While Lily Collins has been involved in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones for over two years, almost everything else has changed along the way. Whether it be the director, the script, or the studio, Mortal Instruments has been a challenge to get made. However, when I visited the set last year with a few other reporters, Collins made it seem like all the script changes were for the best. She described the film and the changes:
“It’s a full-blown action/adventure fantasy film that is based in reality that has this romance in it. I think from the first draft to now, it’s definitely got a lot more of that, kind of propelling-you-forward, less of a romantic kind of teen flick. It also has a lot more humor than the first draft because Cassandra’s writing. That’s the beauty of the writing, is that you end up giggling when you’re reading it because of something Simon said or Jace is so cocky, you’re like, “Did he really just say that?” They’ve added some of those lines back in, so there is a comedic tone to these dark moments that kind of makes the audience relax for a second. And they are witty, so we have a lot more of Cassie’s voice back into it.”
In addition to describing script changes, Collins talked about how she was first cast, her reaction to the practical sets, her chemistry test with Jamie Campbell Bower, the differences between The Mortal Instruments and Twilight or The Hunger Games, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what she had to say.
Before getting to the interview, here’s the official synopsis and trailer:
The Mortal Instruments is a series of six young adult fantasy books written by Cassandra Clare. In the series’ first book, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, set in contemporary New York City, a seemingly ordinary teenager, Clary Fray, discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. After the disappearance of her mother, Clary must join forces with a group of Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures.
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens August 23.
LILY COLLINS: Oh my God. I know, on that last take, I actually did smack it against the table. It really helps, I have to say, because with a lot of the stunt stuff, something is bound to go a little array, and most of my reactions have genuinely been me saying, “Ow” and screaming. When I was carving this rune in my hand, the machine that had smoke coming out started to burn my skin. I started yelling “Ow! Ow! Ow!” but I didn’t stop the take. And when they finished, they were like ‘Was that…?’ And I was like, “No, I really had burn marks on my skin.” But it’s fun and you guys came on an action-packed day. That’s good.
Did I hear on the head sets that was the most intense experience that you’ve had, doing that head banging?
COLLINS: Oh, no, no. I was talking about something else. I was talking about an audition. No, I’ve had many experiences on this set of intense emotional, physical… I’m doing stunts in these (motions to high heel apparel) the whole time, and sometimes in a mini dress, so it’s been maneuvering myself around the sets. I’ve gotten so many bruises at 4 in the morning, all hours of the night, so it’s been an intense ride, but it’s been really fun.
What was your reaction when you were first approached with this role? Was it something that spoke to you?
COLLINS: Yeah, I was actually a fan of the series before I was cast. I’ve always loved fantasy books. Even just growing up, I’ve always kind of loved magic and fantasy. Having read the books and being really familiar with Clary, and just kind of admiring her as a character, when Screen Gems originally approached me for it, I had just done Priest. It was kind of some of the same team that was part of that project. I was thrilled. I was like a fan, so a fan being cast as a heroine that they admired. Then it took about almost two years for it to actually happen. I think it went through the process of changing hands and new people involved. I think everything happens for a reason because the team we got together for this is so amazing. Everyone has brought something new to the table.
Harald [Zwart] is the ultimate director for this project because it’s so not really his genre, but he’s all about character and emotion. And it’s taking the project that could have been so CGI-based, and all based on the physicality and the way it looks, and he’s made it a story about real people in this fantasy world. It’s a story that can stand on its own, but also as an adaptation of a book. That’s been the nicest surprise as we’ve been filming, to see how it came to be. But yeah, just a fan cast. It’s pretty cool.
Having the author on set… has that been helpful for you at all? She said you approached her with a couple of questions.
