The indie dramedy The English Teacher tells the story of Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore), a 40-year-old, unmarried high school English teacher in small town Pennsylvania. With no children and no relationships to speak of, her life is uncomplicated, which is just how she likes it. Her greatest passion and her biggest fulfillment comes from helping her impressionable young students discover their own creative voices, until a former star student (Michael Angarano) returns and threatens to undo it all.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actress Lily Collins (who plays teen ingénue Hallie Anderson) talked about what drew her to this film, wanting to work with Julianne Moore, who she’s admired since she was little, why she loves the independent film world, how much fun it was to be encouraged to improvise, shooting the play with a real audience of 300 people. She also talked about the overwhelming fan reaction to The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in which she plays the film’s lead Clary Fray, that she’s willing to really fight for the roles that she’s passionate about, and how much she’s looking forward to getting to use her real natural accent for her next film, the British romantic dramedy Love, Rosie. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this film? Was this a role you auditioned for, or did they come to you about doing this?
LILY COLLINS: I read the script and I was drawn to the tone of the story. I thought it could go so many different ways, depending on how the director wanted to take it and whether they wanted to hype up the comedy aspect of make it more dramatic. So, I had a meeting with Craig [Zisk], the director, and I liked his perspective on it. I hadn’t done an independent film before, so I was really curious about the process. But also, it’s really hard to not love the idea of this project that involved Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane and Michael Angarano. I’ve been a fan of Michael’s work. I think he’s an incredibly talented young actor. I had just worked with Nathan Lane (on Mirror, Mirror). And Greg Kinnear is Greg Kinnear. You’ve gotta love him. And then, Julianne Moore is someone I’ve admired since I was little. She’s an amazing woman. It was a marriage of the cast, as well as the story, that drew me to the project. Even though Hallie is a smaller character in this very collaborative project, I saw an amazing opportunity to have an experience going head-to-head with Julianne. These characters really do have conflict, and Halle is the catalyst for her spiral downward. It just was a fun character to play and I love all the people that were involved.
When you work with people like that, do you just watch and absorb absolutely everything that you can?
COLLINS: Completely! I’m such a believer in going to set, even when you’re not work because I think the best things to be learned, you don’t necessarily get from your own scene or from someone speaking to you and telling you advice. I think it’s all about watching and just taking it all in. It’s not even when the cameras are rolling, necessarily. You can see how they interact with the rest of the crew, and how they deal with being a character and then being themselves.
How did you find the experience of working on an independent film? Did it inspire you to want to find a balance between bigger films and indies, from now on?
COLLINS: Completely! It’s definitely influenced my taste, in looking at different kinds of projects. I’ve always loved reading all sorts of genres and different types of scripts, but having that experience of everyone being on a set and working towards a common goal that wasn’t about the money or the following of a story was literally about the collaboration for the particular project and the passion of acting. I’ve since done another independent because I loved this process so much. It’s more fast-paced than any other project I’d done before, and that really allows me to be really creative in a short amount of time. You’re all working towards a common goal because, at the end of the day, you know you have 20 days to shoot this movie and, if you don’t get things done, then things don’t get done. So, it was a really great entrance into the indie world and I’m very fortunate to have gotten the chance to work on it.
Was it fun to get to do the scenes with the play rehearsals, where you got to play around a bit?
COLLINS: It’s great when improv is encouraged. It’s a really fun thing. It depends on who’s in the movie and how their process works, as well. It takes a director who is open to that because you have a script, but then something funny could happen on set. So, to have people around you who encourage improv is really exciting because it’s something I’ve always wanted to experiment with. It taught me a lot, going forward to other projects, because when you have two or three months of filming, as opposed to 20 days, it gives you more time with your character to think about things that aren’t written. It definitely taught me a lot for the bigger projects, as well.
Did you enjoy getting to shoot the actual play and getting to wear all of those costumes?
COLLINS: That was actually kind of terrifying because I didn’t know, until the day of, right before we started shooting, that there was going to be a live audience. I didn’t know there were going to be 300 people there. So, I opened the curtain to see, like I would have done if I were in a high school play, and I just froze. I was like, “Oh, my god, there’s an actual audience here!” I thought they were going to shoot that separately. And after every take that we did the play, the audience would yell and clap, as if they were a real audience. It was really invigorating to have an actual theater filled with people. I really wasn’t expecting that.
After the trailer for The Mortal Instruments debuted, did you see the overwhelming response for it online? Are you prepared for the level of excitement for that film?
COLLINS: I did a Q&A at The Grove where there were about 500 girls, all asking questions. Some of them were close to fainting and they were hyper-ventilating, and I was like, “This is so weird!” I was a fan of the books before I was cast, so I get being a fan of the series. But then, it’s really weird to be the actress who’s playing the role that people admire so much. It’s like, “I’m just me! Why are you so excited for just me?!” It doesn’t click for me. But, I’m so proud of this project and I’m so excited to share it. It’s something that I believe in so much, and I would love to play Clary for as long as I can. I’m a firm believer in whatever happens, happens, and just go with the flow, but if that means that people are in love with the movie and support it and continue to be fans, then that’s a blessing. That’s amazing to have.
In just a few years, you’ve developed an acting career that many young actress will only ever dream about. Have you been very careful and deliberate about the roles that you’ve decided to do, or do you just feel very lucky?
COLLINS: I do feel very lucky in how quickly it happened. I did a show when I was two, but I didn’t start acting, as a child. I wanted to go to school, every day, and be with my friends and really have that experience. I purposely waited to start auditioning and acting until I was ready. I’ve been very careful about keeping my private life private and trying to do this the right way, for me. Everyone has their own process. Regarding scripts and projects, I’ve always been open to reading all sorts of genres and never closing myself off to one because you never know what you might find. I’m very specific about what I respond to, what I love and what tugs at my heart. This other project, Stuck in Love, that comes out in June was a passion project, to the extreme. I read it and fought for it for six months. I knew that I had to play the character and I was totally prepared to fight for myself because I believed in it. I feel very lucky that the casts that I’ve worked with have taught me so much and have been so supportive, and that I’ve been able to stay outside of any box with the choices that I’ve made. I fight for roles, all the time. It’s not like things are just handed to me. And I like to fight because I feel like, at the end of the day, it makes it that much more special when you have something that you’re really proud of and that you worked hard for. You have to prove to people that you can do different things and you can be different types of people and that you’re not a one-trick pony, and that’s fun.
Do you know what you’re going to shoot next?
COLLINS: I’m shooting a movie in May in Dublin, called Love, Rosie. It’s based in England, but we’re shooting it in Dublin. It’s a British romantic comedy. It’s got a lot of heart. There is a lot of comedy in there, but it’s a romantic drama. It’s starring Sam Claflin, as well. I’m really excited about that because I haven’t shot in Europe before, and I get to be British, which is my natural accent and who I am. I’m really excited to get to play around with the accent and do all of that. So, I’m super excited about that.
The English Teacher opens in theaters on May 17th.