Lily Collins plays reluctant warrior Clarissa “Clary” Fray, a seemingly ordinary young woman who discovers a hidden world and an extraordinary destiny in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opening August 21st. The entertaining feature film adaptation of the first book of Cassandra Clare’s fantasy adventure series is directed by Harald Zwart from a screenplay by Jessica Postigo Paquette. When Clary embarks on a dangerous journey to find her missing mother, she discovers abilities and powers she never knew she possessed. With fellow Shadowhunters Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Isabelle (Jemima West) and Alec (Kevin Zegers) at her side, she proves to be a formidable opponent against an array of deadly adversaries.
At the film’s recent press day, Collins talked about what inspired her to read the series, her preparation for the role, what appealed to her about her character, the challenges she faced at her character’s age, wanting to give young people a voice, her transition from journalist to actress, her take on social media, performing her own stunts, bonding with fellow cast members, and what’s next: the upcoming sequel The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes, the recently completed Love, Rosie, and a horror romance thriller in development called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Hit the jump to read the full interview.
LILY COLLINS: What I did was I read the first one and found out they were making it into a movie, so that’s when I sent out emails and called and said, “What’s going on? Who’s involved? How can I get involved? How can I audition?” And then, I continued to read the series. My mom then read the series because she always loves these kinds of books as well. But then, when I was cast, I stopped reading, because when it comes to bringing a story to life that spans that big of a time gap, I didn’t want to get confused as myself knowing Clary’s future. You never know your future in real life, so why would Clary? I didn’t want to get convoluted with information, and then especially from script to script, because we had so many reincarnations of the script that it would just get confusing as to what I was supposed to know. So I just tried to focus on the first one. I re-read the first one and then just kept going over the script. Now that we’re on the second one, it’s all about the second book, and I’m not trying to focus too heavily on the third. Obviously, for the writer and for production and all that, they need to know characteristics in the future to introduce hints now, but that’s up to them. I’d rather just focus on one at a time because I don’t want to act differently than I should. It all gets very confusing.
What is it about your character that appealed to you?
COLLINS: Well, I’m very close with my mom, and I always have been. So, the fact that this relationship between her mom and herself is what spurs on this journey in the first book and introduces her to this whole world was something that I felt extremely strong about when I read it. I loved that she never allows herself to be a victim. Nothing ever truly defines her. The romance doesn’t define her. This new world that she’s thrown into doesn’t define her. Her morals never change. She’s always Clary. She’s just Clary in two different worlds and she’s trying to find herself like any young girl would. And, it’s a story about self-discovery. I love the fact that the relationship between a child and her parents is what this is about. It’s about finding your voice in growing up, but also realizing that your parents aren’t these otherworldly, non-human things. They’re just older versions of you. And, it’s seeing your parents in a new light and respecting that. That was something that I hadn’t seen in other franchises like this. Also, it’s got a comedic undertone. She’s quite sassy and feisty and doesn’t put up with Jace’s crap. I’ve said this before, but it’s very like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She doesn’t just sit on the sidelines. She propels the story forward, and I thought that was really important for her character, but also very appealing to play.
The character is 15 and then 16 when she’s going through all this.
When you were that age, what was the 18-year-old challenge for you?
