Lily Collins Goes Mean Girl in 'The English Teacher' (Q&A)

6:00 AM PST 05/17/2013 by Sophie Schillaci
Courtesy of Sunshine Sachs
Lily Collins, Michael Angarano in "The English Teacher"

The 24-year-old tackles her first indie role opposite Julianne Moore, Nathan Lane and Greg Kinnear in the film, out May 17.

After a string of big budget studio productions to kick-start her career, including roles in The Blind Side and Mirror Mirror (lest we forget about the ill-fated Abduction), Lily Collins sought a change of pace for her latest project: The English Teacher.

“I'd never done an independent film and I was really curious as to how they were different than studio projects,” Collins tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I read the script and even though it was a smaller character in an ensemble piece, I just thought it's a character that I haven't played before.”

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But the real kicker? “The idea that I got to go head-to-head with someone like Julianne Moore was a no brainer.”

Moore stars as the titular English teacher in the film, whose mundane life is thrown into a tailspin when a former student (turned playwright) returns to town. She vows to take on his failed play as the high school’s newest production, which sets her personal and professional life wildly off course.

Among the biggest thorns in her side is Halle (Collins), the play’s pretty lead actress with a bad attitude to boot.

And while Teacher would be Collins’ first indie, she went on to star in Stuck in Love (also opposite Kinnear) and is currently woo-ing Cannes buyers with Love, Rosie, filming in Dublin with Sam Claflin as the male lead.

The Hollywood Reporter: I watched The English Teacher last night and it's a bit of a reunion for you and [Mirror Mirror co-star] Nathan Lane.

Lilly Collins: I know! And then what's funny is that Greg Kinnear and I just did Stuck in Love together, which comes out in June. So it's like I took one from one movie and moved on, and then took another from another movie and moved on.

THR: So I take it you enjoyed working with both of them?

LC: It was fun. Nathan is just such a hoot. He's so funny. Even when the cameras aren't rolling, he's on. He's so giving and he's just a funny guy, so that was amazing to work with him again. I met Greg on this project, but then it was amazing because he plays Michael [Angarano]'s dad [in Teacher], and then he plays my dad in Stuck in Love. It was really nice ‘cause we already had a relationship when we started filming and when someone's playing your family, you have to feel like you know each other. So that was a really lucky thing that we had beforehand.

THR: Which of your former co-stars would you most like to reunite with in the future?

LC: I want to work with Sandy [Bullock] again. I love Sandra. Every time I see her she never changes. She's like the most humble, funny motherly human being. She's just the greatest, and I would love to do something. I would love to a comedy with her. I think that would be so much fun. I mean, she's like a sister/friend/mom every time I see her and I think it would be so much fun to collaborate.

THR: When is the last time you saw her?

LC: I saw her at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in February. Every time I see her, she introduces me to somebody. She introduced me to someone and she's like, “Have you met my teenage daughter? My valley daughter Lily?” And I'm like just like, “Hi…” you know? She's just fantastic.

THR: Have you talked to her about wanting to get together again?

LC: I've never specifically said it, but I really would.

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THR: Now back to The English Teacher. What attracted you to this project and role?

LC: We'll, I'd never done an independent film and I was really curious as to how they were different than studio projects. I read the script and even though it was a smaller character in an ensemble piece, I just thought it's a character that I haven't played before. She does have that spicy nature to her in that she goes head-to-head with this teacher, and it's like this love triangle and she is that catty teenage girl. The idea that I got to go head-to-head with someone like Julianne Moore was like a no-brainer. She's someone I've admired for so long and to have a cast with like Nathan Lane and Greg Kinnear, Michael Angarano and Julianne Moore -- I thought this would be really cool, eclectic smaller film that would be a great experience. I really liked Craig [Zisk], the director, and the kind of direction they were going in. It had elements of comedy in there, which I have always wanted to experiment with, but then it also had this fun dramatic side.

THR: How did you prepare for that?

LC: We did some rehearsals and I don't know, I kind of went back to high school and thought about the girls that I remember being a little catty. You know, cause I went to a real high school so I remember those. I just tried to channel that. We had conversations with Julianne and Craig and just trying to make sure that we got the tone right. It wasn't necessarily like preparing like I did for Mortal Instruments, or like I am for this other movie I'm doing in England where I have to do dialect stuff. It wasn't preparation in that sense, but it was more just making sure that I didn't play her like a caricature and still giving her an arc.

THR: Was there anyone you channeled when you were developing that?

LC: No, no one specifically… but there were definitely girls who I was channeling in high school.

THR: You've been attached to Mortal Instruments through a lot of ups and downs. Was that ever disheartening to you -- and as an extension of that -- how rewarding was it when you finally got to film it?

LC:  I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I knew that by it going through this process, it was gonna come out at the end of it with the appropriate team, the right people involved. I had been a firm believer in the story. I was a fan before I was cast, so it's something that I've been passionate about before really being involved in. I didn't wanna pass up the opportunity to be able to play this heroine that I've admired and I just knew that I believed in the studio that has it, Constantin. I believe in the producers at Constantin and I know that they have a really good taste level when it comes to the creative side. I knew that they wouldn't put it somewhere where it didn't belong, so I just didn't know with timing. I just prayed that it wouldn't come to the time when they were ready to shoot and I was doing something else ‘cause I thought, “I can't have it get to this point and then not be able to do it.” I was very fortunate of the timing of everything. I couldn't be prouder of the project. I'm so excited for people to see it. I really think Harald [Zwart] did an amazing job of taking what could've been a CGI-heavy, action-packed reliant film and really made it about heart and character and emotion. Special effects are just the icing on top. I think, as well as hopefully pleasing the fans of the series, we're going to invite new people in and make them obsessed with the story as well.

THR: Are you attached to star in the rest of the adaptations beyond City of Bones?

LC: Yes. I mean, it just depends on -- you kind of have to see how the first one goes. As with any potential franchise, you just leave it up to kind of the fans and to see what happens with the first one and you hope. I signed on because I love Clary and I would want to play her for as long as I can. At the end of the day, you have to kind of step back and remove yourself and go, “OK, we'll we just have to see what happens” and you go along with the flow. I think all of us would really love to play characters for as long as the fans will have it.

THR: About a year ago you were attached Rosaline, what happened with that project?

LC: We're not focused on that right now. That's kind of gone away a little bit.

THR: What are you working on right now?

LC: Well I've got Stuck in Love coming out in June, which I'm really excited about. I'm filming a movie called Love, Rosie in May. We're shooting it in Dublin and it's based in England, so I get to play British, which I'm really excited about because that's my home and that's my natural dialect. [Collins' father is legendary Brit rocker Phil Collins.] It's a romantic comedy, but it's definitely a drama as well. It's got a lot of heart, but it's also very funny. Sam Claflin is starring opposite me, and I'm so excited because he's so incredibly talented and hilarious. We've been doing some prep work on that, so I'm very, very excited for that one that's next.

The English Teacher opens May 17.

Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci

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