When she was born, a fairy gazed into Lily Collins’ crib. This fairy didn’t have long blonde hair or wear a sparkly dress. In fact they was somewhat bald. And while they might frequently wave wooden wands about, there was nothing magical about them because the fairy in question was none other than drummer and musician Phil Collins, sitting by his daughter Lily’s bedside. Phil would tell Lily stories, fairy tales, acting out each character, adopting different voices to bring the stories to life. Thirty years later, Lily Collins still remembers them all. Since then, the actress has brought numerous fantasy stories to life herself, playing Snow White in Mirror Mirror, the magician Clary Fray in the blockbuster The Mortal Instruments - City of Darkness, and the American ingenue in a fantasy Paris in Netflix's global hit Emily in Paris. “I grew up in an imaginary world,” she confides over a telephone call from the US. “Books have always played an important role in my life, as has theatre, the movies and TV shows. I find momentary refuge there, and storylines I can identify with. Fiction is a means to escape as well as a powerful force for evoking reality.” The star, who is about to make a comeback with season 2 of the Netflix super-production, has also proved that her imagination goes beyond Hollywood blockbusters. Her appearances in the beautiful fable Okja by Korean director Bong Joon-ho and in David Fincher's excellent Mank give some indication of this. Today we discover her in new role, that of ambassador at the house of Cartier for the new Clash [Un]Limited jewellery capsule collection, presented in Berlin in September.
NUMÉRO: What kinds of characters make you want to be in a film?
LILY COLLINS: Characters that the audience can connect and "sympathise" with, in the original sense of the word. So that doesn't mean they have to be perfect - nobody is. I’m attracted to roles that allow me, as an actress, to convey emotions for the audience to experience. I also like it when characters don't quite look like me. It's a way of challenging myself and exploring what echoes within me. Each role is a new journey, an exploration of foreign lands. The most important thing for me is that my characters might help the audience to heal the wounds of life, whether through laughter, like with Emily in Paris, or through crying. Art has an incredible capacity to heal people.
When did you first realise that you wanted to become an actress?
I started acting at school, in plays and musicals: Grease, which was probably my favourite, Into the Woods, and Cats, of course. It’s so much fun being a little girl dressing up as a cat with crazy hair... These experiences were the best training. I learned the meaning of working in a community and the importance of improvisation. When you’re in front of an audience, there are no second takes. You have to be present in every instant, and allow yourself to be transported by the current, and to carry on despite any mistakes. But my vocation probably started earlier, when my parents used to tell me bedtime stories. I was a major fan of Enid Blyton, the English author of The Faraway Tree and The Adventures of the Whishing-Chair. I travelled from one imaginary place to another. I was creating real movies in my head. For me, fiction has always had a magical dimension. I instinctively needed to share this with more people, it couldn’t just be for me. I wanted as many people as possible to feel what I felt when I read all these stories.
Did you have any role models? Actors or actresses who inspired you?
When I was very young I would watch a lot of John Hughes films and old Steve Martin films. I loved the actresses Molly Ringwald, Audrey Hepburn and Meryl Streep. Whether it's a British comedy or an American drama, I admire personalities who can tell a story without having to say anything. An emotion conveyed through the eyes is universal. The language barrier no longer exists. I’m fascinated by the actors and actresses who can do this.
You have been starring in films and TV shows for more than ten years. How do you perceive the changes in this industry?
We’re living in a rather incredible moment where stories that previously seemed difficult to tell are now finding their place. The opportunities to develop different points of view, whether in a low-budget film or a blockbuster, have multiplied, especially thanks to streaming platforms. There have always been people who wanted to tell a different story. The material has always been there, but I think there’s more room for difference today. The fear of creating or playing a singular character has disappeared: you’ll find your audience now because there are so many more opportunities to come into contact with them.
You wrote your memoirs, a very personal account of the problems you had with your body and your image. What message did you want to convey?
That you’re never alone. Whatever problems you may face, other people face them too. Feeling isolated and unable to talk can make you suffer forever. Sharing your fears, insecurities and joys helps you to grow. This book was a way for me to say, "Hey, while you probably thought I was doing fine, I've had these experiences too. You’re not alone. I'm not alone." In fact, I've always loved writing [Lily Collins studied journalism] and I'd love to write a new book, and more than anything, a screenplay. I'm working on it.
And what can we expect from the second season of Emily in Paris?
Season 2 will focus on exploring the other characters in more depth, including Mindy [Emily's best friend] and the staff at Savoir [the luxury communications company where Emily's character works]. You'll also see a different side to Paris, one that’s more diverse than in the first season. Emily is no longer settling down. She's exploring. And there are lots more crazy adventures with Mindy.
Why did you agree to be the face of Cartier's Clash [Un]Limited, a punk-inspired collection that, with its spikes and square studs, shakes up the house's heritage?
The collection is both bold and fierce, different and at the same time so Cartier! I love the idea of bringing a twist to a tradition. For me, Clash [Un]Limited embodies the duality that we all have inside us. A mixture of femininity and masculinity, playing with these two sides to our personality.
Emily in Paris (season 1), Okja et Mank are available on Netflix.