Lily Collins was born into fame — her dad, Phil, could bang a drum and write a hit tune or two — but she found her own way into an acting career, performing in stage productions as a kid before working as a teenage Hollywood reporter and scoring small roles in movies like The Blind Side. This week she steps into the limelight as the star of Mirror Mirror, director Tarsem’s visually energetic remix of the Snow White fairytale — the first, and likely funniest, of this year’s adaptations of the classic story. As the fairest of them all, Collins dazzles in the late, great Eiko Ishioka’s exquisite costumes, while getting to put Julia Roberts’ evil queen in her place and sharing her first kiss with Prince Winkelvoss, er, Charming, played with a degree of good sportsmanship by Armie Hammer.
We sat down with the English-born Collins recently in her adopted home of Los Angeles, where she talked about the movie, working with Tarsem and her thoughts on Kristen Stewart’s not-really-a-rival take on Snow. First up, she talked us through her five favorite films.
Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003; 63% Tomatometer)
These are so raw — this is who I am, these movies. [Laughs] They’re very girly. In no particular order… Love Actually. Most of these movies have British accents in them, because, being from England, there’s something about films that I watch that have a British accent that I just feel so at home with. That film I can watch any day and it makes me smile; and I love Christmas, so it kind of matches perfectly.
Harry Potter. All of them. [Laughs]
That’s cheating. Do you have a particular favorite?
Is it cheating? [Laughs] It’s hard to pick. I wouldn’t necessarily know which. I mean, I love the Goblet of Fire. I don’t know. Maybe the Goblet of Fire. I read those books so quickly when I was a kid, because that whole world was so, like… it took me out of my reality. And I just love magic and I loved that whole world, the creatures, and just how you felt so friendly with all the characters. The way they translated that into movies, I thought was genius. You know when they take a book, and they make it a movie, and you hope that it’s gonna be everything that you hope for and more? To me they just succeeded. I don’t know, I just love them so much. Every time I’m sick I’ll watch a marathon of them and I can repeat all the words.
Hopefully you’re sick for a while… I mean, so you can watch them all.
[Laughs] I know, they’re so long. I just had laryngitis, so…
Breakfast Club. I was actually having trouble because I would say Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club, but that would be three. Of all three, Breakfast Club is my favorite. But those John Hughes films, with Molly Ringwald and the Brat Pack, those are my favorite grouped films. They’re just so… they’re timeless. I feel like, even when you’re watching them now, they’re so modern, and the characters are so real. They’re just so appealing to me. I watched them with my mom when I was really young. I always would watch things with my mom that maybe other moms wouldn’t allow their kids to watch. I associated with them right away. I just really, really love John Hughes.
Who’s your favorite character in the movie?
I love Molly Ringwald. But I also love the basket case, Ally Sheedy — you know, with the pixie sticks and the crunching of the sandwich. She’s so fantastic.
Sabrina, with Audrey Hepburn. I actually spent my New Year’s this year watching Sabrina, and as it turned midnight I paused it and it was just her face on screen, smiling. I was like, “What a cool way to start the New Year.” She is just someone I’ve always admired. She says so much without saying anything at all. And back then they didn’t do such fast cuts in films; they stayed on a character’s face long enough for them to go from one emotion to another, and for the audience to really feel the emotion with each character — and she in that movie just goes from so many endearing moments to moments of sadness and laughter. It’s just such a classic, and I love black and white. So, that’s my list!
Next, Collins on playing Snow White in Mirror Mirror, what she thinks of Kristen Stewart’s take, and her favorite song by her dad.
I noticed you’re nostalgic for a kind of idealized English home, but you moved here when you were quite young, right?
Lily Collins: Yeah, I moved here when I was about six.
So you went back and forth between LA and England?
I did. I used to go for every summer, for like two-and-a-half to three months. The last two summers I haven’t been able to because I’ve been working — no complaining — but I haven’t been able to go in the summer. But I’ve been going at Christmas time. And I can put the accent on. I auditioned for this film, Mirror Mirror, with an English accent, but they went in a different directions. I mean, I did it in both accents. I can turn it on really quickly. There’s something at times that feels more just, natural when I have a British accent. It just feels very me.
Your mom is American?
Yeah, my mom is here and my dad, obviously, is English. I pick up things when I go back, and I still say things like “the car boot,” or “the loo,” or “the bin.” It’s just so beautiful over there. It’s something, like — ’cause I go out in the countryside, so it’s not the hustle and bustle of London. And LA compared to the countryside, I just relax right away. I just love going out in the garden and walking and reading and not answering my phone; just being and talking to people. You know, it’s like all these revolutionary ideas that you just don’t do in the big city. It’s a slower pace way of life. I love it. [Pauses to look out over the Santa Monica beach] I say that as we’re here with the lovely ocean — you don’t get that out in London. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about Mirror Mirror. Were you worried at all about playing an icon like Snow White?