COLLINS: It was nothing like this. I graduated high school, and then I always wanted to go to college, but I also wanted to work at a young age. At that point though, I was pitching talk show ideas to the networks and I was a journalist. I was always auditioning while I was doing journalism, but I was just waiting for that yes. I wanted to continue journalism. I got told no all the time, like my ideas were irrelevant. Basically now, Twitter and Facebook have allowed for what I wanted to do, which was having young people have a voice. That’s before that was around. They were like, “C’mon. Who wants to hear from a young person?” And I was like, “Really? I highly doubt that’s true.” I just had all these ideas, and I was passionate about communicating them to a bigger [audience] in media, and I was told no so much. But it was that decision of do I go to school and try to work at the same time or do I work and try to go to school at the same time. The first semester of college I went off to Minneapolis and Denver. I did the conventions. I went to Washington, D.C. to do the inauguration. I went and interviewed with Nickelodeon for the whole election. So it was like do I go to school and sit in a classroom or do I play a role in history. It was like I’m not going to get credit for this and I may have to leave for this semester so do I take this chance and this opportunity? And again, [these are] high class problems. I’m not saying these were major life defining [moments], but for me, I was always on this path of what I wanted to do and I was told no so much. But I never let the no’s define me and I saw beyond that. I just thought I never wanted to have any regrets. And I don’t want to have any opportunities pass me by that I look back on and go, “Oh my God! Had I done that, it could have been a life-defining, growing up moment for me.” My mom raised me that way. I just never wanted an opportunity to pass by that could have taught me something bad or good. It’s like it takes the bad to know the good and the good to know the bad.
We’re all journalists and we’re losing journalistic opportunities because everybody is using Facebook and Twitter. Was making the transition from being a journalist to being an actress a good transition for you? At what point did you know you wanted to act more?
COLLINS: To go to something that you just said, you’re saying that now it’s harder as a journalist because everyone is self-reporting and people are tweeting answers to questions you’re not even asking, and that takes away from a question during a junket. We’ve been tweeting about the movie along the way at the press mall tours to give an insider’s look to the mall tour. But I personally have not been tweeting or using Facebook or anything like that – and this could change because I’m not saying ‘never say never’ – but I love old Hollywood and the fact that there was a sense of mystery about actors, and junkets were junkets for a reason. Interviews were interviews for a reason. Barbara Walter’s most fascinating interview was like, “Oh!” You needed to watch it because you were like, “What am I going to learn about this person that I feel like I don’t know anything about?”
I want to be approachable and relatable to everybody, of course, but there are other ways of me doing that. I feel like all the time it’s this influx of information to people that are not even asking. It takes away from an interview or a junket situation. It’s this constant information about me that I just don’t necessarily think is important. And it’s interesting to hear because, of course, on the other side, it does make journalism a little bit harder because all the questions are already answered without you having to ask them anymore. There was a moment when I realized that if people start to know me well as Lily interviewing and as my personality, they won’t believe me as a character as much. If they know me so well as being happy and this personality or whatever, then I can’t play that gritty girl who is a loner. I mean, I could. I would hope that I could prove myself, but I’ve done that where I’ve watched a movie before, and I’ve been like, “Oh my God, I just heard about the best pizza they had last week and now I’m watching them.” It’s weird. It’s stupid. It shouldn’t take you out of a movie, but I just feel like [that happens] when you have so much information thrown at you about a certain person, and some of it is just so silly, and it’s funny to read. It’s great. I love that you can read these things.
Sometimes it’s funny. But, for me personally, I don’t want someone watching a movie of mine and being like, “I saw a bikini shot of her the other day.” At least, if it’s taken by a paparazzi, that’s out of my control. But if I’m going to Tweet a picture of myself in a bikini, and then someone is watching a movie and I’m supposed to be this gritty character, they all of a sudden get taken out of the movie because they remember that picture. I see a movie as an experience, and I would like them to be able to [have that]. When I watch a movie with someone like Natalie Portman or Meryl Streep, or the women that I admire like Sandra (Bullock), Julia (Roberts), any of them, I don’t see them playing a character. I see a character. I can only hope that one day I’m half as amazing as they are, but at least I want that same experience of watching someone play a character and not thinking about them as the person.
COLLINS: I don’t do any of that. I’m not on any of that. I have an official Facebook page. I have an official Twitter just to at least save my name. I tweeted when I was first cast three years ago as the character and as myself when Twitter was just up and coming. But then, I stopped, and then there was more backlash that I had stopped than there was if I didn’t update. I was like oh my God. It’s been fun over the mall tour to do it with Jamie and Kevin as a group for the movie and to show fans the experience we’re going on. That’s fun, but then I come away from that situation, and I’m back in L.A., and I don’t want to be doing it on my own. It’s just not something that I’ve ever felt the need to share. I enjoy reading other people’s [tweets]. I mean, that’s fine, but I just don’t feel it’s necessary for myself.
