If one look at Lily Collins’ Giambattista Valli gothic ballerina dress, paired with a blunt, black, bobbed wig at this year’s 2017 Met Gala didn’t have you swooning over the 28-year-old actress and her flawlessly executed fashion sense, you’re about to get a second opportunity to feel faint.
When it comes to the reality of growing up as a young star in Hollywood, the pressure to be perfect, and her reason for playing determined, female characters on camera, Lily doesn’t mince her words.
A day after revealing that former First Lady, Michelle Obama, had sent her a personal ‘thank you’ letter after receiving a copy of her book, Unfiltered, we sat down for a chat with the Golden Globes-nominated actress.
In a brilliant ELLE UK + Lily Collins session, we covered everything from growing up in Hollywood, women’s perception of beauty, her singing skills and her latest film, Rules Don’t Apply.
Let’s just say, the conversation didn’t disappoint.
Here’s what we found out from the Californian-based actress:
On being unafraid to show vulnerability
In Rules Don’t Apply, Collins plays chaste, Baptist 18-year-old beauty queen, Marla Mabrey, who moves into a Hollywood Hills house, paid for by American film director, Howard Hughes (played by Warren Beatty, who also directed the film) ahead of her screen test with the multi-millionaire, in the hope to find fame as a young actress.
Throughout the narrative, Marla’s determination is frequently tested as she’s manipulated by producers, directors and her own family.
However, while Marla is a headstrong teenager who isn’t afraid to stand up to her mother, Lucy, (played by Annette Bening) and Hughes, she’s also unafraid to show her frailty in the face of hardship – a quality Collins admires, greatly.
‘Asking for help is never a weakness. It was great to play a young woman who gets to play this strength, tenacity and passion yet at the same time, a real vulnerability,’ says Lily.
‘[Showing weakness] doesn’t deter her from going after what she wants or mean she’s weak all of a sudden – she’s human,’ she adds.
On playing strong-willed characters
With leading roles in Mirror Mirror, Love, Rosie and To The Bone, it’s safe to say the actress has a penchant for playing pretty badass, compelling and tenacious characters, who among them battle evil step-mothers, unexpected teen pregnancies and eating disorders – the latter of which Collins knows of all too well.
So, has Lily’s on-screen roles playing multi-faceted women to date been a conscious choice or sheer dumb luck?
Er, what do you think?
‘I never just want to be a girl in a story. I think there has to be an incredible character arch and journey that she goes through. With these particular women and to get to show all these different facets of their personality is really important.
‘Sometimes playing a mum, someone fighting for life or death, it’s all in those moments that define how they grow into a young woman, the life they want and how they become who they are,’ she explains.
On Hollywood’s temptations
As the daughter of British, award-winning musician, Phil Collins, and former American model, Jill Tavelman, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lily might have grown up blinded by the beauty and fortune of fame and fallen victim to the age-old tale of celebrity offsprings developing a ‘talent’ for late-night A-list parties, shopping along Rodeo Drive and living off their parents’ wealth.
However, this is Lily Collins we’re talking about.
With an acting career that kicked off at the age of two and a broadcast journalism degree from the University of Southern California under her belt, the idea of the actress riding on the coat-tails of anyone else’s talents couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘My mother would drive me to auditions and hang around in the hallways,’ she notes, reflecting on the close bond she shares with her mother, and that of Marla and Lucy in the film.
Of the late-night Hollywood parties, Lily wasn’t much of a fan. ‘I was never the partier – going out wasn’t really my vibe,’ she jokes.
On the pressure to be perfect
Having spoken openly about her own struggles with eating disorders during the promotion of her Sundance Film Festival project, To The Bone, about an anorexia patient, Lily unashamedly talks of the ideals of beauty that crippled her as a teenager.
‘As a young woman growing up, you set these standards for yourself as to what is perfect and ask, ‘how can I reach perfection?’. The older you get, and I know I’m still not old, you ask, ‘What is perfection?’
‘I definitely felt the struggles, but I think they were struggles mostly put on by myself and that’s where a lot of pitfalls come into play, in terms of body issues and eating disorders which really are quite prevalent among young people, no matter what industry they’re in.
‘Once you realise that there is no such thing as perfect, it literally takes a weight off your shoulders because you can just be who you are and being you is enough,’ she admits.
On bravely opening about her eating disorder
Earlier this year, Lily released her first memoir, Unfiltered, sharing a poignant conversation with readers about the challenges of growing up and accepting your (perfectly acceptable) imperfections.
As a result, it’s garnered unprecedented success for the trained-journalist, with a nod of gratitude from former First Lady, Michelle Obama.
‘I never thought I’d talk about stuff that I was so shameful of when I was younger and then for the former First Lady to support it…’ she gushes.
Explaining why she wrote this book, Collins admits it was ‘to start conversations about subjects that young girls find to be quite taboo’.
‘The more I’ve received from other people, I’ve been given the gift [of being told] ‘you’re not alone’. I wrote the book for other people but I didn’t know I’d still be getting it back myself,’ she reflects.
On not taking ‘no’ for an answer
In January, the actress received her first-ever Golden Globes nomination for ‘Best Actress’ for her role as Marla, admitting with an Instagram post of her Zuhair Murad pink dress: ‘I’ll look back on this #GoldenGlobes moment and remember it forever’.
However, as all actresses will know, fighting for a television or film role among thousands of your contemporaries is no mean feat.
So, what advice does she have for young women aspiring to achieve their dreams?
‘Don’t take ‘no’ as ‘no, this isn’t for you’, take it as ‘no, not right now’. There’s always a way in which to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ in some format. You can always at least learn from the situation of having a door slammed in your face and can turn that into something good.
‘I believe that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, something can feel like it’s the end of the world at that moment but, it can turn out to be a blessing. There’s always a way in which something /bad/ can be turned into something good,’ she notes.
On being a badass female
Earlier this year, Collins admitted to baring witness to considerable sexism in the film industry, telling the Daily Mail: ‘There are limited roles for young women; there isn’t enough good material.’
However, any semblance of prejudice towards her dreams of becoming a working-actress won’t deter her away from her career.
Reflecting on the similarities between her on-screen Rules Don’t Apply character and her own personality, Lily says: ‘Both of us are very tenacious young women who aren’t afraid to show when we’re not as knowledgeable and want to learn from others so, that’s something I admire in her.’
On singing, live
In her latest film, Collins had the opportunity to sing – live, might we add – for the first time ever in her career.
Acknowledging it won’t take long before viewers make comparisons with her voice and that of her ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ singing father, Lily admits it was a daunting experience.
‘[It was] definitely nerve-wracking. I’d always wanted to do it in a movie because I love singing and it’s the perfect marriage of acting and singing to do at once. I’d love to do musical theatre.
‘This was great because we did it live, so I didn’t have to match a track. I got to live and breathe in the moment. I made it work and experiment with it, it was really fun,’ she says.
It appears the rules certainly don’t apply for Collins. And, we’re glad to hear it.