LILY James, playing Desdemona to Clarke Peters’ Othello and Dominic West’s Iago at the Crucible Theatre has never seen The Wire, the hit US crime series in which her fellow actors starred.
When she landed the role in Sheffield, however, she went out and bought a box set but then decided not to watch it until the run of the play is over.
“I think it might be confusing to see Othello and Iago in another world,” she says.
“There’s a massive buzz about this production which is really exciting but also a little bit daunting,” says the relatively inexperienced actor. “I don’t want to let them down with my Desdemona but raise to their level. And I think all of that makes me better.”
James graduated from drama school last year and this is only her second professional stage appearance. In February she was in a high profile production at the Young Vic, Tanya Ronda’s stage adaptation of Vernon God Little, the Booker Prize-winning novel by DBC Pierre directed by Rufus Norris.
In the summer she filmed The Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to Hollywood sword and sandals fantasy blockbuster Clash of the Titans due for release next spring. She was in exalted company here too - Sam Worthington, Bill Nighy, Ralph Fiennes, and Liam Neeson.
Last year she was in the fourth and final season of ITV’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl playing the role of Poppy, a university drop-out who went to the bad and had to be taken under Billie Piper’s wing.
She was also in the BBC production of Richmal Crompton’s Just William playing “the horrible older sister”.
But classical theatre is a real passion. “I did lots of Shakespeare at drama school and loved it and have always been drawn to the strong women in his plays and want to play them,” she says. “Desdemona in my opinion is often misjudged. She is so strong but sometimes she can come across as weak and timid.
“She is totally open and falls in love with an older man who opens her eyes to a world she didn’t know existed. She cannot see that Iago is evil and cannot compete with that.”
At 22 James is able to play younger than her own age. Desdemona is an example. “She is 17 and that’s part of the scandal. She decides to defy her family and her father and go off with Othello and they are really happy together,” she continues, “but slowly Iago poisons Othello’s view of her.”
Lily James has always wanted to act, going to stage school and then on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her grandmother was the late American-born actress Helen Horton whose career ranged from episodes of the Benny Hill Show to providing the voice of Mother in Alien. “She was so glamorous and gorgeous and she would have been so proud of me doing this.”
Othello starts previewing at the Crucible Theatre tonight (September 15) and continues until October 15.