Lily is on the cover of this week’s issue of Sunday Times Style, during which she spoke about Emily in Paris, falling in love, learning how to chill, and her best beauty hack. Our gallery has been updated with the cover and outtakes from the magazine, and below you can read the full article and watch a fun video of Lily.
For much of the weekend before we speak, Lily Collins threatens to melt my laptop as I tear uncontrollably through her latest show, a raunchy, rompy, highly bingeable comedy set in Paris. Her on-screen character, Emily, goes one better and blows the power in an entire Parisian arrondissement by plugging in her US-wired vibrator during a Facetime sex call with her American-based boyfriend. She then moves on to deflowering her friend’s 17-year-old brother, the scion of a champagne house, at his parents’ château.
The Guildford-born, LA-raised Collins has an eminently solid acting CV, starring as Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side, Snow White in Mirror, Mirror and Fantine in last year’s BBC adaptation of Les Misérables, but until now the 31-year-old former model’s roles have tended to play more to her doll-like prettiness rather than her comedy chops. In truth, her acting accomplishments as a whole have been somewhat overshadowed by her very famous father, the thrice-married British musician Phil Collins, who split from Lily’s mother, his second wife, the American antiques dealer Jill Tavelman, when she was five. Lily and her mother relocated to Los Angeles and she only saw her father during school holidays.
In Collins’s 2017 collection of personal essays, Unfiltered, No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, she wrote an open letter to her father. “We all make choices and, although I don’t excuse some of yours, at the end of the day we can’t rewrite the past,” she wrote. “I’m learning how to accept your actions and vocalise how they made me feel. I accept and honour the sadness and anger I felt toward the things you did or didn’t do, did or didn’t give me.”
She has spoken in the past about how her father’s absence and turbulent public divorces left her feeling out of control and channelling her trauma into anorexia and bulimia in her teens and twenties.
“My throat burnt and my oesophagus ached,” she has said. “My periods stopped for two years. I was terrified I had ruined my chances of ever having kids.”
Having finally recovered, she controversially lost a great deal of weight in order to play a young anorexic in the gritty 2017 Netflix film To the Bone. The reaction from audiences was overwhelming, she says. “From boys, girls, parents, grandparents, people who had sisters that went through it, people who had it themselves and could watch it with their husbands or boyfriends or girlfriends,” she says. “That was why we made it — to make people feel less alone, and to make people aware that it affects so many more people than we think, and that it’s OK and you shouldn’t stigmatise talking about illnesses like that.”
Today, on Zoom from her West Hollywood home, not only has she conquered her demons and is healthy and happy (and very much in love — on which subject more later), but also she appears poised finally to shake off the mantle of her famous parent and become a bona fide household name in her own right with her new, fabulously frothy and fashion-forward Netflix comedy Emily in Paris, from the all-star team of Darren Star and Patricia Field — the creator and costume designer, respectively, of Sex and the City. Emily is on track to become a millennial Carrie Bradshaw, trotting elegantly around the City of Light in Louboutins and instagramming the hell out of every pain au chocolat she meets. (Collins is no slouch in the social media department herself, with 19 million followers on Instagram.)
Emily, a cheerful, eager sort, pitches up in Paris, having been dispatched by her marketing agency in Chicago to teach its aloof, existential French counterparts some American social media strategy. The fish-out-of-water set-up could easily slip into cliché, but is given a trademark Star spin with endless innuendo and affairs, ribald gags and a particularly pointed joke involving the French first lady, Brigitte Macron (24 years older then her husband) and a product called Vaga Jeune. Emily is encouraged to cast off her American prudishness by her hot chef neighbour (who has a serious girlfriend, but snogs her whenever possible anyway) and her perfume client’s wife, who invites her to become her husband’s mistress. (Emily’s boss is already his mistress — awks.)
And thanks in large part to Collins’s immense likeability, Emily’s gauche diligence is endearing rather than off-putting. “If you wrote down all of her attributes on a piece of paper, this girl could be really annoying,” Collins agrees. “She’s optimistic, super-resourceful, loud, bright, a little bit obvious, she loves working, but she admits it all. She says, ‘I’m a basic bitch.’ She’s unapologetically herself, and they [her French colleagues] end up embracing that.”
The outfits are, of course, stars in their own right. “Patricia is such a genius at patterns, textures, colours, prints, shapes, at mixing and matching it all together. Sometimes you go: how is that going to work? And then you put it on and you’re, like, how does it not work!” Collins says.
