Lily James says she is enjoying playing a villainous character after a string of “good-girl roles” in films like Cinderella and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
The British actress stars opposite Gillian Anderson as a back-stabbing understudy in a new stage version of Oscar-winning film All About Eve.
“I love playing the villain and exploring that side of myself,” said James.
Anderson, meanwhile, said portraying an ageing Broadway star in the play had made her contemplate her own future as an actress.
“There have definitely been moments where I’ve been in a new show or film and been the oldest person there,” said the star, who turned 50 last year.
“No matter what our profession is, it’s something all of us will have to come to terms with.”
All About Eve tells the story of Margo Channing, a revered leading lady who takes a shine to a bashful young fan.
Her admirer, Eve Harrington, becomes her assistant, confidant and understudy before eventually revealing her true colours.
Speaking after Tuesday’s opening night, James said she was “relishing” playing Eve, whom Anne Baxter portrayed in the 1950 film.
“Eve is such a complex, brilliant, screwed-up person,” the 29-year-old told the BBC.
“I enjoy playing the ugliness and coldness inside of her that is born out of all sorts of things.”
James said the play, adapted for the stage by its Belgian director Ivo van Hove, was “a provocation” in which people “behave very badly”.
“It also examines obsession and fame and ageing and how messy and toxic that can get,” she continued.
James said she had not experienced the sort of treacherous chicanery depicted in the play in her own life and career.
“I have always been lucky to have met actresses who have nurtured and encouraged me,” she went on.
“But I’m sure on the flip side of that there can be competition and jealousy.”
In All About Eve, Margo’s fears of ageing and obsolescence are heightened by the presence of an eager young rival.
Anderson, who can currently be seen as a sex therapist in Netflix’s Sex Education, admitted she could empathise with her character in this regard.
“For instance, there will be a point in my career where I make an active decision to allow my hair to be grey,” she mused.
“That is a big decision, because all of a sudden it means one is being cast from that point on in a pretty obvious age bracket.”
A startling scene in All About Eve sees Anderson’s Margo age before our eyes in a projected image that entailed five hours of prosthetic make-up.
Best known for her Dana Scully role in The X-Files, the actress will be seen playing Margaret Thatcher in the fourth season of The Crown.
The star-studded production has received mixed reviews from critics, with one writer praising its “technical finesse” for the combination of live action and film, with another calling it “bloodless”.
In The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish thought it was “Just About OK” and said “it’s all just rather so-so, effecient and uninspired,” in his three-star review.
The Guardian‘s reviewer said the show is a “clever mixed-media hybrid” that “reeks of chic” but lacks “the emotional pull of first-rate drama.”
The Times gave the show a two-star rating and warned theatregoers: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a boring night.”
However, The Daily Mail‘s Quentin Letts said the production was “superbly assured” and “done with tremendous panache”.
Yet he found it “just a little bloodless”, adding: “I’m not sure I cared remotely about the characters.”
The critic expressed admiration for James though, saying the show “confirms her as a top-notch stage performer.”
James’s partner Matt Smith was among a starry first night audience that included Tom Hiddleston and Dame Twiggy Lawson.
Freddie Fox, who stepped in to play Romeo opposite James’s Juliet in 2016 after both her usual co-star and his understudy suffered injuries, was also in attendance.
All About Eve continues at London’s Noel Coward Theatre until 10 May and will be broadcast live in cinemas on 11 April.