Lily Collins on filming To the Bone after her own teenage battle with eating disorders
The decision to take part in the controversial new Netflix series about anorexia didn’t come easily
In the coming weeks the Guildford-born, Los Angeles-raised, youngest daughter of Phil Collins – model, author and now actress Lily Collins – will be inescapable in the world of on-demand film and television. The 28-year-old is a star of Okja, a wondrous South Korean/American “creature feature” that is undeniably Netflix’s highest-profile film to date.
It’s “landmark” enough to have caused a good old-fashioned controversy at the recent Cannes film festival. There, pucker-mouthed cineastes booed the inclusion of a movie destined for the small screen in France. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted afterwards, “The establishment is closing ranks against us.”
“We were invited to Cannes to compete, which is a huge honour,” says Collins when we meet in a London hotel a couple of days after the storm in a champagne flute. “So it’s not like we arrived and it was shocking that Netflix was involved in the festival. We didn’t storm the palace.”
She’s also taking the lead in another big Netflix production, the challenging but poetic – and darkly witty – To the Bone (arriving on the platform on Friday 14 July), in which she plays a 20-year-old battling eating disorders.
Finally, Collins is switching streaming service allegiances to Amazon, where she is front and centre in The Last Tycoon, a glossy new nine-part drama series (the complete series will be available on Friday 28 July) adapted from F Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel.
Set in Hollywood’s golden age, The Last Tycoon features Kelsey Grammer as the boss of a film studio. Collins, who made her big-screen breakthrough in Sandra Bullock vehicle The Blind Side (2009), plays his beloved only child.
“I am being groomed to work at the studio, and it’s about my experience starting from the ground up, as ‘the daughter of…’ but shunning that and trying to make a path of my own into the industry… Sound familiar?” Collins smiles playfully.
The Last Tycoon
Phil Collins and Lily’s American mother, Jill Tavelman, split when she was five. She and her mum relocated to LA, although they retained ownership of Lakers Lodge, the Surrey home where Collins spent her formative years.
“I still go there for Christmases, and during the summer sometimes. It’s my happy place. It’s really, really magical – that vibe of the English countryside. It’s like Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice!”
Did she feel “English” as a youngster? “Yeah. I still feel English at heart. When I land here I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m home…’”
She insists she never considered following her father into music. It was, as she cheekily hints, about finding her own path. For a while this meant journalism – Collins contributed to women’s magazines in the UK and US – then, later, she turned her hand to long-form writing. Earlier this year she published Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, a memoir-cum-self-help book that grew out of her role as a peer therapist while at high school in LA.
In the book, Collins reveals her teenage battles with eating disorders. Unsurprisingly, the decision to make To the Bone didn’t come easily. In the film, Collins looks frankly skeletal.
Was she worried about losing weight for the role? “That was a conversation that we had,” she admits. “There never was a ‘goal’ weight, but I knew that hair and make-up and wardrobe could only do so much. And that to pay tribute to the girl that I was when I was younger, and also to the character, I wanted to do it in a way that really went there – but was also healthy. But, yeah, there’s always a fine line.”
The important thing was being true to the story – and to the message.
The same goes for Okja, directed by South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer). Available now on Netflix and in cinemas from Wednesday 28 June, it’s a fairy tale that takes aim at corporate America and mass meat consumption. The cute animal from which the film takes its name is a “super-pig”, developed by a food conglomerate. See Okja and you may never eat bacon again.
“The intention is to see Okja as a human being, not as a CGI creature,” claims Collins, a pescetarian who admits to an occasional chicken habit. “It’s deeply humanist and based in reality – even if it is a bit exaggerated. Netflix didn’t change anything that Bong wanted to do. And the scope of it is frickin’ massive!
“You know, the way we’re viewing our films is changing. Right now, this is a huge conversation, so to be part of the project that maybe brought it to people’s attention after the Cannes hoopla is kinda cool, a bit revolutionary,” she smiles again.
Still, given half a chance, the barricade-storming “Stream Queen” is happy to go cosily conservative. When I ask if she’s heard about the Downton Abbey film, she shoots back, “Oh, believe me, I have looked into that! I’ve said to my agent: ‘How can I be involved in that movie?’ Big houses in the countryside? I’ve done research for that all my life!”
It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the Home Counties…
Okja is available now on Netflix and in cinemas from Wednesday 28 June