Lily graced the cover of Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine in the UK a few weeks ago. We just added the scans and first outtakes of the photoshoot in our gallery. You can find the interview below/inside.
With a rock god for a father, Lily Collins was born into privilege – but that’s not how she bagged a coveted film role. She tells Stella magazine about attending the Crillion ball, missing England and playing Snow White to Julia Roberts’ evil queen.
As the offspring of rock royalty, certain things come easily.
Lily Collins – daughter of the Genesis singer and drummer Phil Collins – confesses that her surname was a valuable asset when she was an aspiring actress, securing meetings with casting directors curious about ‘Phil Collins’ girl’.
But along with the advantages of wealth and privilege came the inevitable accusations of nepotism, as the 22-year-old quickly discovered.
‘I remember going into one meeting where an agent said outright, “What makes you so special? There are tons of daughters and sons and cousins and nieces and nephews of famous people. Do something. Come back, and we’ll talk.”’
Which is exactly what she did.
She used her weekends and holidays from Harvard-Westlake, a prestigious private school in Los Angeles (former pupils include Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal), studying drama and fleshing out her CV with stints working as a journalist for Teen Vogue and Elle Girl.
She also reported for the children’s television channel Nickelodeon, one assignment being to cover the 2008 American presidential election.
Collins landed her first film role in The Blind Side (2009), playing the daughter of Sandra Bullock (who went on to pick up an Oscar for her performance).
Last year she played Paul Bettany’s niece in the thriller Priest and Taylor Lautner’s love interest in the action film Abduction. (She and the Twilight star were subsequently reported to be involved in an off-screen relationship.)
Now she has her first starring role as Snow White opposite Julia Roberts’ evil queen in Mirror Mirror, a big-screen adaptation of the fairytale from the award-winning music-video director Tarsem Singh.
‘It is very much a family film. It’s a really funny, happy, feel-good adventure,’ says Collins.
Funnily enough, she also auditioned for a rival film, Snow White and the Huntsman, which is also out this year and recasts the tale as a dark action adventure with Kristen Stewart playing Snow White and Charlize Theron a terrifying, tortured queen.
Collins, whose mother is Phil Collins’ second wife, Jill Tavelman, keeps her pedigree quiet when she’s working.
‘The day we wrapped The Blind Side a crew member said, “I just found out who your dad is. Why didn’t you tell us?” And I said, “What, like I’m going to lead with that?” I love my dad, I’m so proud of what he’s done, but I want to do my own thing.’
Collins must be equally proud of his daughter, whom I meet for lunch at a low-key restaurant in Santa Monica. She arrives wearing a loose peasant blouse over J Brand jeans and driving an old Land Rover.
‘I got my car when I was 15. I love it and I don’t need a new one,’ she says. Instead of using the valet parking, she pumps coins into the meter.
Collins spent the first six years of her life living in a West Sussex farmhouse with her parents and she still considers herself ‘English at heart’, despite her distinctly Californian accent.
‘Everybody in LA says I’m so English because I can’t go a day without a cup of tea,’ she says with a laugh.
She has a nostalgic view of Britain, rhapsodising about the pleasures of ‘beans on toast, Jaffa Cakes and PG Tips’ and sighing over the joys of Topshop.
‘I’m dangerous in there.’
But it’s Los Angeles that is home – she lives in an apartment inherited from her maternal grandmother – and Hollywood that has taken the actress to its heart.
With her long dark hair, creamy complexion and huge hazel eyes, Collins looks as though she was born to play Snow White.
Not only that, but ‘apples are my favourite fruits in the entire universe. My friends in high school always said, “You’ll never find Lily without an apple in her bag.”’ She giggles in a sunny, unaffected way.
Collins heard she’d got the part of Snow White on 1 April last year and was convinced it was ‘the worst April Fool’s joke in the entire universe’.
A month later she was in a studio in Montreal meeting the seven dwarves and her handsome prince, who is played by Armie Hammer, of The Social Network.
She spent four months learning martial arts and fencing. ‘For one scene Armie and I were fighting between trees that were inches apart, running on salt, which they used as snow in the studio, with me wearing long billowing trousers and a corset.
