Lily Collins was on the cover of December 16th issue of Stella. Looking absolutely beautiful, as always, Lily speaks about beating anorexia, overshadowing her father and starring in BBC’s Les Misérables. You can read the full article below, and check out the photos in our gallery!
A few months ago, Phil Collins told his daughter that he’d heard a British DJ introduce one of his songs with the words: ‘For those of you who don’t know, this is Lily Collins’s dad.’ ‘He thought it was so funny,’ chuckles the 29-year-old actor. ‘And so did I. It’s just interesting, I guess, how different generations get defined by different things.’
As one of the defining voices of the 1980s and a man who remains one of the world’s bestselling artists, it would have been easy for Collins to overshadow his multitalented daughter’s success. Certainly, when I first interviewed Lily five years ago for the romcom Love, Rosie, she was still being defined not just by her famous father, but the Audrey Hepburn-esque looks that had won her modelling contracts as a teenager living in LA.
Since we last saw each other, Lily has redefined herself on her own terms. And when UK audiences are treated to her nuanced, poignant portrayal of Cosette’s desperate mother, Fantine, in the lavish new six-part BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, they won’t see Phil Collins’s daughter but a remarkable British-born talent at the top of her game.
‘I had a few friends in the musical version, and I was so keen to play this part in what’s a very different adaptation,’ says Lily of the role that won Anne Hathaway an Oscar – a role she begged producers to be allowed to audition for, so desperate was she to be involved.
That the director, Tom Shankland, had decided against his being a musical adaptation meant the all-star cast – including Dominic West as Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo as Javert and Olivia Colman as Madame Thénardier – were able to return to Hugo’s original characters, she says. ‘And getting to work through the whole arc of Fantine’s life was incredible. Although in fact the death scene was filmed on day two,’ she adds with a side smile. ‘So it was a case of, “Hi, nice to meet you – I’m about to die”.’
Crushed and betrayed by a pitiless society that demands the most from those to whom it gives the least, Fantine’s character is emblematic of so much. During the six-month shoot in Belgium and northern France, Lily found filming in minus-13C Brussels gruelling (‘I grew up in England, so I should know about cold – but this was something else’), but says it helped put her in the right state of mind.
‘My lips started to go blue and I began to shake. Even in my breaks I wouldn’t keep my jacket on for too long because I had to be at a level of discomfort that I hadn’t experienced before.’ And when a degraded and desperate Fantine is dragged through the snow wearing minimal clothing, ‘I was able to let go and be that vulnerable. It’s those parts that are the most fulfilling: that’s when you can see what you’re made of.’
Lily’s early roles were hardly inconsequential. She starred alongside Sandra Bullock in the Oscar-winning 2009 film The Blind Side, and with Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror in 2012. But it wasn’t until 2013 with her portrayal of Clary Fray in the film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling cult fantasy series The Mortal Instruments that Lily seemed to come into her own.
There was a concerted move towards tragic, multi-layered heroines like heartbroken Cecilia Brady in Amazon Prime’s The Last Tycoon in 2016, and recovering anorexic Ellen in Marti Noxon’s To the Bone the following year, and I wonder whether it was the writing of her startlingly honest 2017 memoir, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, that marked the start of Lily’s real evolution.
Five years ago a sweet, wholesome and reticent young woman in dungarees and Dr Martens boots had assured me that prudence had ‘always been my natural feeling’. And yet, outing herself as someone real and flawed in her memoir – someone who had suffered from a debilitating eating disorder as well as self-confidence and relationship issues – was anything but prudent. ‘Writing the book helped me let go of things I was holding on to emotionally,’ Lily says. ‘And in order to take on the baggage of the characters that I wanted to play I had to let go of my own.’
That she chose to play a recovering anorexic in To the Bone the same year she’d detailed her own illness in such detail – the diet-pill and laxative addiction, the bingeing and purging that started at the age of 16 and went on into her 20s – could be seen as brave, foolhardy or both. But her parents (Lily’s mum is American socialite Jill Tavelman) didn’t try to stop her, she says. ‘In fact, they were more like, “Wow, you’re writing a book!” And it turned out to be a form of therapy,’ she insists.
‘Luckily, we shot To the Bone in LA, I worked with a nutritionist to prepare for the part responsibly, and my mum was on set with me, so it was a way for me to harness something that had truly controlled my life for such a long time. Being able to turn the tables and really have control was amazing. Finally I could say to myself: “I am living my life and this is not going to be a part of my story from now on.” I’ll be 30 in March and I’m so glad that I dealt with these things in my 20s, because now I can get excited about what’s to come.’
As part of her research she went to an Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous group, and an LA clinic for eating disorders, ‘where they gave me a lot of the factual information to understand the basics of the disorder’. Does she feel her illness is firmly behind her now – or is it important to remain vigilant? ‘Well it’s never going to be erased because it’s part of who you are, but it doesn’t define how I live my life daily any more,’ she says. ‘When I was going through it, I couldn’t imagine there being a day when I didn’t think about it. So really it’s about seeing myself as a priority.’
