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Film

Lily James lists her five favourite films of all time

In a remarkably short space of time, Lily James has ascended the world of Hollywood to be one of the most talked-about rising actors on the planet. Still only 33, her life has been moulded in the realm of cinema, but unlike many of her peers, the challenge of becoming an actor felt more like an inevitability, rather than a hopeful dream.

A child of two actors and a youth spent occassionaly touching the outskirts of Hollywood itself, James would graduate from London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2010 with her eyes firmly set on a career in front of the camera.

James, whose career began in television with impressive performances in Just William and Downton Abbey, made her international breakthrough with a role in the 2015 film Cinderella and didn’t look back. Roles in high-profile projects such as War & Peace, Baby Driver and Darkest Hour soon followed culminating in her most recent project Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle. “I don’t have an exact moment when I decided I wanted to be an actress,” she once said of her progression into an acclaimed artist: “It kind of was just really a part of my growing up,” she added.

The truth is, acting and the looming presence of movie-making has been ever-present in James’ life, as she explained: “My father lived on Sunset Boulevard in the ’70s and was an actor for a period,” she explained in an interview with The Guardian. “Then he was in a car accident and got these huge scars on his face, which totally changed it for him. He was suddenly doing all these gangster roles. My grandmother [Helen Horton] acted her entire life. She was the voice of Mother, the ship’s computer in Alien. She died just before I started drama school, sadly. I wish I could talk to her about the business now. She was so glamorous and witty.”

However, while the relatively beige surroundings of a period drama television series had the possibility of typecasting James into a safe and relatively chaos-free life, she rebelled against it and pushed herself into realms of cinema that would often frighten a young creative trying to find her feet within the industry. While Downton Abbey was her first big breakthrough, performances in Rebecca and the miniseries Pam & Tommy – in which she plays the role of Pamela Anderson – has proven that Lily James has ambitions far greater than middle-of-the-road mediocracy.

Now, as part of a feature with Rotten Tomatoes, James has picked out five films she considers an inspiration. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her links to Parker’s musical, James kicked things off with 1970s classic Grease, stating: “I love musicals. I could just do my five favourite musicals, actually. Grease I had on cassette tape and I used to pause and rewind and write down the lyrics of the songs,” as part of the interview with Rotten Tomatoes. “John Travolta is just — oh my God, doesn’t get any better,” she added.

While classic films such as Titanic and Pretty Woman make the cut, James does offer a somewhat surprise directional turn with the inclusion of Michael Cimino’s Vietnam war epic The Deer Hunter. “Those movies at that time, I think, are some of the best movies in the world,” she said of the selection.

“I think it was the calibre of actors that existed then. Those actors, I think, are some of the greatest, and the type of filmmaking that happened then was something so special. It’s so character-based and story-led.”

With James Cameron, Terrence Malick, Michael Cimino and more, see the full list, below.

Lily James’ five favourite films:

  • Grease – Randal Kleiser, 1978.
  • Badlands – Terrence Malick, 1973.
  • Titanic – James Cameron, 1997.
  • Pretty Woman – Garry Marshall, 1990.
  • The Deer Hunter – Michael Cimino, 1978.

When detailing her decision to include Badlands, James said: “Terrence Malick, Sissy Spacek — she’s out of this world and I just think that film’s so beautiful. I like the relationship and the whole visual world of it. I love that film. I can watch it again and again and again.”

Elsewhere, when discussing Pretty Woman, James added: “Julia Roberts is just everything. My mum was obsessed with Richard Gere, like literally obsessed. My mom introduced me to that film really early and I’m so glad she did. I love when [Roberts] goes into the shop and is like, ‘Big mistake. Huge. Huge’. I guess, in a way, now you think, ‘Oh, it’s like the Cinderella story and they probably wouldn’t even make that movie anymore; it’s not a strong message’, or whatever. But I think that’s just nonsense.”

Adding: “It’s such an amazing film, and I think Richard Gere and Julia Roberts had this electric chemistry, and Julia Roberts is a goddess. I love the bit where she goes, ‘But when does it ever work for anyone? I mean, when? When?’ Like, a man saving you from your destitute life. And Laura San Giacomo thinks about it and she goes, ‘You know, Cinde-fucking-rella’.”

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