March 23, 2015 12:00 PM

As they step into the grass high in the hills overlooking L.A., Richard Madden extends his hand to help costar Lily James find her footing. He comes across every bit as chivalrous in real life as the Prince Charming he plays in Disney’s new live-action reinvention of Cinderella. “My idea of Prince Charming is someone who has a sense of humor, awareness of his privilege and a compassion for the people around him,” says Madden. “My biggest challenge was trying to create a man who was worthy of Cinderella’s affection, rather than have her just be lucky that she was having a prince come and save her.”

James and Madden are making their own luck too. After breakout roles on TV – Downton Abbey‘s free-spirited Lady Rose for her, Game of Thrones‘ swashbuckling Robb Stark for him – the classically trained young actors jumped at the chance to bring the fairy tale’s characters alive. “I grew up with the princess films,” says Surrey native James, 25, who credits her family’s love of music, dance and theater with inspiring her career. “In my house there was always storytelling.” Scottish-born Madden, 28, calls Game of Thrones “a mad journey” – he’s still close friends with much of the cast – and a perfect career launching pad. On Cinderella, “it was nice to be on a set where I wasn’t in fear of my life,” he says with a laugh.

James and Madden, who both envision the perfect weekend as involving “a good book,” will reunite in 2016 on the London stage for Romeo and Juliet. Their significant others are costars too, from the U.K. series Doctor Who: She dates Matt Smith, 32, and he dates Jenna Coleman, 28. Is there such a thing as true love? “I really do believe in it,” says James. “In life, you meet people and this connection happens and you feel enriched because you know them. You feel like you can achieve anything.”

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