Lily Collins returns to the City of Light

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (10199786g) This photo shows actress Lily Collins posing for a portrait in New York to promote her PBS mini-series "Les Miserables," premiering on Sunday "Les Miserables" Portrait Session, New York, USA - 08 Apr 2019

Together meets Lily Collins who is returning to her role as the positive, can-do, solution-driven Emily. For season three of Emily in Paris. 

Lily Collins was born into show business. The daughter of singing legend Phil Collins, she was always primed for success. Vivacious and sparkling in person, she speaks in an upbeat and confident manner, ever smiling and gracious and even asks if I’d like a coffee before starting the interview.  

While the 33-year-old’s ascent into the mainstream hasn’t quite been as accelerated as her father’s was when his Genesis band started making waves at the end of the 1970s, she is a singer and actress who has considerable clout, and who made a breakthrough in 2019 opposite Zac Efron in the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a dark crime thriller that told the story of serial killer Ted Bundy. 

The film is merely one more creative undertaking for Collins who has also published her first book, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just me which led to To The Bone, in which she plays a young woman struggling with anorexia. 

Most recently, the return of Emily in Paris for a third season suggests presence and longevity away from the somewhat more unstable world of film work. 

The series follows American advertising executive Emily Cooper as she moves from Chicago to the French capital for a job opportunity, the show is not only a delight visually – teetering down the grand avenues of the French capital in divine couture outfits, swooning in Parisian patisseries and salons, and relishing the obligatory scene with the Eiffel Tower as a shimmering backdrop – it is also fun, a little bit sexy and deeply romantic. In short, it was the perfect panacea for a pandemic, when Collins allowed us to enjoy Paris vicariously with one click of her perfectly manicured fingernails. 

Certainly, if her career can play out in quite the same length as her father’s, she will be happy, although piggybacking on his success has never been of interest. She wants to carve her own niche… and appears to be doing a pretty good job.

Together: Returning to Paris must have been a big thing for you, both in terms of the city itself and the fact it validates the success of the series, Emily in Paris?

Paris is perhaps the only city where, when you go there to work, it still feels like you are on a holiday or city break. 

I am mesmerized by its charm and always feel, on each visit, it is revealing more of its secrets to me. I only hope I get the chance to explore it more, in future; but yes, it’s always lovely going back, and the success of the series has been so warming. 

“I am mesmerized by Paris’s charm, on each visit, it is revealing more of its secrets to me”

Things have really gathered pace for you over the past few years…

I guess so. I’ve never wanted to be too greedy or impatient with roles, but I do feel there is lots to look forward to now, and I haven’t always had offers coming left, right and centre, so it’s easy when that happens. 

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I would probably say Warren Beatty, who I worked with on ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ – he would tell us great stories about old Hollywood. When working with him he had such a talent to isolate us from our environment and take us away from the 21st Century tag. 

“Warren was like a true mentor to me. How many young actors get the chance to have someone so smart and kind”

Warren was like a true mentor to me. How many young actors get the chance to have someone so smart and kind and who knows everything about the business spend a lot of time trying to guide you and impart their knowledge to you.

When it came to acting, his main advice was to be very present and allow yourself to surprise yourself. That way you can be true to all the emotions your character is experiencing and allow yourself to be more spontaneous and real rather than acting in the strict sense.

You’re the daughter of a very famous singer and show business personality. How much has that influenced your understanding and passion for the industry?

I was raised in a house that was immersed in Hollywood culture and history. My mother is very interested in the history of the film industry and our house is full of memorabilia. My grandmother was a ballerina during that period and I studied a lot of her photos and watched a lot of movies of that era to get a feel for how people carried themselves and spoke.

“I was raised in a house that was immersed in Hollywood culture and history”

There’s something so mysterious and alluring about old Hollywood – I’ve always admired legendary actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and Lana Turner. I love the way the camera lingered on an actress of that era. You see them take in information and respond to it and how they would allow their characters to reveal themselves to audiences.

Has it been a relief to see that your investment is being realized?

Of course! (Laughs) I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. At 15 I was writing stories for magazines and then by 16 I was aware of the bigger picture. From a young age, I just felt this drive – as if it were meant to happen.

Growing up, did your father sing or read to you at night?

I remember he would read stories to me at night and he loved to imitate different voices for the characters. That inspired me in part to want to act myself. My father also has a great sense of humour. He has taught me a lot about being creative and also being self-critical. That’s helped me to be able to distance myself from my work so that I can judge my work from a balanced and objective perspective.

“My father also has a great sense of humour. He has taught me a lot about being creative and also being self-critical”

Has it been important for you to make your mark in the business without relying on your father for help?

