2018 was the year of fearless female performances but THE TV Christmas blockbuster, Les Misérables, saves the best for last with Lily Collins’ star turn as Fantine. Here she navigates the minefield of millennial dating, -13°C locations and a late-twenties crisis with GLAMOUR’S Josh Newis-Smith.
“I’ve been ghosted more times than I care to admit,” Lily confesses, as we discuss the minefield that is millennial dating. Adorned in a slouchy black hoodie with her hair scraped back into a care-free ponytail and barely a lick of make-up, Lily could be any twenty-something in debrief mode.
In fact, the only indication that this is a Golden Globe nominee who since starting to act at the age of two, has carved a place for herself as a go-to starlet – in such varied roles in Rules Don’t Apply, Mirror Mirror and Love, Rosie– is the vast Hollywood home that plays backdrop to our interview and her GLAMOUR cover shoot.
About to hit our screens in her career-defining role as Fantine, who is dumped unceremoniously by her lover – Victorian ghosting if you will – and left to fend for her child alone, we are musing on how, just like the iconic character, Lily has navigated her own fair share of heart ache. “There are times when I’ve [been on dates and] thought we had a great time and then I’ve never heard from the guy again,” she continues. With this level of ‘gal pal’ magnetism it’s no wonder she has garnered 11 million Instagram followers, and counting. “Sometimes that happens after one date, a couple of dates or one month. I would prefer people to be honest with me, as I live like that. I don’t think it will be something I can ever figure out. The good thing is that we all have the same issues.” Alexa, play Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande…
Both 29 years old, we quickly bond over that late-twenties crisis, too. “Everyone in their late twenties goes through it a bit, because we’re heading to the big 3-0,” she reassures me. “But I think I had a quarter-life crisis at 25 where I kept asking, ‘Am I at where I wish to be at?’ I never really set out as a kid with markers of when I want to get married or have kids. But I got to the age where you constantly compare yourself to your friends or other people in your industry.”
It’s this level of realism that makes her performance as the ultimate fallen female, Fantine, so damn relatable, despite the fact it was shot in inconceivable sub-zero conditions in Brussels over a grueling five-month period. One scene, in the opening episode, sees a thoroughly modern-feeling Fantine squatting in the bushes alongside her wing women, discussing the gents on offer. “When our director, Tom (Shankland) was describing it as, ‘You are going to be squatting, having a chat,’ I thought, ‘Well, I can’t say I haven’t done that,’” Lily laughs. “People have been doing this for centuries – that camaraderie between women and men going to the bathroom and having chats, where it’s all about the subtext and the looks.”
Alas, poor Fantine didn’t have a rival nightclub to the local tavern, or Tinder, in her weaponry to help find a knight in shining armour to rescue her from her inevitable fall. Swiping right isn’t something that interests Lily, either. “I’ve never tried a dating app,” she exclaims with her trademark eyebrows alive with energy. “Lots of my friends have, but it’s just that I don’t know how I would. LA is very much where I spent most of my time growing up, so I know the places I am not going to go to meet somebody and I also realise that when you’re not looking, you find it.”
Lily is grounded, which is no mean feat given that she grew up surrounded by fame as the daughter of the Easy Lover hitmaker, Phil Collins. There’s no name-checking of famous faces, only her closest pals, a pool of Californian friends from Harvard-Westlake School who have enabled her to achieve that much-lauded term: balance. She has worked hard to have her Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman’ moment.
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“Growing up I never wanted that to be a part of my story,” Lily confides. “Obviously I’m super-proud of my dad; I love my dad, I’m grateful for all the things I’ve learned, but it’s also something I wanted to define as my own. I always wanted to do it myself and for myself. There are so many people who want to do what I do, a name is not going to get you a job, and it shouldn’t. I can look back and be so proud I did it on my own. People assume it’s a lot easier when you have that name, but if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to use it, it’s a lot harder.”
Part of Lily taking control of her own narrative involved her penning her memoir, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me just under two years ago, something that she regards as the “most cathartic, therapeutic experience, in a way I didn’t anticipate”. In the emotional read, Lily confesses to hacking away at those eyebrows to fit in with the skinny-browed girls at school, details an unnamed emotionally abusive relationship, discusses a long and winding journey with eating disorders, and contains an open letter, forgiving her father, “for not always being there,” during her childhood after moving from Surrey to LA with her mother, Jill Tavelman following her parents’ divorce. For an industry in which personal lives are hidden by a velvet curtain, it was beyond brave.
Reminiscing, Lily details how the book’s direction took an unexpected turn, “I realised I was carrying so much baggage that, when it came to work, I couldn’t take on the baggage of my character. I felt a bit like a fraud to myself if I didn’t unleash – or at least get off my chest – these things, to move on and go into the next phase of my life. In life, when you dig the deepest and talk about the most uncomfortable things, that’s the time you’ll connect with most people because that’s when you’re being the ‘realest’. The hardest things to talk about will always be the most relatable, because no one wants to show them; they’re awkward.”
Used to shedding excess baggage, Lily had to leave everything at the French border to play what is set to become a career-defining role as Fantine. As she proudly scrolls through her phone to show her transformation from debutante darling to shaven-haired dishevelled wench, her enthusiasm is as big as her brows as she details the most testing part of taking on this role. “The material, the location, the temperature,” she admits were the biggest challenges. But it’s clear she relished getting gritty. “It was so perfect, but at one point it was -13°C in Brussels. It was mental preparation of not just understanding the psychology of what she’s going through, but also the gruelling shooting experience that we were all in. Dressed in little material towards the end, it was about pushing through mentally. Obviously, I saw the end in sight. I dive in 110%. If I’m freezing, tired and bruised from shooting, I lean into that with the character.”
In a year where toxic masculinity has led to outpourings of female empowerment, it seems an ideal time to revisit the treatment of this infamous female character; something that isn’t lost on Lily. “When she falls, she falls so hard. But she’s willing to stay down there if it means providing for her child. It’s very poignant over what’s happening in today’s world. When we’re at our lowest, we still have our sense of self and are willing to fight back and use our voice. That really resonated with me.”
How does she feel in the wake of the year where Hollywood finally got woke on the abuse of power? “It’s great to see the camaraderie that’s come from it. Women coming forward with these issues are being embraced. Whether it’s in the pay gap or having more female directors, writers, and making sure there are just as many women and men on movie sets – hopefully one day this won’t even have to be a conversation. That’s my hope that we won’t have to say, ‘’I’m so glad you’re hired because you’re a female. It should be that you are known for your skill level… Right now, it’s fantastic, but it shouldn’t be why a woman is defined as amazing.”
As a result, Lily is feeling more empowered than ever before. “Yeah, I am, 100%,” she says. “I’ve realised that I can’t control what other people think of what I have to say, but I can control how I say it and where it’s coming from. So many women have come out and spoken about things that people would have assumed would have been the end of them. Now it is embraced for us to speak out. I’m attracted so strongly to people who are brave and outspoken and very much themselves, so I thought, ‘Why can’t I be that?’ It takes practice and I’m not fully there yet, but I’m doing my best to take those steps.”
This self-crafted confidence is exactly why Lily was attracted to the challenge of creating and directing her own GLAMOUR shoot, shot on a mobile phone during a fitting with super-stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn. “I love expressing different sides of myself,” she exclaims, referencing her Giambattista Valli gown she wore for her cover. “It’s a process that allows me to constantly surprise myself, rediscover and push myself in ways I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with a couple of years ago.” One thing is for certain, you shouldn’t underestimate this ultimate Hollywood ‘doer’; she curled her own hair and specifically asked for the pictures not to be retouched, too.
Away from Hollywood and couture, Lily will be living her best Cameron Diaz lyf circa The Holiday this Christmas. “It’s my time to switch off from my job, sleep in and be British – I love holing myself away where no one can bother me. I love being in the countryside, outside London, with my mum. We get our tree, we have decorations from when I’m younger. We cook. We have fires and watch old movies,” Lily shares in a manner of an over-excited elf.
It’s safe to say the Christmas cracker that will really bring a bang to your festivities is Lily Collins in Les Misérables. Plus, dear wise men and women, this star with her rare empowering gifts is well worth following, far and wide.
Les Misérables will start on the BBC on 30th December.
We’ve been treated to a first look at BBC’s Les Misérables and it looks epic