“Thank God you did that.”
Alden Ehrenreich was in the middle of answering a question when Lily Collins, his co-star in the film “Rules Don’t Apply,” got up from the sofa to get him a napkin. She had noticed some tea had dribbled from his cup into the saucer and was dangerously close to spilling everywhere.
“It would be all over your pants,” she explained. He smiled at her and wiped the bottom of the cup before continuing his answer.
“Put that on there before you put it on there,” Collins interrupted again, directing him to mop up the spillage on the saucer, lest the whole process begin again. Ehrenreich gave her an amused little look.
“Sorry!” she said in a tone that suggested she knew she was mothering him. He didn’t seem to mind.
The pair enjoys an obvious ease between them, teasing but also helping and building off each other. The dynamic makes the scenes between their characters the most engrossing of the film. “We really hate each other,” Ehrenreich joked when their chemistry was mentioned, but their unusual rapport isn’t just a product of two actors hitting it off. Before filming began, the two spent a lot of time rehearsing and getting to know each other in writer/director Warren Beatty’s home.
“I think a lot of it came from those bizarre experiences at his house,” Collins said. “Just having these memories that we could share. Like, remember that day we had nothing to do and we ended up playing Trivial Pursuit?”
“Rules Don’t Apply” is Beatty’s first film in 15 years, and it’s the story of Frank and Marla, two religiously devout young people falling in love in 1950s Hollywood while under contract with the mysterious and eccentric Howard Hughes (Beatty). Neither Collins nor Ehrenreich formally auditioned for the film—instead, they spent months simply meeting with Beatty before he ever let them read the script and then eventually offered them their parts.
According to Ehrenreich, this is Beatty’s way: He gets a sense of a person until he feels he can trust them.
“I think he just is constantly vetting. He uses everyone around him and gets everyone’s opinions on everything in the film,” Ehrenreich said. “Because he’s asking you, you end up having input on decisions in the design department and costume department and casting department in all these different ways, because he always says he picks the best people and then uses them, trusts them, asks their opinion.”
Beatty’s trust level for Collins and Ehrenreich grew so high that he has suggested that his two stars essentially served as co-directors of the film. It’s a notion that makes both of them laugh (“I think he likes to think we had a hand in it,” Collins said), but they both admitted the way Beatty involved them has changed the way they look at the filming process.
“The way in which I look at a scene now, I do see the overall picture. So I’m planning ahead, and I’m looking at the location and we’re kind of scoping out where certain lines should go and playing around with the location and the set,” Collins said. “I’ve experienced other directors asking me, ‘Do you want to direct one day?’ But never already saying, ‘You’re doing it. You know you’re doing it right now? You’re doing it.’ ”
Though Howard Hughes casts a long shadow in the movie, the heart of “Rules Don’t Apply” is the relationship between Frank and Marla, who struggle with their attraction in light of their commitment to sexual puritanism. Ehrenreich said he found it hard to relate to the all-consuming nature of the resulting shame, but he thinks it still lives in our society to a lesser degree—he said that Beatty often pointed out the Monica Lewinsky scandal as an example.
“I think any transgression against the value system you grew up with [causes shame],” Ehrenreich said. “I just did a movie about soldiers in Iraq, and that’s in a much different way, related in the sense that you’re brought up your entire life thinking the worst thing you can do is kill somebody. And then you kill people. And then how do you reconcile that?”
Collins, who wasn’t raised religious, agreed with the sentiment that shame is about more than religion.
“I was raised by my mom pretty much, and she just had this very non-judgmental, having no shame about yourself, no regrets, just trusting your gut and your instinct and treating yourself with respect,” the 27-year-old said. “So for me, I would feel ashamed if I went against something I really believed in because someone else told me to. So it’s kind of similar, but it’s not in relation to just sex. It’s with anything.”
Beneath sexual tension and guilt, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy running through “Rules Don’t Apply.” The title comes from a song Marla writes about her anxieties of standing out in Hollywood—fears about dreams unfulfilled and time passing too quickly.
“Was it far too late to do what I dreamed I would do?” the song asks. It seems unfathomable considering how young Marla is, but Collins said it’s not too far from her reality. She turned 25 while filming the movie and said she finally understood the song not as Marla, but as Lily.
“I was like, ‘Wait, there are all these up-and-coming girls that are 18, 19 that look older than me and they’re getting roles that I had thought that I wanted,’ ” Collins said. “I had a little bit of an ‘I feel old’ [moment]. Then I had to take a step back and realize how ridiculous that sounded because in the big scheme of things, I’m still so young.
“But I guess always being an extremely driven person, you set little goals for yourself. Sometimes they’re more reachable than others, but you think about the number, and then people are like, ‘You’re pushing 30!’ Whatever. Everyone just says all these things, but you just take every day as it comes.”
Ehrenreich admitted he thinks anxiety over aging can be harder on women than on men. Though he can remember times in his career where he wished certain markers of success had already happened to him, the 27-year-old doesn’t feel that way anymore. Getting cast as young Han Solo in an upcoming “Star Wars” film will do that for you.
Despite her anxiety over getting lost in the tide of Hollywood, Collins has plenty in the works, too. She has three films slated for 2017, as well as the publication of her first book. (“A collection of essays and letters,” she said. “I’m trying to get away from the memoir word.”) She said the writing experience helped her unearth hard truths about herself by forcing her to go to dark places.
“But now, however, since I’ve written those chapters, I feel such a weight off my shoulders that I think I’m better able to articulate going to those periods of my life and those experiences to better help me in acting,” she said.
Acting has its hard times too. But luckily, Collins wasn’t without support to help her through those.
“Sometimes, there were difficult, darker moments on set where we were going through a lot and exhausted.” Collins said. “And in those moments you just have to laugh, and hopefully you have someone there with you to go through it with.”
She looked over at Ehrenreich fondly. “And thank God.”