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“I never knew and I never wanted to ask,” says Lily Collins, one of the most talented young actresses in Hollywood, when asked when she learned that she had been cast as the female lead in Rules Don’t Apply, the first film directed by Warren Beatty since 1998. As we sit down at The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of the Awards Chatter podcast, Collins explains that Beatty had spent decades contemplating a movie about Howard Hughes and ultimately decided to focus it on two young employees of the eccentric billionaire’s — one a contract actress (Collins) and the other a driver (Alden Ehrenreich), both religious — who, against Hughes’ strict rules, become romantically involved with each other. Beatty, who’s eccentric in his own way, met repeatedly with dozens of young actors and actresses about those parts, and never quite came out and told Collins that she had won hers. “It’s the kind of movie where it was never gonna be real until we’re shooting,” the 27-year-old says with a laugh, “and even when we were shooting we were like, ‘Is this really happening?’ ”
It all was worth the wait, though: the performance that she ultimately gave — some two-and-a-half years ago, before perfectionist Beatty embarked on an extensive postproduction period — now has landed her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy.
(Click above to listen to this episode or here to access all of our 100+ episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro, Amy Schumer, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Louis C.K., Kristen Stewart, Harvey Weinstein, Sally Field, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Fonda, Tyler Perry, Kate Winslet, Michael Moore, Helen Mirren, J.J. Abrams, Taraji P. Henson, Warren Beatty, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Eisner, Brie Larson, Sting, Natalie Portman, RuPaul, Sheila Nevins and Justin Timberlake.)
Collins, whose father is the singer-songwriter Phil Collins, was born in England, where she lived for the first five years of her life (making her acting debut on the BBC version of Growing Pains at the age of two). Her parents then divorced and she moved with her mother to the U.S., where she has been based ever since (and where she initially was teased for her most distinguishing physical characteristic, her thick eyebrows). At six, she began taking acting classes at L.A.’s Youth Academy of Dramatic Arts, and by the time she was in high school she was appearing in plays and auditioning for professional gigs. (She confesses that her audition for the part of Bella Swan in 2008’s Twilight — “one of my first,” she recalls — “went horribly wrong.”)
References to nepotism were not uncommon when Collins was growing up and figuring out her own path in life, although she insists she never tried to capitalize on her dad’s famous name. As she reached college age, she enrolled at USC, with a focus on broadcast journalism. Journalism had interested her for years, and she already had written columns for youth magazines before she became a Trojan, whereupon she landed on-air gigs covering the 2008 presidential race. She dropped out of USC altogether, though, when she landed her first film role: as Sandra Bullock‘s daughter in 2009’s The Blind Side, which wound up with a best picture Oscar nom and brought Bullock a best actress Oscar. And she subsequently starred in two 2011 films, playing a girl kidnapped by vampires in the horror flick Priest and Taylor Lautner’s girlfriend in the thriller Abduction, before getting her star-making role as Snow White in 2012’s Mirror Mirror, which also starred Oscar winner Julia Roberts.
After that well-received project, Collins anchored a number of films of varying quality — the 2012 comedy Stuck in Love; the $60 million 2013 young-adult literary adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which was envisioned as the first film in a franchise similar to that of The Hunger Games and Divergent; and the 2014 rom-com Love, Rosie, to name just three. It was only because The Mortal Instruments flopped at the box office, and therefore did not require sequels, that she was able to play the waiting game for her most intriguing prospect yet: the chance to work with Beatty, whose previous leading ladies include Faye Dunaway, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Halle Berry and, of course, Annette Bening (Beatty’s wife, who plays Collins’ mother in Rules Don’t Apply).
Rules Don’t Apply is a romantic dramedy that deals with the subject of America’s sexual puritanism — just like Beatty’s first film Splendor in the Grass (1961). In it, Collins plays a Southern Baptist who comes out to Hollywood in 1958 and is kept waiting for a while before receiving an assignment — just like Beatty did in his day. Unlike Beatty, however, her character is a proud virgin whose career never quite takes off. The reasons for this are at the center of the film’s twists and turns, and therefore won’t be discussed here. But suffice it to say that Collins impresses in scenes of varying demands, from comedy to tragedy to singing. (“The Rules Don’t Apply,” which she performs live in the film, scored a best original song Critics’ Choice Award nom.) Not everyone is enamored with the film, but few have not been charmed by Collins’ performance.
In addition to her trip to the Golden Globes, Collins has a number of exciting things coming up in 2017: she’s headed to Sundance in January with Marti Noxon‘s To the Bone, in which she plays a young woman battling anorexia; she’ll later appear in Joon-Ho Bong‘s Netflix thriller Okja and in Anthony Lucero‘s Halo of Stars, about a traveling circus; and she’s set to play a starring role in the new Amazon drama series The Last Tycoon, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s classic novel about Hollywood. In March, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, her memoir, of sorts, will hit bookstores and the web. Many are surprised that someone as young as 27 already has penned a memoir, but based on her many accomplishments at a young age, it’s quite clear that for Collins, well, the rules don’t apply.
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