She’s in no doubt that doing To the Bone and Unfiltered in the same year was worth it in terms of getting the message out there. ‘We’re all flawed,’ she shrugs. ‘Giving a loud voice to a subject that people are often very ashamed of really inspired me to pour myself into characters that have something to say.’
Her accent may be pure La-La Land, but Lily’s got British steel, our madcap sense of humour – and a love of Topshop. And when she lands at Heathrow and drives out into the country towards her father’s Surrey home, ‘That’s when I feel most myself,’ she says. And yet only-child Lily was just five when her mother moved them back to California, where she was from, and away from the very public fallout of her and Collins’s divorce.
It was the musician’s second marital break-up and the press feasted on every acrimonious detail of the split, from the fax her father reportedly sent Tavelman terminating their 10-year marriage (he denied it) to the reported £17 million he was forced to pay out. But although Lily admits in her book that there was ‘anger’ towards her father and a ‘terrible disconnect’ between them in the subsequent period – Collins went on to marry Swiss translator Orianne Cevey, 20 years his junior, in 1999, whom he later divorced and remarried – she is now very close to the 67-year-old and her four half-siblings. Two of them, Simon and Joely (whose mother is Collins’s first wife, Andrea Bertorelli) live in Canada, and two, Nicholas and Matthew (sons of Orianne), in Geneva, but the family all assembled in London for their father’s 60th birthday.
Lily remembers the advice Phil gave her when she started out: ‘For every positive review you read you’ll probably find two negative ones, so if you’re proud of something, don’t let anyone take that away.
‘And it’s true that being proud of the work matters more than anything,’ she says, adding that growing up immersed in the industry allowed her to ‘see the pros and the cons of it all and really understand what happens when you decide you’re going to be in the public eye. Because of that I feel like I already have this armour built in, which I can use at any moment.’
The armour went on when I asked about her ex-boyfriend, actor Jamie Campbell Bower, and an alleged fling with Zac Efron five years ago – and she’s not about to tell me who she’s dating now. But as well as her book, Instagram – on which Lily has almost 12 million followers – has opened her up in other ways. ‘I used to be quite anti social media,’ she says. ‘But after the book I found that this hugely supportive community was forming around the world.’ Anyone who assumed that the gorgeous LA actress whose circle of friends includes the actors Eddie Redmayne, Jaime Winstone and Sam Claflin couldn’t connect with ordinary people, ‘I wanted to prove wrong,’ she says.
Instagram has also proved to be a great platform for Lily to showcase her love of fashion and photography. The Dr Martens are now long gone and today she loves mixing up pieces by Givenchy, Miu Miu and Chanel with vintage brands and high-street finds. ‘In Brussels there were so many amazing vintage shops,’ she says. ‘I found some incredible old adidas and Fila jackets. But I’m constantly changing when it comes to fashion.’
Many of these experiments have been exhaustively covered by the fashion bloggers who dissect paparazzi pictures of Lily out and about in LA, where she lives – ‘which can be frustrating when I’m just going to the gym’, but is an inevitable part of any coverage involving red carpets.
Asked whether she minds the ‘Who are you wearing?’ question that many A-listers have railed against post #AskHerMore, she deliberates for a moment. ‘Well, I like to give credit where credit’s due, and if I’m wearing something a designer has created, they deserve the credit. One hopes there’s going to be more than one question – and if it is just the one, I’d rather be asked what I’m doing there.’
To see how quickly her industry has changed since #MeToo went viral just over a year ago has been fascinating, she says. ‘And I feel very fortunate that the films I’ve been in have always involved very strong independent women – whether it’s Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening or Jennifer Connelly: they all took me under their wing.’
Watching #MeToo filter down into other industries has been one of the most wondrous things about it, she enthuses. ‘But whereas this year has been about trying to level the playing field, I keep hoping that one day we won’t have to start conversations with, “Well, it’s great because she’s a woman…”’
In her next big screen role, Lily will star as Edith Tolkien – the wife and muse of Lord of the Rings creator JRR Tolkien – opposite Nicholas Hoult in Dome Karukoski’s biopic, Tolkien. ‘And what an amazing experience to shoot in Liverpool with someone like Nicholas, and be able to play a character that really inspired a series of stories I grew up loving.’ But prior to that, and also due out next year – she filmed Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, in which she plays the long-term girlfriend of mass-murderer Ted Bundy, Elizabeth Kloepfer – with whom she spent time.
‘The preparation to that – and meeting Elizabeth and her daughter – was so unsettling that I kept being woken up by all these images,’ she says. ‘And I had tried not to read the harshest and most visceral information out there because in truth my character didn’t know anything, and the story is from her perspective. But it’s such a fascinating story – and in the end storytelling is what connects us all.’
Les Misérables begins on 30 December at 9pm on BBC One