USA Today wasn’t the only publication Lily spoke to while doing press for To The Bone. Harper’s Bazaar was another publication that Lily spoke with, in which she is questioned about how she did research for the movie, the key factors that helped her recover from the eating disorder and what advice would she give anyone who’s suffering from it.
Playing an anorexia victim would be a challenging role for any actress, let alone if they’ve suffered from an eating disorder in the past. Lily Collins took the risk when she took on To The Bone, which stages the journey of a young woman battling with anorexia as she enters a group rehabilitation home.
Directed by Marti Noxon – best known for her producing and directing work on TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the film is part autobiographical, rendering it more accurate than former, more simplistic screen representations of the disorder – there are secret sit-ups in the dead of the night, xylophone chests and animal-like cries of the truly tormented. Although expectedly disturbing in parts, it’s also flecked with a dark humour that was important to both Collins and Noxon.
Collins herself lost a huge amount of weight for the part and, harrowingly, was even complimented on her appearance – a dangerous situation to be in for someone who has fought an eating disorder in the past. However, it’s exactly reactions like these that prompted her to sign up to the film – which at that point didn’t even have a distributor.
Ahead of the film’s Netflix release on Friday 14 July, we talked to Collins about the project and how it helped her come to terms with her own relationship with food.
Given your history, did you have any reservations about taking the role on?
“I got this script randomly – I had ironically just written a chapter in my book about my history having an eating disorder just a week prior. So it felt that the universe was saying that this is probably something you should be talking about on a much larger scale. I never reached the point where I needed medical attention and went to hospital, so I never took the time to talk about the facts. You tend to surround yourself with myth when you’re going through an eating disorder. I saw it as an opportunity to better understand my disorder better. I was nervous, but also really excited to finally tell my story through a character, but also unburden myself. It was very freeing.”
How did you lose the weight in a way that was medically healthy?
“It sounds like a strange concept. We did it with a nutritionist who expressed from the beginning that her main concern was getting me back to good health at the end – not to leave me hanging. It’s not something you’d usually go to a nutritionist with – ‘I’m healthy, make me unhealthy.’ So there was a lot of caution going into it. I was held accountable every step of the way and supplied with a lot of supplements so that everything in my body would continue working and that I wouldn’t get fatigued.
“I was eating throughout the day – we took out lots of food groups, but I maintained energy so I never forgot lines, I never got sick, I never missed work. It’s a miracle that my body kept functioning. There was never a goal weight that they wanted me to reach. Having been through it before, I wanted to see how far I could go while maintaining a sense of control over it. I wasn’t alone; I had so many people helping me. The hardest part was the rallying around trying to get healthy again afterwards. When you’re in that disorder, your greatest fear is gaining weight – it’s facing your biggest fear. But I had a great support system so here we are.”
What research did you do for the role?
“I had already been re-reading journal entries from my experience, then I went to an anorexics anonymous group where we met young women in recovery and also their therapists. I met with the head of an anorexia clinic in LA so he gave me a lot of the factual info to understand the basics of the disorder. I also watched interviews and documentaries. It’s a disturbing subject matter, but I wasn’t a dark and depressing person going through that. I, like Ellen, had a lot of sass, light and wit about me, but there was just this darkness as well. I really wanted to make sure that that came across.”
How did it feel to go back to that place?
“It felt a bit like a graduation because how often do you get to step back into shoes that you once wore from a different perspective? Knowing what I know now going back into it and what had originally kick-started my disorder… Well those reasons don’t apply to me anymore. It was interesting to step into the mind of the character with a different perspective, not be that young 16-year-old girl, to be in your 20s and to know who you are and to have goals that exceed food. I felt proud to have accomplished the movie and proud that Netflix liked the movie so much they wanted to distribute it. I made the movie not caring about how many people saw it. But for someone like Netflix who has so many people watching, it’s amazing.”
How did you switch off from that dark mindset after each day’s shooting?
“Marti Noxon made a big effort to make the set really fun so we all hung out on and off-set and had fun. She didn’t want it to be a dark and depressing experience. It was her first film and she wanted to have fun. There is that humorous side of the film too – we took the serious moments seriously but we didn’t live and breathe darkness. She was considerate of the fact that I had been through a similar experience – not everyone on the set knew – and she nurtured a safe environment. We shot it in 23 days, which is quick, but the hours were so long that I just wanted to watch reality TV and pass out when I got home. I still hung out with my family and went out to dinner with friends – I made a huge effort to to maintain a sense of self.”
What factors did trigger the disorder for you?
“When I was younger, I wanted to reach this image of what I thought perfection was and I equated that with – well, with what you see in the media; you think body shape has to a lot do with being perfect. I wanted to control how I got there. At that time, I was dealing with high school and relationships, and you’re very out of control at that stage in your life. How do you feel in control? Well, I controlled how I ate and looked. Then, as I grew older, I realised that perfection doesn’t exist and my priorities have shifted because I want a family one day. I don’t want these self-imposed issues to affect whether or not I can have kids – because the reality is you can’t have children when you’re ill like that.”
What were the key factors that helped you recover?
“People holding me accountable, not shying away from it and not having shame in it. Recovery is a different process and a different amount of time for everyone; I’m still in recovery. You can exist with your past eating disorder, but you can let it affect you to whatever extent you want to let it affect you. Because for so long it did for me. You don’t have to let it control you anymore. This film has been so therapeutic just being able to talk to people about it. I’ve been given daily affirmations that I’m not alone because of this film and that’s a real gift.”
The film addresses the impact eating disorders have on family and friends. Can you relate to that?
“When you have an eating disorder… Well I was very self-centred. It was about how I was feeling or not feeling, I wasn’t really concerned with how it affected others. But now when I talk to friends and family about it, I have a greater understanding. I think this film could help people understand the mindset of those with a disorder, but it can also help those with the disorder to understand how they might be impacting their friends and family.”
What’s the biggest myth surrounding anorexia?
“The idea that you can ‘just eat’ and that’ll fix it. It’s not as simple as that. You can’t.”
What advice would you give anyone who’s suffering from an eating disorder?
“I wish I had had a film like this when I was ill as it would have made me feel less alone. Asking for health is not a weakness; it’s a strength. The more we vocalise how we feel then the more relatable we are and the more feedback we’ll get that will make us feel less alone.”
What advice would you give anyone who thinks someone they know or love might have an eating disorder? How should they address it?
“It’s hard to advise anyone on how to react and deal with it because everyone is so different. But personally, even when my closest friends and family said something to me about it, at the beginning, you want to deflect, you don’t want to listen – you might even get angry. But the more you hear it, the more you realise that you’re not being discreet about it and the more it sets in that it’s a known thing now and that you’re going to held accountable. The more I got told the more it dawned on me that it was a problem. Don’t give up on someone if you say it once and get negative feedback. You don’t give up on the ones you love and this shouldn’t be any different. It’s sensitive, but it’s worth the fight.”