Lily James Wears a Different Scent for Each Character She Plays

"It's almost like stepping into another skin."

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I wear a different fragrance for every character I play. Smells make me feel quite emotional, and they bring back so many memories. I remember that I had trouble sleeping when I was a kid and used to spray my mom's perfume on my pillow.

As Lady Rose Aldridge in season five of 'Downton Abbey'

I also remember lavender really clearly. That reminds me of my granny. She'd put those little lavender fragrance bags in all her knicker drawers—not that I was going through my granny's knicker drawers! I just remember [the scent] of her clothes, because she'd line her drawers with lavender paper. So I actually have got that in my knicker drawers now, too. There's also Bonfire Night [the British holiday Guy Fawkes Night on November 5]. I remember going as a kid and it'd be the smells of sparklers and bonfire and burning and hot dogs.

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In terms of using fragrance for characters, it's almost like stepping into another skin. There's something about spraying it on, and I think that's a really sensual thing, like it kind of goes under the skin. I started doing it with Downton Abbey because I'd go away for six months, do tons of other stuff, and then have to come back to this character.

For Lady Rose, I wore a really heavy rose perfume. I would spritz it on and put on my wig, and I would sort of recall the character. I've since found out that a lot of actors do this: I know Helena Bonham Carter does it with every role she plays. For Juliet [James appeared in Kenneth Branagh's production of Romeo and Juliet in London over the summer], I wore My Burberry Eau de Toilette, because it's spring-y and fresh; there's an innocence to that fragrance that's good for Juliet. I tried wearing My Burberry Black, but it felt too sort of strong and—not that Juliet's not strong—but a bit too sultry. Maybe in the second half of the play!

1. James did her own makeup backstage during the production of Romeo and Juliet: "I like putting makeup on with my hands and being quite messy with it. I have the Burberry foundation and the face contour, which you can rub in with your hands." Burberry Fresh Glow Luminous Fluid Base, $48

2. "I love how British this fragrance is, because I'm very English. [Burberry chief creative officer] Christopher Bailey describes it as sort of a London garden. There are flowers with a drenched heaviness, which I think the perfume really does smell like." My Burberry Black Eau de Parfum, $125

This article appears in the October issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands now.

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