COLLINS: Yeah, no it was funny. I was cast, I think December 2010, and I never had talked to Cassie [Clare]. We hadn’t had any contact. Then, I just met her the Friday or Saturday before we started filming. So it was like this big lead up and it was like, “The creator was there” a couple of days before filming, so of course I had questions. I almost didn’t want to pry too much into certain questions I had about certain scenes, because I wanted to see how organically it would flow. But I didn’t realize how much she’d be on set, so it’s been really great to have her here, see her reaction to stuff and to have her input on the way we are changing up certain scenes for film. Just really hearing her laugh and her enthusiasm on set is really awesome. She’s the creator of this fantasy and it’s an honor to have her here and have her blessing on things. When you’re a fan of something, the person that created it is the be-all-and-end-all, so it’s great to have her be here and work with Harald and all the producers.
We were talking a little bit earlier about how with a project like this, fans have their own idea of what it should look like and how these people should be. But you being a fan, obviously you go with the script and the director, but is there a little bit from when you were reading it that you are putting in how you envisioned this?
COLLINS: The institute set, which is where we’re shooting today, the second I walked on that about two weeks ago, I got emotional. It literally is exactly how I pictured it in my head. It’s more, when I read a book, I always imagine the sets. I less imagine people as characters. It’s more just the world they live in, especially this one with runes and werewolves. It could go so one way or so the other. You hope it goes the more realistic route and that’s what they’ve done with this project, is really acknowledge the fact that it is such a fantasy world, that if we don’t make it real in some way, you’re going to lose the audience in the CGI stuff. So making these sets so intricate and so deep, and the colorization on screen, it kind of invokes this emotional state that normally I wouldn’t associate with a fantasy piece. So as a fan, I think the world is encapsulated really, really well.
Same when we go back to casting. If you’re a fan of something, you’re going to have input on what you think certain people are good for certain members of the cast or not. I think what I’m really excited about for all the people out there that didn’t want certain cast members to be Jace or Jemima’s part and Kevin’s part, I think they are going to be really surprised and really happy. I think it was perfectly cast. Everybody has brought these elements that are unexpected. As a fan of the series, they encapsulate every emotion I would want those characters to have.
COLLINS: Again, this was about two years ago now. I read with a couple of different guys that had come in. Jamie just came in and I’ve said this before, that was it. He was just himself. He had this perfect mixture of being this witty, kind of jokey, cocky in the best sense of the word, but also extremely vulnerable, emotional and this great mixture of emotions. And that’s what Jace is. He has to walk in a room and make people turn their heads and that’s what Jamie does. He’s been so dedicated to the stunts and he’s been so dedicated to proving what he can bring in the role and what he is capable of. But he doesn’t even need to try. And again, that’s who Jace is. He’s effortless, so I got all that in the room. I didn’t get the stunts part, obviously, because we didn’t do stunts, but he just brought everything to the room that day. And he left and I just turned to everyone and was like, “I really don’t know what else you could be looking for. That’s Jace.” When you get that kind of guttural instinct, I think you have to go with it. I’m so excited for everyone to see what he’s done.
You just did a scene with Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
COLLINS: He’s so intense. Yeah, Jonathan, oh my gosh.
COLLINS: It’s crazy. When you’re doing scenes like this, this is my second scene I’ve done with Jonathan, and the one I did a couple of days ago last week, is when I first met him. It’s this extremely fearful situation. I’m totally vulnerable whereas today, it’s more of I’ve come back to fight him. But both times, it involves crying and smacking around. It’s the most heightened situation in the movie. Then yeah, you yell “Cut,” and it’s like “Are you okay?” Just playing around and fake fighting and stuff… It’s nice to be able to have that because it’s rare that on a set where you have emotional scenes like this, that the other person will want to interact normally with you afterwards. Hey, sometimes you need your space and you go off and do whatever you need to do to get into the scene.
But with this movie, all the cast have an amazing rapport. No matter if we’re laughing in a scene and then we continue laughing after, or it’s a crazy stunt-action done at four in the morning, where they are pulling me up a fire escape and I’m bruised and bloody and then afterwards, we’re like “Ha ha! That was fun!” It actually makes it really cool because we’re all going through this together. Even someone like Jonathan, who is so incredible and so intense and so seasoned, he still likes to have fun as well. And that makes it a really group experience and very family-like. He is playing my dad, so it’s kind of funny at the same time to be like… he’s beating me up, but then he’s like “Oh, hey daughter…” It makes it fun.
