph by Disney
Cinderella draws strength from her kindness. What do you draw strength from?
Probably my family, which is why it's amazing that Ella's left without a family and she's still manages. I guess their memory—it's their ghosts, almost. Sometimes you watch Cinderella and you go, "Why doesn't she just leave?" But that's her home. We really wanted that to feel strong as well — that she doesn't leave because that's her parent's house and they told her to look after it. I think that your strength always really has to come from within — or your family — because that's what's really going to hold you together, no matter what.
What is the experience of working with Kenneth Branagh?
Magical. He's such a great director and such a great man. He has such a big heart — he directs with heart and warmth, and he's very clear. He knows exactly what he wants, so to be directed by him is exhilarating. He made me feel like I could do it. He made me feel like a princess. I trusted him completely, and because he's an actor, he knows how to speak to you, and he knows what helps and what doesn't.
I'm going to be directed by him again in "Romeo & Juliet" on the stage next year with Richard (Madden, who plays the prince in "Cinderella"), in (London's) West End. But it's very early days.
What has been your Cinderella moment?
Every time you get a part, it feels like a Cinderella moment. When I got "Downton Abbey," I remember I was in a cafe. I got the call, and I had this drink and I knocked it [over]. It just went everywhere, across the whole room. You feel like you've "got something," in a way. Sometimes it feels like those moments when you've worked hard and it's rewarded — like when Cinderella's kindness was rewarded in the end — [or] you love someone and they love you back. Those moments, those are Cinderella moments. And I've had lots; I'm very lucky.