There is, she says, “a lot of Chanel and Louboutin, but also a lot of high street. Some Sandro, some Maje, some Zara, some vintage, lots of up-and-coming Parisian designers.” Her standout favourite was a black gown by Christian Siriano with a delicate diamond headband that was, she says, “an ode to Audrey Hepburn … In that outfit, running around the Paris opera house, I did feel a little Carrie.”
While Emily arrives speaking little more than a soupçon of French, Collins used to be “pretty much fluent. I used to speak to my little brothers in it.” (Her father’s third wife, Orianne Cevey, whom he divorced but has since reunited with, is Swiss, and they have two sons, aged 19 and 15.) “I thought, this is great, I’m filming in Paris, I’m going to feel European for four months.” She chuckles. “I’ve never felt more American.”
The last time Collins and I met, in the spring of 2019, she was single and talked about watching her friends settle down. “Mine will come, I know it will,” she said of serious relationships. “I am so excited for when it will.”
Shortly afterwards she met Charlie McDowell, the 37-year-old film director son of the British actor Malcolm McDowell and his former wife, the actress Mary Steenburgen, stepson of the actor Ted Danson and now Collins’s boyfriend of a year or so. That’s a lot of showbiz lineage in one relationship. “It was crazy, like I manifested it or something,” she says today. She doesn’t want to go into the ins and outs of how they met, but she does say: “It was an instant thing. I guess I’d just been waiting for it.” They went public last August, and in December proved their commitment by adopting their dog, Redford, together. She seems incredibly happy, I comment. “I am!” she beams. While she was just as charismatic and chatty 18 months ago, today there is a new confidence and she seems notably more at ease. The week after we meet, she announced their engagement on Instagram. It happened on a romantic trip to New Mexico: “I knew he was the one right away,” she enthuses over email.
These days she has a closer relationship with her dad, too, signalled by her Instagram post on Father’s Day earlier this year. Accompanying a sweet shot of Phil reading to a toddler Lily, she wrote: “Happy Father’s Day to my first storyteller. Thank you for instilling in me the passion to be creative. The drive to bring that creativity to life. And the determination to live my dream to the fullest despite any obstacle standing in my way. The older I get, the more I understand and the greater I appreciate. No matter the distance between us, a little bit of me is always with you and a part of you, with me. I love you to the moon and back again…”
Thanks to coronavirus, however, she hasn’t seen Collins, who now lives in Miami Beach with Cevey, in person since before lockdown. But when I ask her about the viral hit of the summer — a video of YouTubers Tim and Fred Williams, aka Twins-thenewTrend, listening to Collins’s 1981 hit In the Air Tonight for the first time — she beams. “I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but I sent it to him and he thought it was hilarious. I got tweeted it so many times and then it blew up, then he went to No 1. The power of social media,” she laughs. “Emily would’ve been, like, wow, that was really smart.”
Her own lockdown has been characterised by camping and road trips with McDowell, and she rhapsodises about their skylight tent, which sits on top of a car, in which they can go to sleep looking up at trees and stars. Perhaps a little unfairly, I’d never picked the delicately pretty Collins as the rugged, outdoorsy type — even today, on a Sunday afternoon, she is poised and polished in a navy T-shirt, jeans and minimal make-up. She laughs. “Some of my friends are, like, who are you? But you don’t always know what you like until you try it.”
She’s not for a second pretending that it has all been plain sailing with the wholesale loss of control wrought by coronavirus, “but I’ve figured out tools now — reading, listening to podcasts, having the support of a loved one, a dog, meditating, travelling or road trips, connecting to nature.
“I’m introspective anyway, so I’ve been reading a lot of books by Glennon Doyle and Brené Brown and [the former monk] Jay Shetty,” she says. “I’ve learnt a lot about myself and other things — to understand myself better, but also to make me a better friend, daughter, partner, sister.”
At this point McDowell wanders past, off screen, and there is a brief exchange about laundry. She needs to head off soon to help “pack the van”.
As production in Hollywood has yet to start up again, Collins isn’t quite sure what her next project will be, “and there’s no strategy”, she says cheerfully. McDowell, a keen surfer since childhood, has recently taught her to surf, which has lent her some new perspective. “I can’t remember the last time I tried something new that I could fail at really publicly,” she says. “Time is precious and there’s so much that I haven’t done and I want to experience.”