Lily Collins is having a pinch-me moment on the Parisian set of new Netflix rom-com, Emily in Paris – exhilarated by her first TV lead.
The series, created by Sex and the City’s Darren Star, has a lot of the fashionable flair of his mega hit, given its costume designer is Patricia Field – known the world over for making Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw a style icon.
“Oh my gosh,” the 31-year-old tells The BINGE Guide, breathlessly, “when I knew that Darren was doing this show, I read the pilot, and went, ‘Oh my God! I love it,’” she laughs. “I grew up watching all of his shows – Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and of course, Sex and the City.”
The excitable star continues: “to work with Patricia Field … she is like a god to me. Even to be in the same room with her, let alone having her place things on my body, it’s incredible.”
While Collins is perfectly cast to play the bubbly Emily Cooper, one of the biggest characters in the show remains the City of Light itself.
“I’ve been to Paris many times but never lived here,” Collins says.
“Everyone said before I came, ‘Paris will change you.’ And it really has. I got so used to the way of life here now that’s it’s going to be weird when I get back to Los Angeles.”
Channelling her fish-out-of-water experience into the role, the young star embraced the opportunity like no other in her career.
“To have apartment keys feels pretty cool and I’m actually experiencing all these Emily-isms, along with her,” Collins explains.
“Basically, everything that Emily goes through, that lost in translation experience and finding herself, I feel I’ve also done as Lily. I’m enjoying walking around a city that used to feel so big but is feeling now very neighbourhood-y to me,” she smiles.
“I can relate to the concept of this young girl moving here that turns into this whole life experience where she grows physically, emotionally and spiritually as a person.”
Two makeup artists scurry over to ready her for the next scene in which our heroine, who has recently moved from Chicago, does her best to avoid looking awkward at a high-end launch party held by the marketing firm she works for.
On the surface, Emily’s lack of sophistication couldn’t be more at odds with the poised and elegant Collins standing next to me, dressed in an all-black Chanel ensemble.
Yet she insists she can empathise with her alter-ego.
“Well, I know what it’s like to be an outsider. When I first moved to Los Angeles from England, I was about five years old and I spoke with an accent and I used different words. I just wanted to fit in and so I felt very much like a fish out of water.”
That nervy five-year-old remains inside her, despite the awards and accolades she’s amassed since her first gig playing Sandra Bullock’s daughter in 2009 film, The Blind Side.
“Every time you walk onto a new movie or TV set, you’re nervous. But it’s in those moments where you can learn so much about yourself and how you deal with that [outsider] feeling.”
“I think if we can all admit to feeling weird or out of place, we can unite in a sense. I try to thrive off those weird feelings because that’s when you can have the coolest experiences.”
Of course, as the daughter of music superstar Phil Collins, cool experiences come easy.
“I went to one of his shows recently,” she beams. “And I have to say, I forgot that I was his daughter. I was just watching as a fan and I ran down to the front when he was singing his last song. He waved and sang it straight to me … it was the coolest moment, I think I’ve ever had at a concert of his. I hadn’t watched him as an adult in some years and to have him see me there and to share that moment in front of all those people … it felt like I was the only one there. It was lovely.”
There relationship hasn’t always been so lovely, with Collins writing an open letter to her father explaining the pain of her parents’ divorce and the impact his long absences had on her, in her 2017 book, ‘Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me.’
Collins admits she withdrew after their split and developed an eating disorder.
“People think that anorexia is just a question of vanity, which is not the case. It’s never about not being thin enough, that’s not what it’s about. It’s a real, mental illness that deals with so much more than just physicality,” she explains.
“I was very insecure about everything … my eyebrows, my accent, my ivory skin. I didn’t have a tan and I didn’t fit into the LA mould,” she shrugs.
But it was not fitting into that mould that served her well, particularly given that those famed eyebrows of hers, really helped get her noticed.
At 17 for example, she was chosen by Chanel to wear one of its gowns at the 2007 Bal des Debutantes in Paris.
Two years later, Spain’s Glamour magazine hailed her as ‘international model of the year,’ and put her on its August 2009 cover.
She also remains the face of beauty brand Lancome, a position she has held since 2013.
Precociously talented during her teen years, the broadcast journalism graduate wrote a column for British Elle magazine; contributing to Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and the Los Angeles Times.
“I’m still a journalist at heart,” she says. “and I come from that perspective.”
Her performances in the TV series Les Miserables and Rules Don’t Apply saw the young star earn critical acclaim, especially in darker material – making Emily in Paris a marked departure and welcome antidote.
Following up our chat in Paris, we reconnect over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles, nearly one year later.
“It’s so strange to think that I was shooting this a year ago, playing a character who gets lost in Paris and can wander around and explore a foreign city,” she says, wistfully.
“That’s such a foreign concept now.”
While some states aren’t permitted to travel more than five kilometres away from home, let alone visit foreign lands, it’s clearly a time for audiences to travel vicariously – and Emily’s Parisian sojourn is certainly the right kind of small-screen escapism.
“Exactly,” she nods. “To be able to bring this show into people’s living rooms through Netflix at a time where travel is not possible, there’s a wish fulfilment to the show now which we were not expecting to be a real takeaway. And also, the fact that Emily is this bright, bold, fun character that allows for a brightness and a lightness in a time where we need it more than anything, is perfect timing.
“There’s a nostalgia for that world that once was before the lockdown and there’s also a hope that we will return again in some [familiar] form in the future.”
* Emily In Paris, streaming Netflix.