By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Having gotten a taste for fantasy worlds with roles in “Priest” and “Mirror, Mirror,” rising star Lily Collins is ready to tackle an entire whimsical movie franchise. She stars in the big screen adaptation of the first book of one of the hottest new young adult novel series “The Mortal Instruments,” by author Cassandra Clare.
In “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” Collins is Clary, a young New Yorker who discovers her secret past when her mother (Lena Headey) is abducted by otherworldly creatures. It’s up to Clary and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) to rescue her. As she embarks on an unexpected journey into the alternate world of the Big Apple, Clary starts to uncover dark secrets and darker threats. Shadowhunters, angel-human warriors who have protected humanity from evil forces for centuries, help in her quest. One of them is hunky Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower of “Sweeney Todd” fame), who joins her in tracking down an ancient Cup that holds the key to her mother’s future. Off-screen, a romance blossomed between the young co-stars, but she and Bower are reported to be just friends now. The romantic fantasy is directed by Harald Zwart (“The Karate Kid”) from Jessica Postigo Paquette’s adapted screenplay
Collins, who happens to be the daughter of singer Phil Collins and Jill Tavelman, says she was already a fan of the books before she got the role. An accomplished TV personality in her teens—she covered the 2008 Presidential election for Nickelodeon—the preternaturally beautiful Collins says she knew she was destined for the spotlight at a young age.
She recently spoke about her career and playing a beloved fictional character that is likely to be a recurring role for her over the next several years. (She’s already working on the sequel “The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes,” due out next year.)
Q: Did you read the books before you started working on the film?
Collins: Yeah, what I did was I read the first one and found out they were making it into a movie. My mom read the series too because she loves these kind of books. When I was cast, I stopped reading them because when it comes to transpiring a story that spans a big span of time, I didn’t want to get confused knowing Clary’s future. You never know your future in real life, so why would Clary? I didn’t want to get convoluted with information. We had so many incarnations of the script that it would get so confusing as to what I was supposed to know. I really just tried to focus on the first book so I reread it, and then just kept kind of going over the script. So now that we’re on the second (movie), it’s all about the second book and so I’m trying not to focus too heavily on the third. Obviously, for the writer and production and all that, they need to know characteristics and the future to introduce hints, but that’s up to them. I’d rather just focus on one at a time because I don’t want to act differently than I should.
Q: What about your character resonates with you?
Collins: I’m really close with my mom and I always have been. So, the fact that this relationship between Clary’s mom and herself is what spurs this journey in the first book and really introduces her to this whole world was something that I felt extremely strong about when I read it. I love that she never allows herself to be a victim. Nothing ever truly defines her, like the romance doesn’t define her. This new world that she’s thrown into doesn’t define her. Her morals never change. She’s always Clary. She’s just Clary in two different worlds and she’s trying to find herself like any young girl would. It’s a story about self-discovery. I love the fact a relationship between a child and her parents is really what this is about. It’s about finding your voice and growing up, but also realizing that your parents aren’t these otherworldly non-human things. They’re just older versions of yourself and it’s seeing your parents in a new light and respecting that. I think that that was something I hadn’t seen in other franchises like this. Also, it’s got a comedic undertone. She’s quite sassy and feisty and doesn’t put up with Jace’s crap. It’s very like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Clary doesn’t sit on the sidelines. She propels the story forward and I thought that was really important for her character but also very appealing to play.
Q: The character is only 15 or 16 in the first book, right?
Collins: Yeah. We aged it up in the movies. We never reference it but we assume she’s around 18.
Q: When you were 18, what challenges were you going through?
Collins: After graduating from high school, I wanted to go to college but I also really wanted to work. At that point, though, I was pitching talk show ideas to different networks. I was a journalist. I was always auditioning while I was doing journalism. I was just waiting for that “yes” but I really wanted to continue journalism. But I got told “no” all the time. My ideas were irrelevant to them. Twitter and Facebook have allowed for what I wanted to do back then, which was basically letting young people have a voice. They were like, “Who wants to hear from a young person?” I was like, “Really? I highly doubt that’s true.” So I had all these ideas and I was really passionate about communicating them in media. And I was told “no” so much. The first semester of college I went to Minneapolis and Denver (to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions) and then I went to Washington to cover the inauguration for Nickelodeon. So it was like, “Do I go to school and sit in a classroom? Or do I go and report history?” I was always on this path of what I wanted to do and I was told “no” so much but I never let the “no’s” define me. I kind of saw beyond that and I just thought I never want to have any regrets. My mom raised me that way and I just never wanted an opportunity to pass by that could have taught me something—bad or good.
Q: This books seem to have a more sophisticated look at the sexuality of all the characters and to have such a prominent gay characters (Kevin Zeger’s Alec Lightwood and Godfrey Gao’s Magnus Bane), so what were your thoughts about how it would be handled onscreen?
Collins: It’s the first love-cube for teen franchises. Everyone kind of loves everyone in some weird way. When I read the books, that’s what I loved the most. The thing about Alec is that being gay doesn’t define him. He is a warrior, he’s one of the guys, and he doesn’t like me right off the bat but that could be for many reasons. I’m intruding on their lives, I’m coming in not knowing what I’m doing but I try to insert myself. It doesn’t matter that he has a thing for Jace; he just doesn’t like me. The way that Kevin played him and the way he was written was not this caricature of a gay character. We didn’t want people to watch and go, “Oh he’s gay.” We wanted it to be a part of his character and to have that be a proud aspect of his character but not be just what his character is about.
Q: your mom raised you in California, while your father was in Europe. Did you connect with Clary’s search for her estranged father?
Collins: It was definitely more of the appeal of the mom relationship. I was born in England and grew up in England until I was six. I moved to Los Angeles and my dad lived in Switzerland, but I went back and forth and visited him all the time so it wasn’t like I never knew who my dad was. Every kid, when they start to grow up, gets re-introduced to their parents and they’re like, “That’s who you are” or “You’re just a grown up version of me.” It’s not like you’re this separate entity of a being kind of thing. I think all teenagers go through that discovery of their parents. My dad is nothing like (Clary’s absentee father) Valentine, so I can’t relate to that in a way but I can relate to the fact that this girl is on a journey to find her voice.
Q: How do you feel knowing that this franchise may be the next eight or nine years of your life? Do you worry about what comes after that?
Collins: No, because I’ve been doing independent (films). In my next movie (“Love Rosie”), I’m the exact opposite of Clary. I play a parent (for the first time). Jennifer (Lawrence)’s done it, Kristen (Stewart’s) done it and Shailene (Woodley’s) has done it. Clary doesn’t need to define me but this story has changed my life and forever. I will be grateful for playing Clary for as long as I can play her but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be other people as well. So I’m excited about it.