In the indie thriller Inheritance, from director Vaughn Stein and screenwriter Matthew Kennedy, the patriarch of a wealthy and powerful family suddenly passes away, leaving a series of questions in his wake. While his son (Chace Crawford) is left millions, his daughter (Lily Collins) is made aware of a shocking family secret and a mysterious man (Simon Pegg) that could destroy everything the family has worked so hard to build.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Lily Collins talked about what appealed to her about the script for Inheritance, why she wanted to play the character of Lauren Monroe, craving the challenge of roles that make her nervous, and her reaction to learning where things with the story would end up. She also talked about signing on as the star and a producer on the upcoming Darren Star TV series Emily in Paris and how much she got to be involved in the show’s development, as well as her experience on the David Fincher film Mank and working with a filmmaker who likes to do so many takes.
LILY COLLINS: It pretty much stayed very close to how it was, when I first read it, as to what we shot. I think there are a few things that we changed, just based upon conversations with Simon [Pegg] and I, and (director) Vaughn [Stein]. But when I read it, it was actually a really quick process. I was sent it, I read it and I Skyped with Vaughn, maybe a day or two later. Vaughn is someone whose passion is very infectious. When he’s very into something or he believes in something, his passion is very infectious. Having his spirit and enthusiasm for this, after having just read it, and it was very much a page-turner ‘cause there’s a twist and turn at every different part of the story, added on top of Vaughn talking about it and how he wanted to go about telling the story, and having our conversations about the character and how that would maybe change based on those conversations, if I was interested, moving forward, was exciting. Also knowing Simon’s work, and knowing that Simon was gonna be taking on a role that was super different for him, that was also interesting to me, too. And this was a different type of character than I’d played before and a genre that I hadn’t really explored. It was a very quick, fast-paced experience of reading, meeting with Vaughn, and then going in to do it. It was a quick process that felt very much the energy of the script. In a weird way, it mirrored it. I responded to the character. I thought, “Wow, this is something that haven’t done before and I think it would be challenging for me.” The situations that Lauren finds herself in, as an actress, I was like, “Okay, these are different things that I haven’t done yet, and if anything, it’ll be an experience for me to test myself.”
When you’re do something like that, that is so new to you, do you get nervous? Is it scary to do something like that, or is it just exciting?
COLLINS: I think it’s both. It’s an excited anxiousness that I get, whenever I’m doing something different and I put myself in that uncomfortable situation, as an actor, and uncomfortable meaning maybe an emotionally vulnerable situation that I’ve never found myself in. One of the things that changed, in the filming of this, is that it wasn’t scripted that Lauren has panic attacks. One day, Vaughn was like, “Why doesn’t Lauren maybe have panic attacks?” And I was like, “Oh, great.” That’s something I hadn’t prepared for. And so, the scene of me panicking in the shower, we took and put other places in the script, with her having labored breathing and starting to have these emotional breakdowns, every once in a while. That wasn’t necessarily in the script, so that’s not something that I read and thought, “Okay, I’ll have to prepare for that.” It was on a whim, on one of the days of shooting. Vaughn would say, “Hey, let’s insert one of those, right here.” So, I was kept on my toes, in that sense, and that’s very much what Lauren is, the entire movie. She’s kept on her toes, throughout the experience, so I just started to lean into the fact that my experience might be somewhat mimicking Lauren’s. I was in this constant state of, “Okay, so what are we gonna get into today?” That’s unsettling, but at the same time, it stretches you, as an actor, and for me, I’m constantly looking to just explore different sides of myself and the craft, that I haven’t before. And so, through Lauren, I was able to dig into emotional places that I hadn’t and put myself into her headspace, and those were ones I hadn’t been in with any other character before. So, I was definitely nervous, but it’s a nervousness that I weirdly crave because I know that it’s pushing me. It’s such a weird, twisted way thing that actors get to do. You work through emotions and experiences in your past, but at the same time, you can move through things and move past them. You always wanna keep a little bit of those things that you can tap back into, for emotional scenes in films and for your work. It’s a bizarre thing that we have to , but I think it just pushes you and makes you better, as an actor.
As an actor, is it fun to get to play a character that starts at the top, and then you get to strip all of that away and see who they are underneath all of that?
COLLINS: Yeah, definitely. I find so much joy in playing someone who is stripped of everything that they thought they knew, and who they were, and really just get to be the bare minimum, if you will. With Les Misérables, it was playing someone Fantine, who starts at the top of where she could be the top of, in her social standing, and is someone who is full of life and living the life that they’re happy living, and they’re content and doing well at their job, and they don’t see anything wrong, and then they slowly start to unravel. I think that it’s very freeing to be able to be so emotionally vulnerable. As an actor, but also as an audience member, those are the characters that you relate to because we’re all a little bit of a mess sometimes. We’re all in our own heads, we’re all frazzled, and we’re all struggling, in different moments. And so, to see a character so put together, but also floundering under the surface, is something that we all can relate to and associate with, and it seems like the most real type of character to portray. You also get to show a transformation of sorts, emotionally. As an actor, that’s what you want. You don’t wanna play someone who’s one note. You want someone that has the trajectory, and sometimes the more fun trajectory is to go down. It just is because, usually at the end, there’s some sort of redemption, some sort of message, or some sort of lesson, and there is a conclusion of sorts. With Les Misérables, she doesn’t necessarily see what her death means, but then you see what it holds out hope for, in the future, so there’s some sort of retribution, in the end. I really enjoy those kinds of characters.
