Lily Collins wants to tell a story. No, really—that’s why she’s Zooming from her Los Angeles home on a mid-October day, talking about why she became an actor. “I have always loved telling stories, since I was a kid,” she reflects. And as the child of Phil Collins and Jill Tavelman, it’s only natural that she got bit by the performance bug. “I knew that, as an adult, I wanted to take people on that journey with me. It’s a form of escapism. There’s such a magic to those worlds that we create onscreen.”
She’s been creating that magic for the last 11 years, from her feature film debut in “The Blind Side” to worlds horrific, thrilling, fantastical, comedic, dramatic, and beyond. She’s escaped typecasting, instead disappearing into stories near and far, past and present, each one different from the last. Her two most recent projects are both for Netflix, but they continue the trend of falling on opposite ends of the genre spectrum.
Just before the industry took a pandemic-induced pause in 2020, Collins was jumping between France and Hollywood—first to lead Darren Star’s “Emily in Paris,” on which she plays a millennial marketing executive who becomes a fish out of water after she’s transferred to the City of Lights for work, and then opposite Gary Oldman in David Fincher’s “Mank,” which charts the Oscar-winning screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s co-writing of “Citizen Kane.”
“I love every genre, in a sense. I don’t want to ever say I’ll never do one, because an incredible filmmaker may put a bizarre, interesting twist on a genre that you never thought you’d associate with, and all of a sudden you’re going, ‘I couldn’t imagine not being a part of this,’ ” Collins says. “I want to feel like there’s something I’m going to learn about [myself] through a character, and then there’s something that people will be able to learn about themselves.”
“I really love teamwork. I collaborate with everyone I can who has a hand in creating the character, and it all ends up piecing together.”
Collins’ bold beginnings in acting make it clear why she uses each role as a chance to learn. In fact, her whole career in acting has been self-taught. “I was part of plays and musicals when I was a kid, and I think I was 16 years old when I thought, OK, I actually do want to do this. Not just at school—I really want to pursue this professionally. I started auditioning for jobs to get more experience, but I was told no,” she remembers. “I mean, I was still so green. I was auditioning, and I didn’t really understand what ‘green’ meant. I would ask for feedback, and they would say things like, ‘You just need to keep doing it. Just train, in whatever way that means, practice, and do more research. You’re new, and that’s fine.’ ”
And while rejection is something most teenagers will go out of their way to avoid, a burgeoning modeling career and aspirations to become a broadcast journalist gave Collins some experience with the feeling. When she developed her acting convictions, she knew she’d be faced with more of the same. “I waited until I was at an age where I felt I was strong enough to continue to be told no. If I had felt that it would discourage me too much, I would have known to not pursue it, I think, but I really felt strongly about it.”