For the majority of our interview, Lily Collins plays it straight. She sticks to her talking points. She only ever shifts so slightly in the very plush armchair of the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan, glancing here and there at her publicists from underneath her famously glorious brows. But when I tell her I’m done asking questions, she immediately relaxes. “Awesome! Great! Cool time!” she says, genuinely. Her shoulders loosen, and finally, briefly, her innate charm shines through. We talk about style, we talk about tattoos, and just like that, our time is up.
Of course, you can’t blame her. The 28-year-old has been hustling hard lately, promoting both “The Last Tycoon,” and “To The Bone.” The former is yet another take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s gilded age, where the "Mirror Mirror" actress plays the young, tenacious Celia. The latter is a brutally honest look at eating disorders. Collins plays Ellen, a woman struggling with anorexia, who isn't so far away from herself.
See, the British-born Los Angeles native is no stranger to eating disorders — most recent articles about the actress and, yes, daughter of Phil Collins are obligated to mention that she had her own run in with anorexia as a teenager. But she’s determined to make her experience the most teachable moment. “It’s been an incredibly therapeutic experience and process for me, “ she says. “And it’s incredible to see how the fire has sparked. It’s pretty special.”
Here Collins talks leading by example, body positivity, and being in it to win it.
How is your role as Celia on “The Last Tycoon” different from the things you’ve done before?
For me, I’d never done anything in the 1930s. There’s just so much going on within the politics of the time that played into how to portray this character. I really enjoyed playing someone that’s a go-getter, that wants to do more than what people think she’s capable of, and [to be able to] do it over the span of so many episodes, there’s more of a depth you get to show.
She’s super determined. Have you taken her ruthless approach and applied it to your own career, at all?
Oh, 100 percent! I’ve always wanted to produce, direct, write, all that. And seeing someone younger than me do it, to see what she goes through to get it done, that’s inspiring to me. She’s the young one, but she’s willing to fight to be taken seriously. She’s in it to win it.
Co-star Rosemarie DeWitt described you as a team captain on this project.
I felt just as strongly about things that [Celia] does in terms of how [her film is made], and that it be taken seriously. And that I am heard.
Shifting a bit to your other most recent project. You've opened up about your past battle with anorexia in tandem with "To the Bone." How are you finding balance these days having had to revisit that so much?
It’s definitely helped me, verbalizing things that I probably never would have before. I wrote my book [“Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me.”] and I did this movie so that other people would feel less alone. And I’ve been given that gift back every day.
Being able to talk about it is really freeing and hearing other people’s stories is also really freeing, because I can see it in them and I can feel it. Marti [Noxon, the film’s director] and I aren’t starting this conversation, we’re amplifying it. So I’m really proud of it.
Body positivity often focuses on accepting the body you have, but sometimes it doesn't acknowledge smaller or skinnier bodies. How do you think people can balance body positivity but still be inclusive?
Strong comes in many different forms. I used to view healthy as what perfection looked like, not what healthy felt like. And for me, food as fuel, not punishment was a really strong mentality to switch over to. Because when you fuel yourself, when you fuel your body, you are the most powerful version of yourself. So you can’t judge based on what you see — it’s all about how you feel.
Follow Rachael Vaughan Clemmons on Twitter — @rachaelclemz