COLLINS: The script has changed multiple times. We get rewrites very frequently. One thing I wasn’t expecting on this project is how collaborative it is with the actors and Harald. If we get sides of a scene and we’re like “I don’t know if this flows as well as we’d like it to in this emotional scene,” or “It’s a little sticky here,” he’s like “Well, what do you want to say?” And it’s like, “Well, maybe something along these lines.” He’s like, “Great, let’s try it.” So we’re kind of able to reword our own scenes as we go to see how things flow in the moment, especially with new actors coming in like Johnny. Lena is coming in soon and Jared Harris. We’ve all been really collaborative in that sense. And then also having Cassandra here to help clean up things that need to be fine-tailored and stuff.
But I think Clary has become way more proactive since the beginning, since the first script. She really fuels a lot of the scenes. It’s less about being thrown all this information and floundering. She gets thrown a lot of information now and she’s actively pursuing an outcome. I really liked that about her in the books. I felt like she’s gotten stronger and stronger in the rewrites. Also, there’s romance in the story. That is obviously Simon, Jace and Clary, but it’s not a movie about a love triangle. Every character has a relationship with every other character in this. The romance is only one portion of this kind of epic adventure. And yes, it fuels certain scenes and it’s an undertone, but it’s in no way a love story that has action in it.
It’s a full-blown action/adventure fantasy film that is based in reality that has this romance in it. I think from the first draft to now, it’s definitely got a lot more of that, kind of propelling-you-forward, less of a romantic kind of teen flick, if you will. It also has a lot more humor than the first draft because Cassandra’s writing… That’s the beauty of the writing, is that you end up giggling when you’re reading it because of something Simon said or Jace is so cocky, you’re like, “Did he really just say that?” They’ve added some of those lines back in, so there is a comedic tone to these dark moments that kind of makes the audience relax for a second. And they are witty, so we have a lot more of Cassie’s voice back into it.
You mentioned your characters have gotten stronger in drafts. Obviously, there’s a lot of other young adult-based stories with female heroes. Hunger Games. Beautiful Creatures. Twilight. How is your character distinguished from that whole lot?
COLLINS: Because literally, every five minutes, she gets told something that she thought was true, was a lie. She’s thrown a new twist literally every five minutes and it’s this constant battle against herself of, “How do I overcome this?” The end result is to find her mom and her bond with her mom is what takes her through the entire story. No matter what gets thrown her way, nothing is stopping her. Because everything she is being told is based on her past and her family, I think it’s a really personal story for her to get to the end. She meets all these people along the way that end up helping her, but it’s really a story about self-discovery. And because it’s based on a series of books, really focusing on the first one, this is when she finds out that she’s not who she always thought she was. She’s dealing with creatures that she’s never even believed in or thought existed. She’s got this new superhero power with the runes and being able to see people that no one else can. She’s a teenager growing up trying to discover herself. That’s enough of a worry. Now she has to find out she’s a Shadowhunter. So I think what makes her different is just this sense she’s constantly finding out new information about herself that she thought was a lie. And it’s how she gets through those to find her mom in the end that makes this a self-discovery story. And she doesn’t rely on any guys, but the guys end up helping her discover herself more.
For more from our Mortal Instruments set visit:
- 35 Things to Know About THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES From Our Set Visit
- Jamie Campbell Bower Talks Fake Tattoos, Female Protagonists, Working with Lily Collins, and More on the Set of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
- Jared Harris Talks Fight Sequences, SHERLOCK HOLMES, and More on the Set of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
- Author Cassandra Clare Talks Casting, Changes from the Book, and More on the Set of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
- Director Harald Zwart Talks Collaborating with the Author, Why He Wanted to Make the Film, & More on the Set of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
- Producers Don Carmody and Robert Kulzer Talk the Development Process, Casting, and More on the Set of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES