Lily Collins can’t choose between actress and journalist, so Hollywood’s newest princess is determined to triumph as both by LESLIE GORNSTEIN / photographs by HILARY WALSH / styling by HAYLEY ATKIN
Kate Middleton, it is said, waited eight years to become a princess. For Lily Collins, it took less than 24 hours. The audition was on a Thursday. On Friday morning, her cell rang with the storybook offer of a lifetime: She would play Snow White in the big-screen fantasy Mirror Mirror, opposite living legend Julia Roberts as the evil queen. “Because it was just like a fairy tale, it sometimes feels like, ‘Wait, is this happening?’ ” Collins says between sips of tea at one of her favorite West Hollywood restaurants.
That may not be giving herself enough credit. Yes, she’s the daughter of mega-musician Phil Collins, spent her Christmases in the English countryside and was crowned at 18 by Chanel to don its couture for the elite Bal des Débutantes in Paris. Onscreen, she has locked lips with the planet’s most desirable Prince Charmings. That was her vamping it up with Cam Gigandet in the bloodsucker mashup Priest and steaming up Abduction with rumored on-set boyfriend Taylor Lautner.
Snow White insta-casting aside, no fairy godmother (or rock father, for that matter) has orchestrated Collins’ meteoric rise. Make no mistake: Slim and about to turn 23, with long, dainty fingers and doll-like eyelashes, she will push—hard—for the things she wants, with no discernible fear of rejection. At the 2010 Vanity Fair Oscar party, Collins, who was attending solo, walked up to Precious director Lee Daniels, introduced herself and boldly informed him she planned to work with him one day.
As a teen correspondent for Nickelodeon, she recalls declaring to the producers, “I think you need to hire me full-time, because I have all these ideas, and you don’t have a young host. It could be really fun.” (The moxie was indeed rewarded with more airtime.)
In the case of Mirror Mirror, when Collins’ first reading didn’t go exactly as she’d envisioned, she marched back into the room and politely but firmly asked if she could give it another go. “For me,” says producer Bernie Goldmann of the audition, “what that says is, ‘I am a thinking actor. I take what I do very seriously. I have an opinion.’ ”
And clearly a drive. “I went back to my car and thought, I want this so badly—I need to go back,” she recalls. “I wanted to show persistence...I think passion is a universal language.”
“I wanted to be the youngest talk-show host,” Collins says. “No one got [the concept]. I came in to boardrooms with pie charts and research. I was like, ‘Why is this not computing?”
Collins was born in England, moving to Los Angeles at five, after her mother, Jill Tavelman, underwent a nasty and much-publicized breakup with Phil. Tavelman knew only one other child in L.A.—that child went to a Catholic school in Brentwood, so Collins, who wasn’t Catholic, enrolled, too. Harvard Westlake prep school followed. “People had their groups,” she says of life at L.A.’s finest educational venues, “but no one ever found one cooler than the other. To this day, my core group of solid friends are from high school.”
The entire time, Collins nurtured twin, possibly contradictory, goals—actress and journalist. “When I started meeting with agencies,” she says, “the first told me there are plenty of sons of, daughters of, cousins of, nieces of, nephews of—and what makes you special? Do something, come back and we’ll talk. I said thank you so much and left, but I said to myself, That’s not going to work.”
Instead, being Lily Collins, she pressed forth, finding a rep and conquering both of her chosen industries. At 15, she landed her own page in the British Elle Girl. Three years later, she became an on-air correspondent for Nickelodeon, adding to a résumé that would boast Seventeen, Teen Vogue and even this magazine.
“I wanted to be the youngest talk-show host,” she says. “No one got [the concept]. I came in to boardrooms with pie charts and research. I was like, ‘Why is this not computing? It seems a given that the younger generation has a voice!’ I feel like I was just a few years too early.”
Her acting career, meanwhile, had started at age two on the BBC, with a series called Growing Pains (no, not that one). After moving to the States, Collins continued to squeeze in auditions between classes. At first, she refused to compromise either education or career, even as work for both piled up.
She postponed her first semester at the University of Southern California to pursue acting, but by the time she landed the role of Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side, she didn’t want to put off college any longer. So she attempted to tackle both—at the same time.
“I did my first semester during the second half of the school year, and then Blind Side happened,” Collins says. “I didn’t want to leave and not have that time count, so I had to write 10 extra papers and Skype with teachers, all while I was on set. And I had to fly back for finals. It was kind of really difficult.”
USC is now on hold until her career allows for a break, but that isn’t likely to happen soon. Mirror Mirror opens March 30, and with it, America’s first look at her in a starring role. Her movie slate is also stacking up. The indie dramedy The English Teacher, with Julianne Moore and Nathan Lane, is due out later this year. “She shines from the inside, but that’s just Lily,” Goldmann says. “It’s hard not to love her. I think she’s flawless.”
She’s also attached to what is sure to be just the first installment of Cassandra Clare’s hugely popular young-adult sci-fi fantasy series The Mortal Instruments, despite backstage changes in its production company and director. After that? Well, let’s be honest—nearly anything Collins sets her mind to.
“I have a mentality of taking a situation and making it the best it can be,” she says. “From being 16 and going into boardrooms and having to prove myself, I understand the process of shocking people. They see one thing when you walk in, and hopefully they see something else when you leave.”
PRODUCER: Hannah Harte
MAKEUP: Francesca Tolot / Cloutier Remix
HAIR: Mara Roszak / Starworks Artists
MANICURE: Lisa Jachno / Aim Artists
SET DESIGN: Colin Donahue