Lily Collins: The genesis of a movie star
She’ll never fully escape the ‘daughter of Phil’ tag, but actor Lily Collins has always been determined to achieve success on her own terms
Lily Collins and Greg Kinnear in Stuck in Love
Being Lily Collins has just got a little easier. A year or so ago, she might, when conducting interviews, have managed to keep questions about her father at bay for five minutes at most. After a spell as a TV journalist, she secured juvenile roles in fantasy romp Priest and three-hankie tearjerker The Blind Side. It was a decent start to a career. But no journalist was, at that stage, going to tarry too long before bringing up the guy from
Things have changed. Suddenly, Collins is everywhere. This week, the dark, charismatic young actor can be seen in a very enjoyable romantic comedy entitled Stuck in Love. Later in the summer, she appears in The English Teacher, an indie co-starring Julianne Moore, and will headline the urban fantasy The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. As you read this, she is shooting Love, Rosie, the latest Cecelia Ahern adaptation, on the streets of Dublin.
“Oh I’ve never been to Ireland before,” she enthuses. “The weather seems to have got over its schizophrenic thing. The sun’s out. It’s great.”
Let’s just tear the plaster straight off and engage with her parentage. Stuck in Love allows us an easy way in. Collins plays the daughter of a recently divorced writer who has just had her own first novel accepted for publication. There are echoes of Lily’s own background there. Phil Collins (for it is he) and her mother, Jill Tavelman, divorced messily when she was just five. Now, like her character, she is entering one of her own father’s businesses.
“Yeah, there is definitely a connection,” she says. “I am entering into the entertainment business and my father is very successful. You honour that, but you want to do things your own way. I recognised that in this character. She is also very outspoken and promiscuous. Those things definitely aren’t me. But I wanted to experiment with those also. You learn about yourself that way.”
After the break-up, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles and, though she spends a lot of time in England, there is not a trace of Phil’s classless cockney in her accent. She is chattier than the average Los Angelino. But the accent is pure West Coast.
“I feel more European than American,” she says. “I own both. We have a home in England and I go back there often. It’s nice to get back to my roots and to be more British than I get to be every day.”
So was there ever any chance she wouldn’t end up in some corner of the entertainment business? The genes go back several generations. Before Phil ever walloped a drum, his mum, Winifred, was prowling the streets of London as one of the city’s most respected theatrical agents. It was, surely, never likely that she’d end up as a dry cleaner or quantity surveyor.
“There were parts of me that really wanted to be a fashion designer,” she says. “I wanted to be a lawyer at some point. It’s been my choice to enter into this. I have always loved telling stories and doing something creative. But I waited until I was at an age where I was confident in myself. Also, I wanted to show that I was able to fight my way into roles and demonstrate I didn’t get them just because of who I was.”
Very sensible. As a teenager, Collins got to write a column for the magazine Elle Girl. She then went on to do spots of TV journalism for the Nickelodeon station. In 2008, she covered the presidential election for that kids’ channel and spent some time in the journalistic front line on those fearsome red carpets. Every now and then she would do an audition. Her breakthrough came when she was cast as Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side.
“Those earlier roles maybe weren’t meant to be,” she ponders. “Then I got The Blind Side and Priest. Meanwhile, I was interviewing people that I was going to work with or maybe wanted to work with. It occurred to me that audiences may not believe you as a character if they also know you as yourself. I realised that I wanted to be an actor and having ‘Lily’ out there was maybe not so helpful.”
She’s no fool, this Ms Collins. Now 24, she has done a fine job of finessing those few breaks into an already formidable career. Last year, she played Snow White in Mirror Mirror. In The Mortal Instruments, she sits at the centre of a potentially enormous franchise based on the bestselling series of novels by Cassandra Clare. But we can’t let her off without asking what her dad makes of it all.
“He has always taught me, as has my mom, that it’s important to do things that make you happy – as long as you are doing them for the right reasons. It’s great to have family who are there for you and who understand the world you are in.”
Is she really as robust as she seems? By her own admission, she flunked a few auditions when starting out. She read for the lead role in Twilight and – losing out to Kristen Stewart again – also had a crack at Snow White and the Huntsman.
“I have always enjoyed the audition process,” she says. “I like going in and maybe proving someone wrong who thought I wasn’t right for it. Mind you, it’s quite nerve-wracking at the same time. As you do it more and more, you learn what the best thing is to take out of that room. They’re not the most enjoyable experiences. But you learn from them.”
There will be fewer auditions in the future as she cements her position. For now, it’s back to the hard grind on Love, Rosie. The distinguished author of the novel has been on the set.
“Oh, Cecilia is wonderful,” she enthuses. “She is such a lovely lady. It’s wonderful to have the creator on the set with you to share the excitement.”
And, of course, to share tales about the perils of having a famous dad.