Lily James relives her War and Peace experience
She’s such a vast character to portray I love Natasha so much and it’s such a joy trying to bring her to life. I’m quite protective over her too! As an actor and as a woman it’s a part that’s going to stay with me.
Q 1. Tell us about Natasha?
LJ. I agree with Andrew Davies that Natasha is the most lovable romantic character in literature. As she goes on an enormous journey from child to woman, you can see all her flaws. She’s very unabashed but in spite of that, you still really like her because she has a huge heart and a beautiful soul. She lives in the moment and she’s completely uninhibited, but of course that leads to disaster.
She’s such a vast character to portray I love Natasha so much and it’s such a joy trying to bring her to life. I’m quite protective over her too! As an actor and as a woman it’s a part that’s going to stay with me. These big parts, these big heroines, they change you as an actor and as a person. It was surprising that with War & Peace, it sounds so epic, but I really found myself relating to each of the characters.
Q 2. What is her relationship with her family like?
LJ. Natasha loves her family and she is incredibly close to her brother and to Sonya. The only sadness is that when she gets so lost and wrapped up in her own world and her own trauma she loses her family for a while.
Natasha’s parents are amazing the relationship with her mum is so beautiful, it’s an intimate mother/daughter relationship. Natasha’s relationship with her father again it’s a really fun one. He’s an extravagant father which she relishes, he’s over indulgent and completely wonderful.
Q 3. How did you and Paul Dano play the scenes between Natasha and Pierre?
LJ.Paul is great to work with, but it’s still a difficult relationship to portray. How do we tap into the undeniable connection they have without them knowing it? When Pierre walks into a room, Natasha is instantly drawn to him.
Q 4. What are Natasha’s costumes like?
LJ. They’re fantastic. I wouldn’t have been able to play Natasha without these wonderful costumes. How you’re dressed really impacts on how you feel. I’ve loved wearing her flowing dresses – funnily enough, you actually feel more freedom in those than you do in jeans. What item would I take home with me if I could? I wore a tiara for the Tsar’s Ball scene that was just amazing!
Q 5. Tell us about the locations you filmed in?
LJ. The locations we’ve been to have been mind-blowing. When we were in Russia we filmed at Catherine’s Palace, outside the Winter Palace and in these huge churches. James and I also filmed a lot of beautiful romantic scenes in the snow. I’ve never seen locations like it that were actually real. When we filmed the ball in Catherine’s Palace, I walked in and was stunned and silenced.
Q 6. What were the riding sequences like?
LJ. Riding side-saddle was difficult. It’s very painful – much worse than the way men ride. You have to trap your legs on the saddle – I’m very glad women don’t have to do that anymore!
Q 7. Why is Tolstoy such a great writer?
LJ. Because he always finds the core of a character. He hones in on what’s important and universal, which is why War & Peace is such a classic. People always say this, but it feels very relevant. That’s why great books are great books. This novel has stood the test of time because the themes Tolstoy discusses are eternal. The things these characters are talking about – love and death – are never going to change.
Q 8. Have you read the novel?
LJ.You have to read the novel! It’s so addictive! The characters are so rich and I adore Tolstoy’s tone and the humour with which he describes people. It made me laugh, and it made me cry.
I was reading it while we were filming Downton Abbey. I’d be reading between takes at the dining table. The director would call “Action!” and – bang! – the book would be back under the table. Everyone was laughing about that! This is why Andrew is such an amazing writer and adapter because he manages to keep the essence of the story and the characters.
It’s a huge book he’s condensed down into these scripts but he’s kept the vitality and it feels accessible. I think the audience will be really drawn in. War & Peace that airs on Zee Café every Monday at 10 PM.