Lily Collins Describes How ‘The Mortal Instruments’ Differs from ‘Twilight’
Spoiling fans of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has become a pastime for us at Teen.com. (Have you read our interview with Jamie Campbell Bower yet?) So, to continue with our hobby, we’re presenting Shadowhunters with our interview with star Lily Collins straight from the Toronto set. See what she says about latching onto her character, Clary Fray, working with her TMI castmates, and the comparisons to Twilight and The Hunger Games.
Teen: What was your reaction when you were first approached with this role?
Lily: I was actually a fan of the series before I was cast. I’ve always loved fantasy books. Even just growing up, I’ve always kind of loved magic and fantasy. Having read the books and being really familiar with Clary, and just kind of admiring her as a character, when Screen Gems originally approached me for it, I had just done Priest. It was kind of some of the same team that was part of that project. I was thrilled. I was, like, a fan, so a fan being cast as a heroine that they admired. Then it took about almost two years for it to actually happen. I think it went through the process of changing hands and new people involved. I think everything happens for a reason because the team we got together for this is so amazing. Everyone has brought something new to the table. Harald [Zwart] is the ultimate director for this project because it’s so not really his genre, but he’s all about character and emotion. And it’s taking the project that could have been so CGI-based, and all based on the physicality and the way it looks, and he’s made it a story about real people in this fantasy world. It’s a story that can stand on its own, but also as an adaptation of a book. That’s been the nicest surprise as we’ve been filming, to see how it came to be. But yeah, just a fan cast. It’s pretty cool.
Teen: Since you’ve been attached for so long, has the script changed?
Lily: The script has changed multiple times. We get rewrites very frequently. One thing I wasn’t expecting on this project is how collaborative it is with the actors and Harald. If we get sides of a scene and we’re like, “I don’t know if this flows as well as we’d like it to in this emotional scene,” or “It’s a little sticky here,” he’s like, “Well, what do you want to say?” And it’s like, “Well, maybe something along these lines.” He’s like, “Great, let’s try it.” So we’re kind of able to reword our own scenes as we go to see how things flow in the moment, especially with new actors coming in like [Jonathan Rhys Meyers]. Lena [Headey] is coming in soon and Jared Harris. We’ve all been really collaborative in that sense. And then also having Cassandra [Clare, the author] here to help clean up things that need to be fine-tailored and stuff.
But I think Clary has become way more proactive since the beginning, since the first script. She really fuels a lot of the scenes. It’s less about being thrown all this information and floundering. She gets thrown a lot of information now and she’s actively pursuing an outcome. I really liked that about her in the books. I felt like she’s gotten stronger and stronger in the rewrites.
Teen: Having the author on set, has that been helpful for you at all?
Lily: Yeah, no it was funny. I was cast, I think December 2010, and I never had talked to Cassie. We hadn’t had any contact. Then, I just met her the Friday or Saturday before we started filming. So it was like this big lead up and it was, like, the creator was there a couple of days before filming, so of course I had questions. I almost didn’t want to pry too much into certain questions I had about certain scenes, because I wanted to see how organically it would flow. But I didn’t realize how much she’d be on set, so it’s been really great to have her here, see her reaction to stuff and to have her input on the way we are changing up certain scenes for film. Just really hearing her laugh and her enthusiasm on set is really awesome. She’s the creator of this fantasy and it’s an honor to have her here and have her blessing on things. When you’re a fan of something, the person that created it is the be-all and end-all, so it’s great to have her be here and work with Harald and all the producers.
Teen: Jamie commented on fan casting negativity. What do you have to say about it?
Lily: If you’re a fan of something, you’re going to have input on what you think certain people are good for certain members of the cast or not. I think what I’m really excited about for all the people out there that didn’t want certain cast members to be Jace or Jemima [West]’s part and Kevin [Zegers]’ part, I think they are going to be really surprised and really happy. I think it was perfectly cast. Everybody has brought these elements that are unexpected. As a fan of the series, they encapsulate every emotion I would want those characters to have.
Teen: Obviously, there’s a lot of other young adult-based stories with female heroes. (i.e. The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc.) How is your character different?
Lily: Because literally, every five minutes, she gets told something that she thought was true, was a lie. She’s thrown a new twist literally every five minutes and it’s this constant battle against herself of, “How do I overcome this?” The end result is to find her mom and her bond with her mom is what takes her through the entire story. No matter what gets thrown her way, nothing is stopping her. Because everything she is being told is based on her past and her family, I think it’s a really personal story for her to get to the end. She meets all these people along the way that end up helping her, but it’s really a story about self-discovery. And because it’s based on a series of books, really focusing on the first one, this is when she finds out that she’s not who she always thought she was. She’s dealing with creatures that she’s never even believed in or thought existed. She’s got this new superhero power with the runes and being able to see people that no one else can. She’s a teenager growing up trying to discover herself. That’s enough of a worry. Now she has to find out she’s a Shadowhunter. So I think what makes her different is just this sense she’s constantly finding out new information about herself that she thought was a lie. And it’s how she gets through those to find her mom in the end that makes this a self-discovery story. And she doesn’t rely on any guys, but the guys end up helping her discover herself more.
Teen: Physically, how has the experience been for you?
Lily: I’ve had many experiences on this set of intense emotional, physical… I’m doing stunts in these [boots] the whole time, and sometimes in a mini dress, so it’s been maneuvering myself around the sets. I’ve gotten so many bruises at 4 in the morning, all hours of the night, so it’s been an intense ride, but it’s been really fun.
Teen: You just did a scene with your on-screen dad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers…
Lily: He’s so intense. Yeah, Jonathan, oh my gosh.
Teen: Going from such intensity to laughing in between takes, what’s it like popping in and out of that?
Lily: It’s crazy. When you’re doing scenes like this, this is my second scene I’ve done with Jonathan, and the one I did a couple of days ago last week, is when I first met him. It’s this extremely fearful situation. I’m totally vulnerable whereas today, it’s more of — I’ve come back to fight him. But both times, it involves crying and smacking around. It’s the most heightened situation in the movie. Then yeah, you yell “Cut,” and it’s like “Are you okay?” Just playing around and fake fighting and stuff… It’s nice to be able to have that because it’s rare that on a set where you have emotional scenes like this, that the other person will want to interact normally with you afterwards. Hey, sometimes you need your space and you go off and do whatever you need to do to get into the scene. But with this movie, all the cast have an amazing rapport. No matter if we’re laughing in a scene and then we continue laughing after, or it’s a crazy stunt-action done at four in the morning, where they are pulling me up a fire escape and I’m bruised and bloody and then afterwards, we’re like “Ha ha! That was fun!” It actually makes it really cool because we’re all going through this together. Even someone like Jonathan, who is so incredible and so intense and so seasoned, he still likes to have fun as well. And that makes it a really group experience and very family-like. He is playing my dad, so it’s kind of funny at the same time to be like… he’s beating me up, but then he’s like “Oh, hey daughter…” It makes it fun.