In Emily in Paris, Lily Collins plays an ambitious young marketing executive from Chicago who is transferred to Paris to run the social media division of a newly acquired French luxury goods firm. This is the setting for Emily’s exciting and adventurous new life in the City of Lights which finds her adjusting to a new workplace as well as romantic entanglements.
Created, written, and produced by Darren Star of Sex and the City fame, this 10-episode series will undoubtedly be one of the most talked-about new streaming shows of the autumn season. Interestingly, the 31-year-old Collins identified with Emily and how moving to Paris was an important step in her personal growth.
“Everything that Emily goes through is a lost in translation experience and her process of finding herself, I feel I’ve done as Lily,” Collins says. “The concept of this young girl moving here is an unplanned experience for her, but it turns into this whole life experience where she grows physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Shot entirely on location in Paris, Emily in Paris also co-stars Ashley Park, Philippine Leroy Beaulieu, Lucas Bravo, Samuel Arnold, Camille Razat and Bruno Gouery. Patricia Field served as the costume design for the series which sees Collins in one sensational outfit after another.
The series marks an important step for the British-American Collins who may well have found the kind of project in Emily in Paris that establishes her as one of Hollywood’s top young actresses. The daughter of pop music icon Phil Collins, Lily was born in London but grew up in California where she was raised by her mother Jill Tavelman following her separation from Collins in 1994 (they divorced in 1996).
Lily initially studied at the Youth Academy for Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles but then became interested in pursuing a career in journalism before she shifted her focus back to acting. Some of her most important roles have come in Mirror Mirror (2012), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones , Rules Don’t Apply , which earned her a Golden Globe nomination, the TV series The Last Tycoon, and the recent miniseries adaptation of Les Misérables.
Her recent films include Tolkein, co-starring Nicolas Hoult, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (with Zac Efron), and To the Bone, in which she played a young woman struggling with anorexia, a subject that resonated with Collins who has been very open about her own struggles with eating disorders. Earlier this year, she appeared in the indie thriller Inheritance opposite Simon Pegg. In December, she plays a supporting part in the David Fincher biopic, Mank.
Collins lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend of the past two years, director Charlie McDowell. In person, Lily exudes a natural charm, intelligence, and effervescent spirit. In 2017, she published a book, Unfiltered, which dealt with her relationship with her father and her battles with eating disorders.
How excited are you about your new series, Emily in Paris?
LILY COLLINS: It was so much fun to do and we were lucky that we were finishing work on the series right before quarantine started in France and elsewhere. I was very fortunate to work with Darren Star and I’m also an executive producer which was a whole new challenge for me.
I feel so lucky with the team on this show because all the producers are so wonderful and have made me feel so invited to collaborate with them.
Did you enjoy getting to play Emily and living out some of her experiences as an American in Paris?
LC: I love Emily so much. Every day, I just wanted to make sure that I’m doing justice to the character and obviously to Darren Star. They’re big shoes to fill, if you think about his female characters that have become iconic throughout time, and the anticipation of this show. I feel immensely proud and very happy.
Just as was the case in Darren Star’s Sex and the City, fashion plays an important part in this series, too. What was it like for you getting to work with an elite costumer designer like Patricia Field?
LC: As a young girl growing up and watching all of Darren’s shows, Patricia is like a god to me. In my first fitting with her, I was so nervous walking into it because when you meet someone that you’ve admired for so long, you really hope that you will get along, that you collaborate and that she’s everything you hoped her to be. She’s so much more. She’s like a fairy godmother of fashion to me.
How important is fashion as it relates to Emily’s character and how she makes her mark as an American in Paris?
LC: Emily is a ray of sunshine. Yet she’s so different from the people she works with. That’s what’s so great about what she wears because that’s a physical representation of her personality. She experiences things through her clothes and the colour she provides in people’s lives. And her vivacious nature shows up in the colours of her clothes…Every day has been like Fashion Week for me…
You get to speak French in the series, too. Were you already fluent in the language before you started work on the show?
LC: I used to speak French in school, and I started dreaming in it when I was younger. My little brothers were Swiss, so I was speaking French a lot…So it made it much easier for me when I arrived in Paris.
Did you get to explore Paris while shooting the series?
LC: One of my favourite moments was when we were shooting inside the Musée des Arts Forains. I’d never been there before so when I walked in, I gasped. It’s so magical and it’s perfect for the scene.
