Collins sees herself in Clary of ‘Mortal Instruments’
First Posted: 8/26/2013
Based on Cassandra Clare’s best-selling fantasy adventure series, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is the latest in a seemingly endless procession of young-adult fantasy books being adapted for the screen.
In the wake of “Harry Potter,” there’s been “Twilight,” “Percy Jackson,” and “The Hunger Games.” And still to come is “Ender’s Game” with Asa Butterfield and “Divergent” with Shailene Woodley.
So, how is “The Mortal Instruments” different from all of the other fantasy films that have come before it?
Let actress Lily Collins count the ways. “I think ours has a comedic undertone that none of the other [franchises] have. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
“Also, we’re telling a very real story that just happens to be taking place in a fantasy world. And the two worlds are married in a way that it almost doesn’t matter because it’s a very realistic situation that [protagonist] Clary finds herself in: she’s trying to find her mother.
“The movie is all character and emotion-based. And romance doesn’t define Clary. She’s defined by the drama and the action and the emotional journey she goes on.”
In “The Mortal Instruments,” which opened Aug. 21, Collins plays Clary, a seemingly ordinary young woman who discovers a hidden world of Shadowhunters – or angel/human warriors – who protect humanity from ever-present evil creatures, including demons, warlocks, vampires, and werewolves.
Clary gets pulled into the secret world after her mother (Lena Headey of “Game of Thrones”) goes missing. As she and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) try to solve the mystery, Clary learns she’s a Shadowhunter herself.
If she ever wants to see her mother again, she has to join forces with fellow fighters Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Isabelle (Jemima West), and Alec (Kevin Zegers).
Campbell Bower, who dated Collins for a year, believes Collins aces a tricky role.
“Lily is just unbelievable,” he says “Clary has to ask, `What is this? What’s going on?’ so many times and she has to go through so many huge emotional ups and downs.
“Lily just smashes it… She’s a joy to watch. She’s a young actress who’s only been around for three or four years, and she just killed this role. She’s an absolute star.”
Clary’s journey is, indeed, a humdinger that takes her from a sheltered existence as a shy wallflower to a bold life as a young warrior capable of handling herself in a dark and scary world.
“She finds her voice in the story,” says Collins, 24. “She is a feisty, passionate young woman who doesn’t victimize herself. The second she feels vulnerable, she acknowledges that vulnerability but also accepts help to push herself forward.
“I really like that she never takes ‘no’ for an answer; she takes it almost as an encouragement to continue.”
Collins could relate to Clary’s determination on a number of different levels. “I’m very close to my mom, so I’d like to think I’d do the same thing for my mom as Clary does for hers,” says the actress.
“Also, I used to pitch talk show ideas when I was 15 or 16 years old and I got told ‘no’ so many times, and I’d always take it as, ‘No, not right now.’ When Clary gets told ‘no,’ she thinks, ‘OK, you won’t help me. but I’ll find someone else who can.’
Over the course of the movie, Clary surprises herself as she discovers her inner warrior. To get into fighting trim, the actress trained with a personal fitness guru for three months prior to filming. Then, during production, she’d receive lessons from members of the stunt team every morning.
“We all did it,” says Collins of the cast members. “We trained together, we sweated together, we bonded together. But it was worth it because I did my own stunts, bar one. And I had high heels on for nearly everything. I was thinking, ‘Man, cut me some slack.’ But no injuries, so it was fun.”
Even before she was cast in the movie, Collins was a fan of the “Mortal Instruments” books. When she first walked on the set in Toronto and saw the City of Bones as well as such settings as the Institute, Java Jones and Clary’s apartment, the actress was awestruck.
“It was insane,” she says. “I had to stop for a moment and just so of go, ‘Wow, this is really happening. This is the real deal.’ It was exactly as I envisioned everything. I felt so privileged to be a part of something so massive.”
Back in 2010, when she landed the role of Clary, Collins had only two films on her resume. Then just as the movie was about to go into production, it was shut down and delayed.
While the screenplay underwent a series of rewrites, Collins was cast as Snow White in the big-budget extravaganza “Mirror Mirror” with Julia Roberts.
The delay turned out to be a godsend for Collins, who returned to “The Mortal Instruments” with a good deal more experience.
“I think I learned a lot about myself and grew as an actress,” she relates.
The daughter of Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins and his second wife, Jill Tavelman, Collins was born in England. At the age of six, following her parents’ divorce, Lily moved with her mother to Beverly Hills.
While she has no memory of hanging out backstage at her father’s shows, she does recall him and her mother giving her sound advice about her career plans.
“Both of my parents would always say, ‘If you’re passionate about something, then it’s the right choice for you,’” says the actress.
Initially, Collins was passionate about journalism. She wrote a monthly column for Ellegirl at 15 and later contributed to Teen Vogue. She covered President Obama’s first inauguration for Nickelodeon and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for Seventeen.
Asked to name a highlight of her years as a teen scribe, Collins recalls her interview with Scarlett Johansson on behalf of Rock the Vote.
“For me, to be able to talk to an incredibly smart woman like Scarlett about life and politics and fashion and everything – it was really cool,” recalls Collins. “I was honored Cosmogirl would give me the opportunity to be responsible for a big cover story like that.”
Even as Collins was pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California, she never gave up her desire to be an actor. In 2009, she got the opportunity to play Sandra Bullock’s daughter in “The Blind Side” – and ran with it.
Roles in “Priest” with Paul Bettany, “Abduction” with Taylor Lautner, “Stuck On You” with Jennifer Connelly, and the Kingston-set “The English Teacher” with Julianne Moore followed. Trivia note: “The English Teacher was written by Wilkes-Barre native Dan Chariton and his wife Stacy Chariton.
Collins credits her co-stars, particularly Moore, with helping her gain confidence in front of the camera.
“Any opportunity anyone has to work with Julianne Moore, they should take it,” she says of the movie, which arrives on DVD Sept. 3. “She’s the most incredible human being.
“And even though the character was a small one in an ensemble piece, to be able to play opposite Julianne – and go head to head with her – that was incredible.”