There was a time, not long ago, when Lily Collins was known — if she was known at all — as the daughter of a famous rock star, appearing in the pages of fashion magazines and at haute-couture-resplendent debutante balls. Her story could have stayed on such a track, another pretty face with an illustrious pedigree, fame born simply of fame instead of accomplishment.
But that's not how Collins' story will be told. Rather, it'll begin something like this: The daughter of Genesis rocker Phil Collins, she won a small role as Sandra Bullock's daughter in "The Blind Side," a film that could have been reasonably expected to fade into obscurity had filmmakers not nailed a pitch-perfect tone of inspirational Hollywood drama rather than one of heartstring-tugging schmaltz. The Oscar-winning blockbuster lead to Collins' scoring the female lead in "Abduction," in which she plays the love interest of "Twilight" hunk Taylor Lautner.
The thriller hits theaters in September, and its highly anticipated release among the Twi-set would already qualify Collins as an actress to watch in 2011. But she also stars in the supernatural horror flick, "Priest," and just won the coveted role of Clary Fray in the upcoming adaptation of "City of Bones," the first book in Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments" series. With all these projects in the pipeline, Collins was an obvious pick as one of MTV News' 11 for '11.
The 21-year-old, who speaks with a poise and confidence that belie her years, called us up recently to chat about dealing with her newfound fame, working with Lautner and how she landed the "Mortal Instruments" gig.
MTV: 2011 is shaping up to be a big year for you, coming off "The Blind Side," with a bunch of prominent roles this year and some new projects coming down the line. Does 2011 feel like it's going to be a momentous year?
Lily Collins: It really does. Everything for me has happened so quickly. I finished shooting "The Blind Side" not this past June, but the June before, and all of sudden up to now, it seems like it's gone from zero to 60 for me. I feel so fortunate to be able to say that, because a lot of my friends aren't working, especially since fewer films are being made now and there's more competition. Right before Christmas, I found out I was cast as Clary in "Mortal Instruments," so it was the best early Christmas present ever. So to know that I'm starting off 2011 with that project to film, and also having two other ones coming out, it's a position I never thought I'd see myself in. I feel the momentum.
MTV: Has it been a difficult transition, with the increased attention on your private life as well as your professional life?
Collins: I grew up with my dad going through all that. I grew up understanding the pros and cons of what you're getting into and knowing what comes with your job. I like to keep my private life private, and then work is work. I feel so far I've had a really good balance with that. So far I'm having fun, which is why I'm doing this. I enjoy the craft. I hope that never goes away. I don't like reading things that people say on the Internet because I know so much of it is not true. I don't want to waste my time worrying about what other people are thinking. I just want to focus on being able to do cool projects.
MTV: So let's talk about some of these cool projects you have coming up. "Abduction," first off. Have you seen any finished footage?
Collins: I have seen footage. [Director] John Singleton would shoot scenes and was really open to showing us different takes and if we wanted to see different angles. We had instantaneous feedback. And I have seen cuts here and there of stuff. Nothing like a final edit, but I have seen bits and pieces. I'm extremely proud. This was my biggest role to date. Of course I was nervous. Especially because there was so much action and all those stunts and I'm trying not to fall when I'm going through rivers at 4:30 in the morning. There was so much going on, and every single emotion you can think of we had to go through in the span of 30 seconds because so much happens too quickly. From what I've seen, I'm thrilled. When it comes to the work, I'm excited to see what people think. When it comes to the private life, that's when I don't pay attention.
MTV: Was there one action scene with you and Taylor that was particularly challenging?
Collins: At one point we're running around, trying to escape in the forest, and there's a giant hill that we had to run down, and it felt like a 90-degree angle. John wanted me to fall at a planned moment, but it was so steep, and we were running at high speeds, I would just fall anyway. I had to practice falling, but look like I was falling on purpose. Also, there was a fight scene where I just get beaten up. It was in a very confined space and the choreography was very challenging because you can't be knocking into the camera. "Priest" had a lot of action, and I had to do fight training as well.
MTV: Suddenly you've become an action hero ...
Collins: I know! In "Priest," I don't even look like myself because I have bright red hair and I'm in the same outfit the whole movie, because I'm kidnapped, so I'm dirty the whole time. I was in the desert putting dirt in my hair to make sure I look distressed and downtrodden. But it was fun because I'm jumping off trains and setting people on fire and getting into knife fights.
MTV: Let's talk about "Mortal Instruments."
Collins: That is going to be a whole new world for me. When I found out I was cast, I found out that people were tweeting about me getting cast as their heroine. I know that I'm playing a character in a book that is very popular, but I forget that books have so many fans, that if they don't agree with the casting, it could go terribly wrong. I was so grateful that all these people were tweeting like, "Oh, we're so excited. We totally see her as Clary, and we can't wait to see what she'll do." I don't know what I would have done if people responded negatively.
MTV: Tell me about the audition process.
Collins: Actually, this was the first time I actually didn't audition. They offered me the role. I had just done "Priest," which is from Screen Gems and directed by Scott Stewart, and this project is being directed by Scott Stewart at Screen Gems. So the role I did in "Priest," if the movie does well and goes to a sequel, there are many of that character's traits that I can also find in Clary. I guess they felt passionate that they saw certain characteristics as well, and they felt confident and really believed in me. I'm in still in awe. When I got that call, I was like, "Wait, are you talking about an audition?"
MTV: Is that the next thing you're filming?
Collins: Yeah, I'm supposed to start this in early April. There are other things we're in talks for, but that's my next big project.
MTV: Of course, first you guys have to cast Jace Wayland? Do you have anyone in mind for the part?
Collins: Jace is an interesting one. He's incredibly charming. He's savvy in that he knows he's charming and he works that charm, and he knows he's attractive and can work his way into any situation. But at the same time, he does have insecurities. A lot of actors may not want to show a side of themselves being insecure. That's what Jace does, and I feel a lot of people can relate to him. A lot of guys do feel insecure, but don't want to admit it. A lot of the fans has been tweeting that [they want] Alex Pettyfer. I don't know the process.
MTV: Do you think he'd be a good fit?
Collins: Yeah! He's also going to have a great 2011. The fans of a series like this have such a strong opinion on who they feel would be great as a character, and I feel that's very backed up because they know the characters in and out. I trust a lot of the fans in their opinions. I don't know if there are going to be auditions or anything. I've heard Logan Lerman thrown out for Simon. These are from fans, and I'm excited to see their points-of-view. I've also heard about actors I may never have heard of, because they're more on the independent side. That brings a whole other thing, because an unknown doesn't bring in a whole lot of background. You don't want a new character like this to have people think, "Oh, they've done that already," or, "I can only see them as this kind of character." So I hear that and go, "Wow, maybe an unknown could bring more to this role." Hey, I was an unknown not too long ago, and I was like, "Let me do it! I can prove it to you!"
Check out MTV News' 11 for '11 — actors, musicians and TV stars who are about to have a huge year — all week long.