I was more excited, I think, than anything. I was one of those little girls that created their own fairy tales in their head, growing up, and I know that every young girl has their own version of what a fairy tale princess is and should be. So I wasn’t really worried about making sure that I felt like I was everyone’s version of a Snow White — I just wanted to be a young girl that people, you know, that young girls as well as adult women could relate to. I felt like everyone has a little bit of Snow in them. So I wanted to be someone that people thought, “She could be a friend of mine.” Not a caricature of a fairy tale princess, because the [Disney] cartoon does enough justice. The cartoon is the cartoon, and the animation does what it does; it serves its purpose and it’s amazing. You don’t wanna just take that and make it a real-live person. You wanna take something different about it and modernize it and make it more real. My concern is that I wanted to make sure that she was a real girl.
You’ve worked with Sandra Bullock and now Julia Roberts — two of “America’s sweethearts” — and yet, in this movie, Julia is so awful to you.
She was horrible!
I trust she was more civil between takes.
Oh, she’s so cool. The second they yelled “cut” she’s all apologizing, and so sweet.
Is it true that she ripped some of your hair out?
Yes! In one of the scenes, because my shoe got caught in my dress, and I wasn’t as close to her as I was in the rehearsal. But we didn’t stop shooting, because my dress was so big and no one knew, and I wasn’t about to stop the scene. She leans over to do the hair pull, and had to pull me a bit further and harder, and so she pulled my hair out. I was like, “Okay, I’m not gonna react because they’ll probably use this,” and they ended up using that take in the movie, where she ripped it. They yelled “cut” and she goes “I’m so sorry!” So she totally was cool, when we weren’t filming. Even when we were filming, I was having so many moments in my head where I’m looking at her being mean to me and I’m beaming inside and so excited, but I’m not supposed to be smiling — so it taught me a lot about how to mute out everything else you’re thinking but what’s in the scene. If I was showing what I was feeling, Snow White would have been smiling from the get-go.
And yet she’s smiling at you, even while she’s spitting out the nastiest remarks.
I know, right? It’s like in high school when someone’s saying, “Oh I just love your sweater, it’s so cute…”
And they’re really thinking, “I’m gonna kill you…”
Exactly. It’s scary. You don’t know if you love her or hate her.
Have you talked to Kristen Stewart about her Snow White, and is there any competition between you two?
It’s funny, we’ve actually laughed about the fact that we’re apparently rivals — because we’re so not.
So you’re friends?
Yeah. She’s so cool, and I’m very excited for the other film. It could not be more different. They’re polar opposites. I think the advertising campaigns prove to everyone how different they are: everything from the tone to the rating to the costumes; everything. She and I, we’re very, very different characters and we just have laughed about it. I’m happy for her, she’s happy for me. I think there’s definitely room for both.
Tell me about working with Tarsem. He seems pretty out there, in a good way.
[Laughs] He’s so cool. He’s lovely. He’s definitely got an interesting sense of humor: you either understand it or you don’t. I totally get it, but things can be taken out of context. But he is — visually, he’s a visionary genius. He’s so… he’s a wizard when it comes to the aesthetic of a film. And also, when it comes to actors, he is all about, “Do you feel comfortable, do you feel confident? How are you feeling? What do you think? Let’s collaborate.” It’s so nice to work with somebody that truly has your best interests at heart and wants you to forget about all the nonsense or politics and just really focus in on your moment: “This is now, here — how do you feel, and let’s work on this together.” It was a really nice environment to be in when you’re taking on this kind of a role; when you’re fighting and you’re hot and you’re tired but you have a director who really believes in you. And from day one he really believed in me, and he never made me feel any different.
I’m compelled to ask this, because I’m an idiot: Does your dad sing “Lily, don’t you lose my number” to you?
[Laughs] Well he used to sing to me all the time.
Do you have a favorite song?
A favorite of my dad’s songs? It’s funny because everyone will probably go, “Really? Not one of the classics?” But I think, because of the sentimentality of it, the song from Tarzan: “You’ll Be In My Heart.” I was there throughout that entire process of creating Tarzan and the songs and everything. I was there for the process of each song, and the animation. Part of that song was written as a lullaby to me, so it’s such a personal song. I just see him as dad. Obviously I know everything he’s accomplished, but when I think of his songs I think of what touches me the most — and that song for sure is one of them.
Mirror Mirror opens in theaters this week.