Lily Collins On Why Young Actresses Have To Be "Tenacious" When Starting Out

Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock
In an age of superhero flicks and reboots, an Old Hollywood story is rare. Rules Don't Apply bucks convention in more ways than one. The new film was written, directed, and produced by silver screen star Warren Beatty, who also portrays the controversial Hollywood icon Howard Hughes. Though the film is drenched in nostalgia, it is also a reminder of the way new Hollywood is succeeding. Enter star Lily Collins, an actress whose performance proves there's a new wave of talent in the industry.

Collins is not exactly a Hollywood newcomer. She's starred in noted films like 2012's Snow White adaptation Mirror, Mirror opposite Julia Roberts, and portrayed YA heroine Clary in the 2013 big screen adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones. The fact that The Mortal Instruments failed to launch a film franchise (it is now a Freeform TV series titled Shadowhunters, and Clary has been recast) may have slowed down another actress. Instead, it set Collins on another path — one that included indie rom-com Love, Rosie and now, a sweeping Hollywood love story.

As Marla Mabrey, a would-be actress living under a Hughes' contract while waiting for a screen test that would never come, Collins exemplifies steely determination wrapped in Virginia sweetness. Collins' character is, in many ways, a surprising feminist: she may shun alcohol and premarital sex, but by the end of the film, she has broken more "rules" than one could have ever expected.

Collins sat down with Refinery29 to discuss her new movie and how her own Hollywood experience connects to Marla's:

As an actress, how has your experience in Hollywood compared to Marla's?
"I am very close to my mom, [as Marla is.] I could totally relate to wanting your mom's opinion and support but at the same time looking to separate and become independent from having her dictate how to live your life. I am very tenacious and passionate like Marla. She doesn't take 'No' as a deterrent, she keeps being persistent. I was like that when I first started out in the industry."

I see Marla as a role model. Do you?
"Warren really loved the idea of Marla representing this early feminist movement, leading into the '60s, and standing up for what she believed in, being a young woman who went against the grain... That's always someone, for myself, that I would want to look up to."

"People I admire most in history or even now, they break rules."

Lily Collins

How much research went into this role for you?
"Marla is an amalgamation of a bunch of women who came to Hollywood under Howard Hughes, who did exist, but we don't know their names because they never quite made it. There are chapters in Hughes' books about the women who came with their mothers [like Marla did] or by themselves. They would sometimes be left alone for days, weeks, months, years, and, very much like Marla, become frustrated. Those stories formed Marla's character. And, of course, I watched a lot of old movies, but I was raised on old movies. [I also] asked Warren a bunch of questions, and he was willing to impart stories to us, thank God, because he has a mind full of information."

Any aspirations to portray a particular classic actress onscreen?
"For sure, of course. I adore [Audrey Hepburn] as well as Elizabeth Taylor. It's really hard to play someone you admire that much, which is why I admire Warren for playing Hughes... It's hard! [Hepburn] has been done before in films, and it's hard because no one can ever replace her. There is not a new Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn was Audrey Hepburn. It would be something I would love to explore, but it would have to be done in the right way. I'm excited to see Natalie Portman as Jackie O [in Jackie] because she's so talented."

Do you have any dream co-stars?
"I have so many. I've been blessed to work with some incredible women already and learn from them, and I would love to work with some of them again because I feel like I've grown a lot. To take on a different type of role would be really fun. I also think it would be incredibly fun to do a movie with Melissa McCarthy. She's so funny and I would love to do a comedy. I loved seeing her and Sandra [Bullock] together. It would be such a blast to do a movie with women like that who are so strong and have such a voice and can take themselves not too seriously sometimes."

What is the one message audiences should take away from Rules Don't Apply?
"I think, no matter what industry you are in, you're going to be thrown curveballs. As long as you maintain your uniqueness and stay true to who you really are, and you make decisions based on what you really believe and what you're passionate about, then whatever happens is happening for a reason. If you stay true to who you are, and you don't try to fit into society's norms, you can be breaking rules without even knowing it.

"People I admire most in history or even now, they break rules. We wouldn't have the inventions or literature or some of the movies we have if people didn't stay true to who they were. It's really important if you're going to maintain a sense of sanity in this world."
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