I’ve made a very conscious effort during my career not to ask my father for support. I didn’t want that to be a factor in my career. I adore him and we stay very close and he’s really my best friend, but I wanted to be able to feel that whatever success I’ve achieved I earned it on my own… I would never even use my father’s name to get into parties (in Los Angeles).

You’re also noted for your fashion sensibility. What is your favourite kind of fashion?

I’ve always loved vintage because my mother was always wearing vintage. I love going to vintage shops and finding old clothes – also furniture. I love the sensation of hunting and discovering objects that you rarely see. I don’t get a chance to do that as often as I used to, but when I do, I just love it!

“I love going to vintage shops and finding old clothes – also furniture”

Do you look at writing and your own work as a journalist [she has written often for Seventeen and Vogue – ED] as something you want to continue doing in addition to your acting career?

I love to write, and I still consider journalism to be something which makes me more attentive to the world and a lot of the critical issues we are facing. I’m from a small town, like my father Phil. And earlier on when I was more involved in journalism, I developed a keen sense of awareness and interest in politics and culture and so many subjects.

There was a time in my life when I wanted to be able to voice my thoughts and deal with a lot of the questions that were very significant to my generation. Wanting to be able to put down in writing my observations on the world is still a major part of my life. 

I keep a daily journal and I enjoy noting down my observations and thoughts on what is going on in my life and the world around me.

What do you like to recall about growing up?

I was raised in the countryside. I remember that I loved the ballet, something I inherited from my grandmother, and I’ve been doing classical dance for years. I was also fascinated by fairy tales. It was this magical world for me, and I would run in the garden imagining myself to be a fairy and playing with the animals and the elves of the woods. I was convinced that they existed and were around me and I wasn’t playing alone.

Your life underwent a dramatic change when your parents divorced, and you moved from England to Los Angeles when you were a young girl. What are your memories of that time?

We moved to Beverly Hills when I was five years old and what immediately struck me was how different people’s accents were. When I started elementary school, the other kids were constantly kidding and teasing me.

That made me want to start speaking with an American accent as fast as possible and started watching one American movie after another and tried to imitate all their expressions and pronunciation.

When did you know that you wanted to be an actress?

I always loved watching movies but it was only when I turned 16 that I decided that acting would be my profession. I was sitting down with my mother one evening and suddenly I felt it was the right time to tell her what I wanted to do. She was very open and receptive and soon I began talking to agents and people in the business to get my career going.

What did it mean for you to publish your first book and open up in a very deep way about your personal life?

I wanted to explore what it’s like to become a young woman. I wanted to expose a lot of the taboos that girls do not like to talk about: the relationships we have with ourselves, with our parents, with the other sex, and with our bodies.

As soon as you start discussing these issues and dealing with these feelings you realise that you’re not alone. I felt very vulnerable and exposed while writing it, but I tried to be honest.

 “I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and a lot of work on myself”

You seem to carry with you an energy and a zest for life…

As far as health and wellbeing goes, I’m glad we’ve got to the point that it’s almost as unusual to find someone who doesn’t look after themselves, than it is to find someone who does. When my dad was at the peak of the entertainment world in the 1980s, the notion that the stars of the day would work out, think about mental health, have personal trainers and keep an eye on their nutrition, was something out of leftfield.

You look at it now and this is the norm, and I take that seriously myself. There is no better way to start the day than getting up and out and exercising, and it really sets me up, mentally and physically.

Are you quite regimented about your fitness schedule?

Actually, not as much as I used to be. In the past I would give myself a hard time if I missed a gym session, but I think you have to be realistic in terms of the time you have and the priorities in your life. 

I know that if I miss a session it’s for a good reason, and I am okay with that, and I’ll always try to catch up. 

Are you a gym bunny or an outdoors type?

Definitely a gym bunny. I admire people who can go for long runs, but I haven’t got the stamina or the concentration. 

I would rather be doing some sort of circuit training plan that means I can mix up exercises, routines and moves. I’m one of those people who needs to keep things fresh and renewed.

What do you think you’ve learnt about yourself over the past few years with the work you’ve done as an actress and your work as a writer?

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and a lot of work on myself. I see myself as a young woman who wants to evolve and learn as much as she can about herself and the world around her. I’ve thought a lot about my relationships that did not work out, and I discovered a lot about myself that I hadn’t really understood or appreciated before. And one thing in particular that I’ve figured out is that everything always happens for a reason.

Collins also stars and is a producer in a thriller called Windfall on release next year. Expect a very different role to that of Emily in Paris