It’s just another element of Lily and Emily mixing together because I’ve been just as in awe with all the locations and sets and this museum as Emily would be.
What makes this series distinct from other films that have tried to capture the ‘American in Paris’ kind of theme?
LC: I feel like the show does a good job of presenting what we expect to see in a culture clash. Our show is so different because I feel like we get into the nitty-gritty details of things that many Parisians would know are differences between the two countries. I know that Darren and the writers spent so much time researching and speaking to Parisians and asking what things they find are more clash-y than others.
You’re in a relationship with Charlie McDowell. How do you make your relationship work?
LC: I’m very happy right now. When something is incredibly special in your life, you make it work, no matter what. And if that involves travelling to be together, it doesn’t matter where in the world – there are ways to always feel connected to certain people. And travelling is a huge thing in my life.
As the daughter of a famous pop icon, how hard has it been for you to live in the spotlight for much of your life? Do you think fame has changed you in any significant way?
LC: I’m lucky in that I’ve stayed closed to my friends from school whom I’ve known before I became known for my acting work. Having close friends like that who don’t care about your being a celebrity helps you stay grounded and feel like you’re able to lead a normal life. I don’t think I’m any different in a fundamental sense from the person I was when I was younger, and I wasn’t that well known.
When did you know that you wanted to be an actress?
LC: I always loved watching movies, but it was only when I turned 16 that I decided that acting would be my profession. I was sitting down with my mother one evening and suddenly I felt it was the right time to tell her what I wanted to do. She was very open and receptive and soon I began talking to agents and people in the business to get my career going.
You’re also going to be seen in David Fincher’s upcoming big biopic, Mank. What was that experience like?
LC: Being able to shoot with the ultimate genius of David Fincher was a complete dream come true and working with Gary Oldman (as Mankiewicz) was something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do.
I love [golden age] Hollywood films. Being Born in England but growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve just been immersed in that ever since I was young. So to see Hollywood through David Fincher’s eyes, it’s visually incredibly stunning and a story that will enlighten a lot of people as to Hollywood for that time.
Fincher is known for shooting as many as 50 takes of a particular scene. What was it like adapting to his style of directing?
LC: David is a perfectionist and he encourages you to follow him on that path to doing the best possible version of every scene. The great thing about a genius like him is that he knows exactly what he wants and it’s a wonderful challenge to be able to achieve that kind of precision and perfection he’s looking for.
He is always looking for different ways of playing a scene and you have to be ready and alert for how he might decide to approach things differently. That’s very exciting to me because you learn to trust in his vision and then apply yourself to the task of bringing that to your work.
There’s also this inner tension and kind of anxiety that you learn to master when you’re forced to adapt on the spot to changes that a director like David might want to make at the last moment. It’s a great form of acting discipline that you develop, and David will push you to the next level. And when you feel you’ve gotten to that point; it’s exhilarating to know that you’re capable of more than what you thought you were able to do.
Do you have a specific thing you look for in the films you would like to do?
LC: I’m someone who loves to keep myself on my toes and never be put into a box. I don’t go seeking specific material, I really want the material to speak to me. The main thing that draws me to a project is how I respond to my character. I like to play women who have something unique and interesting about them and who have a level of vulnerability that I can show. I want to play characters whom I admire or whose journey I can imagine myself taking. That’s what makes it exciting for me.
You have a lot of young women fans. Do you feel the responsibility that comes with being a role model?
LC: I do feel a responsibility to speak openly and honestly about many issues and especially subjects that are important to women. I don’t consciously try to set myself up as a role model, but I do want to be able to tell stories that are meaningful and empowering to young women.
I love acting and I want to be able to use this platform to speak out and continue conversations on a lot of subjects that we need to address in society. I feel very privileged to be in that position and I take that seriously.
Is there any one message that you are trying to send out to young women?
LC: It’s important that we try to be true to who we are, and we need to aspire to be our best versions of ourselves. There will always be people who tell us “no” or don’t have our best interests at heart, but you have to get past the negativity and the haters you are going to have to deal with in life.
You need to believe in yourself and be very determined in pursuing your ambitions and not allowing yourself to become discouraged in the process. It’s not always going to be easy, so you need to stay focused and follow your dreams.