Meet Lily Collins: Our April cover star discusses her breakout role as Snow White and gives us the lowdown on her spring wardrobe staples
By Dennis Hensley
Lily Collins embarks on a thoroughly modern fairy tale with her first starring role,
as a sword-fighting, prince-saving Snow White.
When Lily Collins arrived for her first costume fitting as Snow White on the Montreal set of Mirror Mirror, she assumed the most fabulous getups would go to her co-star Julia Roberts, who plays the evil queen. “I saw all these dramatic, colourful, amazing outfits and I thought, ‘Wow, Julia’s so lucky,’” says the 23-year-old British-born actress who’s best known for playing Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side. “And then they started bringing them in, and I said, ‘Is this for me?’ The first outfit took 25 minutes to get into, and when I looked in the mirror I got teary-eyed.” Then there were the elaborate sets; she describes a giant indoor forest and 40 tons of salt for snow. “I was sprinting through this huge room of trees, in my ball gown, sword-fighting, going up cliffs,” she marvels. “When the crew brought their kids onto set, they would see me and start crying. They were like, ‘Blanche Neige!’”
Collins had only a handful of screen credits when she landed Mirror Mirror, but it’s obvious why she was chosen to play this ass-kicking, prince-saving Snow White. There’s the doe-eyed, dark-haired beauty, but there’s also a casual confidence and adventurous spirit that makes you think: This girl can carry a movie. “I’ve been turned down so many times,” laughs the University of Southern California communications student between sips of green tea at Soho House in West Hollywood, blocks from her apartment. “I’ve always chosen to believe that ‘No’ means ‘Not right now.’”
She developed this go-for-it mindset early on. At 15, she cold-called Elle Girl magazine in England and talked her way into writing a monthly column about being a British girl in L.A. Around the same time, she approached Tommy Hilfiger on a plane and told him she had modelled his clothes in a newspaper. Before the plane left the ground, Hilfiger had called his producer and Collins wound up walking in his next L.A. show. “Experiences like that proved to me at a young age that there’s no hurt in trying,” says Collins, who has also modelled alongside Naomi Campbell in a Mont Blanc jewellery show in France, set in a palace made of ice.
This determination to take initiative and succeed or fail on her own terms is no doubt connected to the fact that her father is mega-selling singer Phil Collins. As a little girl, she inspired her dad’s Oscar-winning song “You’ll Be In My Heart,” from Disney’s Tarzan. “I never wanted to give people a reason to say I only got something because of that,” she says. “I wanted to feel confident in myself and be able to take the rejection, and not have someone make a phone call for me.”
Collins credits her mother, Jill Tavelman, who moved to L.A. from England after splitting from Phil when Lily was six, with keeping her grounded in Hollywood—and introducing her to the wonder of flea markets. “In the ’80s, she wore Yohji Yamamoto and Vivienne Westwood, and then she mixed it with vintage and she’d throw in Alaïa. She taught me that it’s all about the thrill of the hunt,” says Collins. “If you don’t want to look through that pile, probably nobody else has, so the coolest thing is in that pile.” She lists Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Marchesa and Chanel as her favourite labels, but today she’s carrying an Alexander Wang bag and is dressed down in a cream sweater, J Brand jeans and brown ankle boots she snagged from the set of The English Teacher, an upcoming love-triangle drama in which she (a student) and Julianne Moore (a teacher) fight over the same man.
Collins’s ability to sift through flea-market piles unobserved might take a hit once Mirror Mirror comes out—especially since gossip about her “friendship” with Zac Efron has run rampant since the two were photographed attending a birthday party together in February. She seems to have the maturity to deal with the inevitable attention. “I felt like Snow White and I went through similar situations and our lives kind of paralleled during the movie,” she says. “She starts out as this wide-eyed, innocent, unsure girl. And during the movie, I was learning how to fight. I was gaining confidence, finding out something about myself I didn’t know, taking chances. And I left there, kind of like this new young woman.”