Do you feel there’s too much information out there in terms of people and celebrities that tweet every day?
COLLINS: Yeah. It’s completely person to person. If you love doing that, great. Like I said, I enjoy reading certain ones and I’m not against Twitter or Facebook. I’m not against anything. Like I said before also, I never say never. So I could totally change my mind next year and be like, “Right now it would be fun.” There is just a lot of information, especially when a news story could break on a major news station based on a picture someone tweeted of themself. It didn’t take a journalist asking a question to get a news story. It took a picture of someone selfie-ing themselves to make nationwide headline news next to news about Obama and bombings. It’s so bizarre to me. And that didn’t even take a journalist to get there. It just took social media and that’s amazing. It’s the power of social media. It’s an incredible thing. It’s just something that I necessarily have not become obsessed with like a lot of other people.
How did you prepare for the stunt work that you did in this movie?
COLLINS: Well, the second movie I’m excited because apparently they’ve got a lot more fighting for me. My potential is just shown in this first movie, but we all trained the same. I trained three months before I got out to Toronto with a physical fitness trainer, and then every day with a trainer and the stunt department before or during work, but never in my costume. So then, obviously, once I got to wearing the heels and the dress, it made it very difficult. But Clary is awkward anyway in that outfit so it worked for me. I could just say, “Oh, it wasn’t Lily. It was Clary.” But yeah, we did a lot of training.
We all pretty much did every stunt except for one for each of us. I was thrown up against a wall at one point by Dorothea (CCH Pounder) and I was not allowed to do that. Jamie was thrown across the table in the same scene and slammed again a wall. He couldn’t do that. But he did that flip. We all stayed behind the camera watching, and I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to go back to my trailer. I want to watch Jamie do this.” We had seen all the practices and everyone was so supportive. Also, we were nervous as heck, like oh my God, what’s going to happen? But it was great because we all sweat together. We all trained together. That created such a bonding atmosphere, because when you go through those things together, they’re at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning every day, you’re like, “We can do anything together,” and that’s what the Shadowhunters are. So it helped in that sense.
You did a little bit of swordplay in Mirror, Mirror. Was there any swordplay in this and did you do any martial arts?
COLLINS: Yeah. I did more knife fighting in this one which ended up not being used. We were trying to figure out what Clary’s first skills were, which again, this will probably be more in the second movie. It was hand-to-hand combat martial arts. But for Clary, at the beginning, it was all about endurance, keeping up with the guys, not falling behind, and not doing it in six-inch heels. All of the training did help with the hours we were shooting and just keeping up with everyone and the self-defense. You’ll see the skills more defined in the second one.
You mentioned the sequel to this film. What else do you have coming up?
COLLINS: I just finished a film called Love, Rosie in Dublin. I was shooting for two and a half months. I’m British. I aged ten years and have a 10-year-old child by the end of it. It was the most amazing, life changing experience for me being a mom. It’s terrifyingly heartbreaking and at the same time so hilarious. It’s kind of like Bridget Jones meets Love Actually meets Notting Hill and then a bit of Juno. There’s so much in there. It feels like it was such a small crew and it was very much independent, but at the same time, it has this big feel. It’s Sam Claflin and I and an amazing cast like Suki Waterhouse, Jaime Winstone and Tamsin Egerton. It’s just a really cool European cast. So I did that, and then Stuck in Love just came out a while ago.
What about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?
COLLINS: I’m signed on for that for the role of Elizabeth Bennet. It’s just when that happens that we’re still [deciding]. That is something that I have, but I’m just not sure when.
Are you still interested in being a journalist?
COLLINS: Yes. One day we’ll go back to it at some point. I still love writing so I can do that from wherever I am. I can be in my trailer. (laughs)