When someone as legendary as Warren Beatty handpicks a woman to be the leading lady in a film he’s directing, expect her career to soar. After all, this is the man who cast former flame Madonna and current wife Annette Bening in two of the biggest dramas of the ’90s: Dick Tracy and Bugsy. He also starred alongside some extremely talented women throughout the ’60s (Natalie Wood in Splendor In The Grass), ’70s (Goldie Hawn in Shampoo), ’80s (Diane Keaton in Reds), and late ’90s (Halle Berry in Bullworth) and is known for dating the likes of Cher, Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon.
This is all to say that the man is obsessively drawn to talent on and off the screen, and choosing Lily Collins to be the lead in his latest film, Rules Don’t Apply—where he plays Howard Hughes and she plays acting ingénue Marla Mabrey—seems to be consistent with his taste. The 27-year-old has been acting since she was 2, had a big break in the blockbuster film, Mirror, Mirror and has since been cast in a dozen big projects, including Okja, an upcoming Netflix series she stars in alongside Tilda Swinton.
While in Toronto to do the publicity rounds for Rules Don’t Apply (which opens November 23), Collins spent the morning with FASHION, taking in Toronto’s sites, including the city’s Distillery District. While touring the area, she humoured us by answering a few fast ones.
When you first met Warren Beatty did you immediately feel like a quick connection?
To tell you the truth, during the first bunch of conversations we had, I didn’t know if he was sold on me at all. I was just having these amazing lunches with Warren. I didn’t know until a couple months after these chats that I even had the part. I didn’t know the story of the script until meeting four or five! The first meeting was at my house.
In terms of your connection to the character—who is a Hollywood ingénue—how would you say you’re most like Marla?
I think I’m most like her in that she’s so driven, passionate, and determined. At the beginning of the story, it’s Marla’s drive and passion that propels her forward through all these trials and tribulations. I’m someone who’s extremely passionate and dedicated to what I believe in and what I want to do. When I was starting out in the industry, I got told “no” so many times. It didn’t deter me from continuing. I really pushed through. I think Marla’s tenacity is very much like mine.
How would you say you are least like her?
She left Hollywood. It was too much for her to handle in the situation that she was in. I admire what she did because she needed to mature. She wanted to be a mother and knew Hollywood wasn’t the place for her. I think I have a support system around me and people that I trust within the industry. If there are any things that come up that are problems that are hard to deal with, I have a supportive backbone to help me get through them. She didn’t have that.
You talked about the no’s that you received when you first started. What was the hardest no you had to deal with in terms of not getting cast in something?
You mean when I wasn’t going to be Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl? That was my dream! I wanted to be on Gossip Girl so badly. I tested for it and they said no. At that time, I really thought it was the end of the world! I was 17! I didn’t get it, I was upset for a couple days, and then I got over it. I watched the show and loved it and did other stuff. I got to finish high school and go off and live my life the way that I have.
What were the benefits of not being cast in the series at such a young age?
I would have had to leave high school early. I’d have to leave my friends and not be able to graduate with them. I’d have to move to New York and be a part of a TV show that became such a cult classic. It’s a great thing, but in another regard, you become so pigeonholed. You become so well known as a character that it becomes hard to go off and do your own thing afterwards. Being typecast is something I’ve so strongly tried not to have happen. As much as a blessing as it would have been, it was also a blessing to have not been a part of it.
What would you say has been the toughest scene of your entire career?
The 13-page drunk sequence in this Rules Don’t Apply. It was so long and so all over the place. On top of acting drunk and singing at the piano, I was with Warren Beatty and there’s this very touchy subject matter that can go either way. It was very carefully orchestrated and long and intimate. That was very difficult for me in terms of getting the tone right.
A lot of people could easily have been perceived that scene as inappropriate since you are 27 and Warren Beatty is 79.
I think Warren didn’t want it to come across where it could have gone. It’s romantic but at the heart of it, it’s humorous. I think that grounds it a little bit. It makes people accept it more. That’s how he’s brilliant. The tone he captures is very specific.
Do you think the script has a savvy way of dealing with Marla and Hugh Hefner’s relationship?
In this situation, Marla is extremely drunk. She’s never had a drink in her life and then she drinks all this champagne. She’s completely out of her mind. She’s also driven by the mystery of Hollywood and the allure and sexiness of the industry as well as the mystery of Howard Hughes. There’s so much in her mind that’s drawn her to him at that point in time. I think her intimacy with him was made on such a rash decision. It wasn’t so much a long, sought-out relationship.
Is romantic love possible between someone in their 20s and 70s?
When it comes to love, I’m a non-judgemental person. I think it’s really important to realize that it comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Until you’ve been in a situation, you probably can’t judge it. Anything from the outside looking in can seem weird and strange and bizarre. Until you’re in it or are one of the people involved you don’t really know what it’s like. I find it hard to be judgemental. It’s important to try all types of relationships. You never know what you like until you know what you don’t like. I never say never. I keep the door open.
In terms of your approach to acting, are you pulling from a bag of trick from theatre school or using an acting coach?
No schooling. It’s people watching. I love people watching and soaking in human nature. With this one in particular, Warren was so specific about the time period and how he wanted it to feel like an old movie. The actresses of that time had a very specific way about them.
You touched on the costumes yesterday. We’ve got to get into that. Tell me about the fittings and what pieces most helped to fuel your character?
The white outfit, 100%. In the first fitting I had with Albert Wolsky, we had a real vintage piece. It was just from a warehouse. It was this white outfit. I put it on and right away I went, “That’s Marla.” We decided to use it in all the pivotal moments with her. That was her one outfit from Virginia that she had as her power suit. We replicated it a couple of times. From then on, it was defined by that silhouette. I graduated into pants at the end. It was more mature but also very downplayed.
Do you see costume as a tool for your performance?
They’re totally tools. A lot of the undergarments in this film were from the 1950’s. They’re not comfortable. You put them on and you feel constricted, more womanly, and of the period. Clothing totally defines how I feel in my everyday life now. Of course, it would do the same thing for a character. With every character I play, when you put the wardrobe on, all of a sudden you’re in someone else’s clothing. You really do become somebody else. That with hair and makeup completely transforms you.
When it comes to the red carpet are you more classic or experimental?
I like to think I do both. I like to have an old school, classic vibe but with a twist. The people I work with and my hair and makeup team try to push the envelope. It’s never so I don’t feel comfortable, but I’m constantly testing myself and pushing boundaries. I love fashion. I grew up wanting to be a designer. I admire it so much. Any chance I get to experiment, why not?
When you were growing up, who was the person who was the be-all and end-all for you?
I had so many phases growing up. I remember loving Natalie Portman’s style and Keira Knightley. Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton just kill it. They push boundaries. They’re rocking Givenchy and these crazy cool designers. They’re so different. I so respect and admire how they’ve changed throughout the years. They slay the carpet, sometimes more so than people my age. I think they rock it.
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