Fate led Lily Collins to ‘Les Miserables,’ she says

Lily Collins plays a young woman who is abandoned by her lover and must make her way with her daughter in the "Masterpiece" production of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," premiering Sunday stateside.


By LUAINE LEE | Tribune News Service | Published: April 10, 2019

PASADENA, Calif. — Actress Lily Collins believes in fate. Although she doesn’t exactly put it that way, she says when she was just starting out at 16, she made a vow. “I decided to make the conscious decision that when I’m told ‘no,’ it’s ‘No, not right now,’ ” she says.

“I just made a commitment to myself that I loved acting so much that I just wouldn’t fall victim to the deterrent. It was definitely intimidating. And I went for so many things I got told ‘no’ on. But I also believe that things happen for a reason.”

She often found destiny had a better plan than she did. “And the projects that I thought I really wanted or needed either ended up being ones I was glad I wasn’t a part of, or they would’ve taken me on a totally different trajectory. And I wouldn’t have been able to do projects that actually had a lifelong effect on me.”

One of those lifelong projects is her role as the tragic young seamstress Fantine in PBS’ “Les Miserables,” premiering Sunday stateside and airing on “Masterpiece.” The six-part non-musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel marks a complex task for Collins, who was born in England but grew up in California.

“I tend to pick characters that require a lot and don’t have the easiest time and go through some sort of transformation,” she says. “My friends always say, ‘Great, when’s the comedy coming?’

“Part of the process of picking what I want to do comes with the question: Is this character going to challenge me and am I afraid of it? Sometimes those are the ones I want to turn away from because it would be much easier if I wasn’t as terrified to go into a project,” she says.

“But I know that when I give my all — and hopefully at the end of the day once it’s done to the best of my ability — those are the ones that are the most meaningful,” says Collins.

At 20 she was already wise beyond her years. She left her studies at USC to become a full-time actress. That was especially brave of Collins, because as the daughter of British musician Phil Collins and an American mother, she knew up close and personal the downside of show business.

“I think it just gave me great insight into what to prepare for. I think my love of storytelling and being different characters, all that transcended what could be in terms of the negative,” she nods.

“I know that the entertainment industry can be put into one category. I thought, ‘If I do this myself, I’m going to be able to create my new journey and I will hopefully be prepared for whatever’s being thrown at me.’ I’m aware of the pros and cons but I also realize I’m experiencing all this for the first time because it’s my journey. But I do feel like I had a bit of a stronger backbone going into it because I knew more of what to expect.”

What she didn’t expect was it took her four years to capture her first substantial role. Then she landed parts in “Mirror Mirror, “Blind Side” and “Abduction.” But when she accepted the role of the young anorexic in Netflix’s “To the Bone,” fate stepped in again.

Collins, 30, had suffered an eating disorder herself and was writing a book about that experience. “It was an honor for me to play a young woman who was going through that in the film at the same time I was writing about it in my book,” she says.

“Because both experiences helped aid the other ... I felt that was the universe putting these two things on my plate at the same time and going: ‘This is important.’ ”

When she attended the Sundance Film Festival to promote the film, she’d never spoken publicly about her disorder. “So in the first interview at Sundance, I had my mom there and nobody knew I was going to talk about it,” she recalls.

“But I just said it, and it was the most freeing moment for me because it was talking about it in a way that there was no shame, no nothing, just: ‘This is my story. This is why it’s important to me. And I’m not the only one.’ It was a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.”

She won’t say what kind of eating disorder plagued her, “just kind of everything,” she shrugs.

One of her goals now is to have a family. “... have kids of my own and to continue what I love to do,” she says. And finding the right partner? To that, she demurs, “I’m enjoying right now my work. It’s been so crazy, so busy that I’m just figuring that kind of stuff out.”

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