There are a lot of twists in a movie like Inheritance. They keep unfolding and, every time you think you know where the story is going, it goes another place. Without giving away spoilers, what was your reaction to learning where this would all end up?
COLLINS: I was like, “Oh, my god, I have to go back and re-read it. Were there clues? Were there moments when I should have known? Are there ways in which I can facilitate not knowing the ending for an audience? Are there clues that I can put in, throughout the script? Are there ways that maybe Lauren can show an inkling of knowing?” She is a district attorney, so you don’t want her to come across as completely naive. But also, I feel like anyone who’s really good at their job, when it comes to their personal life, for some reason, there always seems to be a disconnect. No matter how good we are at what we do, when you start to involve your own experiences in your own family, sometimes the most believable things at work are the most unbelievable in your own personal life. It’s about trying to tread that fine line within all of the moments, so that the audience is kept guessing. But once I read it through the first time, I thought, “Oh, god, now I have to read it again because maybe I missed something.” I like to think that I’m someone that guesses correctly, when it comes to that kind of stuff, and I did not see that coming. I was like, “Where was I tricked? I need to re-read this.”
It sounds like you did something a bit lighter, after doing this project, by doing the Darren Star series, Emily in Paris. Was that an intentional thing? Were you looking for lighter material, after doing something like this?
COLLINS: No. I’ve been looking to do a romantic comedic character, for a very long time. I had actually started the process of meeting Darren and auditioning for him, way before Inheritance, but it was a very long process because a show like Emily has a longer lead time, and Darren had to figure out what the direction he was going in. And so, that had been something on my mind, for a long time. And then, Inheritance came into my lap and it wasn’t conflicting with anything, scheduling wise, and I hadn’t gotten Emily yet. So, I went to Alabama and I was in the middle of filming a Inheritance, and it was right before my birthday, which was my 30th birthday, and I found out that I was getting Emily. And then, Darren called me on my 30th birthday to be like, “Happy Birthday! Do you wanna be Emily?” And I was like, “Oh, my god!” I was literally having a panic attack outside the bunker, and then I get this call from him on my birthday and I’m like, “What is life?” It was the weirdest turn of events. But as I was filming Inheritance, I thought, “Oh, how amazing, I’ll get to follow this up with something more lighthearted,” but it wasn’t a plan that I had. It just happened to unfold that way, and I’m very grateful for that ‘cause I got a little bit of a break between Inheritance and Emily. Emily entailed moving to Paris or four months, which at this point, in COVID times, seems so foreign, but it was an incredible experience and a drastically different type of character, but one that I’ve been craving to play, for so long. It was just the most fun, and a very different vibe.
What was it like to also be a producer on that? How much of a voice did that allow you to have?
COLLINS: Oh, it was incredible. I ‘d never been privy to certain conversations that I was now a part of. At the beginning of every block of episodes, I sat down with Darren and the other producers and the AD, and went through the schedule and the format, and the dialogue, and everything, in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. I was empowered to know that I could have those conversations and have my voice heard in a way that I hadn’t before, and it was really incredible. Darren was the most fantastic collaborator, in that sense, with everything from casting to ideas for episodes. The series is very much about an American’s experience in Paris, and therefore my experience in Paris was able to lend itself to things in the character. Things that I went through, I would tell him about, and he’d be like, “Oh, wow, maybe we can write that in.” It was really fun. It was fun to have your voice be able to be heard, in a different way, and to be empowered like that.
How did your experience working with David Fincher on Mank compare? What was it like to work with someone who does a lot of takes and is very detail oriented?
COLLINS: I absolutely loved it. I had worked with Warren Beatty, a few years ago, and he also is someone that loves doing a lot of takes. I’m someone who loves playing around and experimenting with different ways of being in the scenes and playing around with the other actors, so for someone to also encourage that and seek out this perfection and know exactly what he wants, that’s something that I love. I love someone who has a clear vision, and he is someone who has that. He’s a complete genius. So, for me, I got to use a whole different toolbox. Being on screen with Gary Oldman was another joy. I just would sit there and watch him, and attempt to soak it all in. It was such an incredible experience. I loved it.
What is the atmosphere like, on a set like that? Do you have to really pace yourself, knowing that you’re going to be doing a lot of takes of a scene?
COLLINS: Yeah, it just depends the type of scene. I didn’t go into every single scene thinking, “Okay, this could be 40 takes.” I tried my best to just be in the moment, and live and breathe each take, as its own entity, and if it kept going, just finding new things in those moments and connecting with the other actors, in different ways. There’s no point in psyching yourself out. You definitely have to make sure that you don’t exhaust yourself. The fun part about being an actor, though, is trying new things, so if David saw there being another way to try, then you trust that there is another way to try, and you dig deep and you discuss with the other actors, and you just find those moments and finesse them and keep playing. There are only so many hours in a day and you have to complete what you have to complete, so you don’t have all the luxury in the world of all the time. You know that, at some point, there’s going to be an end, but you just wanna be the best version that you can be because you’re working with people that are doing the same thing, and you wanna rise to the occasion. So, I found it to be a really incredible experience, just to see what I was capable of. It was something that pushed me in ways that I hadn’t been pushed before, which is that creative nervousness that I crave.
Inheritance is available on DirecTV, digital and on-demand.