‘There were 150 sword moves and Armie smacked me several times. No blood was drawn, but I was so bruised. It doesn’t matter how much padding you wear, those swords are lethal.’
Julia Roberts brought her family on set.
‘Her kids would run around and play underneath her dress.’ In contrast to Charlize Theron’s villainous portrayal of the queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, Roberts plays the role for laughs.
‘She uses her classic America’s sweetheart smile in a high-school manner. You know, like when someone says, “Your top is so pretty,” and they’re smiling but really they mean they hate it. I am the victim of her evil wrath. She yells at me.
‘In one scene my dress got caught in my shoe and she pulled some of my hair out. That’s the take they used. It really hurt. Afterwards they yelled “cut” and she said, “I’m so sorry.” And I said, “It’s totally fine.”’
She stops eating for a moment and smiles. ‘Because it’s Julia.’
Despite her girlish exterior, Collins is no pushover. She won’t confirm rumours that her romance with Taylor Lautner is off (or even that it was ever on). So I ask if it is easier to go out with someone in the same job?
She puts down her fork and hesitates before answering.
‘As an actor you go away for long periods of time. It’s not normal. So the idea of dating someone who understands what you’re going through is helpful.’
She is also highly ambitious – surprising, perhaps, given that her father is reckoned to be worth about £150 million.
Surely she’s never had to worry about how she was going to earn a living and pay the rent? But Collins tells me, ‘I’ve been driven since the day I was born; I’ve never done it for the money.
‘I grew up watching my dad, who is an incredibly strong man. I look up to him because of the lives he’s affected with his talent and his passion. That made me want to make a mark on the world as well.’
Discipline was instilled in her by her mother, an event planner and charity fundraiser who moved to Los Angeles, a six-year-old Collins in tow, after divorcing the rock star.
‘My mum was strict,’ she says. ‘I had to wash dishes, make the bed, do the laundry. She kept a really good balance of being strict but being so open that I could talk to her about anything.’
Tavelman also made sure that her daughter wasn’t insulated from life beyond the narrow confines of Beverly Hills, taking her on ‘adventure holidays’ where they would ‘immerse [themselves] in the culture, going to local markets and coffee places.
‘We went to Belize and stayed in a hut with no air-conditioning or hot water in the middle of the rainforest; there were scorpions in the bathroom and in the bed one night. We found a toad on the toilet and a big iguana on the ceiling.’
She is well aware that by anyone’s standards her life has been privileged.
At 18 she had her ‘coming out’ ceremony at the débutante ball at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris (this year’s ball was attended by Tallulah Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, among others).
She wore frothy cream Chanel haute couture.
‘Chanel let me go into the closet and pick whatever I wanted to wear,’ she says. ‘We had waltz lessons. There was a big dinner and dance and they present you to society. My mum and dad came and it was just surreal; it felt like being in a novel.’
As a teenager Collins spent what sound like idyllic summers in Switzerland with her father, who still lives there following his divorce from his third wife, Orianne Cevey.
‘We would go out on Lake Geneva. He’d drive the speedboat with me in the back. We’d water-ski and swim and have picnics on the lake.
‘I went on tour with him for a week or so when I was about 10. That was really fun – being able to see him do his thing.’
Collins also has vivid memories of her early childhood in rural England. ‘I remember going to school wearing my little plaid jumpers and dresses, having dinners in the kitchen and making soup together.
‘I loved going to the studio and watching my dad and the band record. I was friends with all the band members’ kids and we used to go for curry all the time,’ says Collins.
They still own the house in West Sussex. ‘We go back every Christmas, light a fire and watch old movies and TV shows like Fawlty Towers, anything with John Cleese in it.’
In her next film, The English Teacher, Collins stars alongside another of her older role models, Julianne Moore.
‘I’m one of her students and we fall for the same person.’ An adaptation of the best selling teen novel Mortal Instruments, with the British actor Jamie Campbell Bower, will follow.
Her goal is to appear ‘in a period drama with Colin Firth. ‘I love Shakespeare and Jane Austen and I can imagine being in full costume, with the big dresses and the corset, hair flowing, doing an English accent in the British countryside.’
She sighs, face aglow. Then she’s back in the Land Rover heading for Beverly Hills – a California girl dreaming of England.