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Thoroughly Modern Lily

Don’t confuse Lily Collins with the period heroines she often plays in movies, the Rules Don’t Apply star is very much a contemporary woman

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As Lily Collins slinks back into a deep brown leather sofa after the photo shoot she just completed, a beam of light catches a speck of glitter that remains in her eyelashes, creating an illusion of glamorous tears about to stream down her dewy cheeks. But if there’s any young woman with little reason to weep, it’s the 27-year-old actress who won the coveted lead role in Warren Beatty’s romantic drama Rules Don’t Apply, which could propel her to next level stardom when it opens November 23.

After all, as the daughter of British pop star Phil Collins and American antiques dealer Jill Tavelman, she had a rather privileged upbringing, spending her formative years in England before moving to Los Angeles at age five. She was presented as a debutante in Paris in 2007. As a broadcast journalism major at University of Southern California, she was recruited by Nickelodeon to report on the 2008 presidential election. She’s appeared in a string of popular films, including The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Mirror, Mirror, in which she made a picture-perfect Snow White. Her photogenic face landed her both a modeling career and a deal as ambassador for Lancôme cosmetics. Her lively social media accounts have millions of followers. 

Despite all the spoils of her stardom, Collins did find ways to connect to her Rules character Marla Mabrey, a naive and virtuous beauty pageant winner invited to Hollywood in 1958 for a screen test by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. “She’s very open with her emotions and frustrations and how she feels about her insecurities,” Collins says. “I think her strength and tenacity is something that I could relate to.”

She goes on to divulge that, although she has been performing since she was two, she waited until she had developed enough confidence to accept the rejection that inevitably comes with auditioning before pursuing a film career. “I knew, just like Marla, that it was what I wanted. I knew it would happen at some point, but I had to be patient,” she shares. When that time came, however, the offers soon followed: almost immediately, she was cast in the 2009 Oscar-winning The Blind Side.

It undoubtedly helps that Collins’ ethereal good looks recall Hollywood beauties of yesteryear, like Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood (who famously co-starred with and romanced Beatty). Surely, the resemblance didn’t go unnoticed by her director.

“He did say that I reminded him of Natalie,” she admits demurely, adding that this was something she actually wrote in her journal while making the film. “I couldn’t believe he said that. It’s such a huge compliment. To be in the same sentence as any of those women I greatly admire is a huge compliment.” 

The young actress was equally impressed with the 79-year-old Beatty, although he hadn’t made a film in 15 years. “One of my dad’s favorite films is Heaven Can Wait,” she remembers before noting that her mother unknowingly helped her research the time period at a young age. “My mom raised me watching a lot of classic films and knowing the history of L.A. and old Hollywood.” 

Rules is a labor of love for Beatty, who has worked on the project sporadically since the 1970s. Collins discloses there was never a formal audition for her role. There were, however, months of meetings with Beatty, his wife Annette Bening (who plays Marla’s stern mother) and eventually costar Alden Ehrenreich, who’d already been cast as her character’s love interest.

Of Ehrenreich, who himself is on the fast track to superstardom thanks to his being cast as young Han Solo in an upcoming Star Wars prequel, Collins says their chemistry came naturally and instantly. “He has such a depth to him and at the same time he can be so lighthearted,” she reveals. “I got really lucky.”

She is already aware of how the nature of her work can compromise her anonymity. Collins recalls walking through an airport recently and seeing her face staring back at her from the huge Lancôme ads. “It’s very surreal,” she remarks, but she appreciates that the campaign represents a positive image for young women. “It’s about internal happiness and beauty and feeling good about yourself.”

Helping young girls to feel comfortable with themselves has also led Collins to work as an ambassador for Bystander Revolution, an anti-bullying organization. “I’ve always been a huge advocate of teens helping teens and speaking out on self confidence and body issues,” she states firmly. “I’m such a strong believer in open communication with young people to promote the idea that you are not alone in what you go through. I go through the same things you go through, even though you might not believe it. I’ve had my fair share of experiences and insecurities.”

Collins chooses characters that will expose new facets of herself. “I want to know that I’m going to be challenged and a little bit terrified and I’m going to be doing something I haven’t done before.”

With several other films already completed (including the thriller Okja, which costars Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton), she’ll soon begin work opposite Matt Bomer on the Amazon series adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, set in 1930s Hollywood. Although she’ll play yet another period heroine, she’s particularly excited about not knowing how the continuation of Fitzgerald’s story will unfold. “It interested me because I don’t really know my future, which is kind of fun,” she says of her character. Words that surely apply to Collins’s own life, too. 

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