The LRM Interview: Lily Collins on Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply

As the daughter of a pop legend like Phil Collins, one imagines that actress Lily Collins has had to work extra hard to get out from under her father’s shadow, and she’s done that by starring in films like Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror, The Blind Side and genre films Priest and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bone.

None of those roles could have prepared her for playing Marla Mabrey in Warren Beatty’s new movie Rules Don’t Apply. Marla is a virginal Christian ingénue that’s been brought to Hollywood by the enigmatic Howard Hughes (Beatty) but before she has a chance at meeting her benefactor, Marla ends up bonding with her driver Frank, as played by Alden Ehrenreich (aka the new Han Solo).  It creates a strange triangle between the three of them and their relationship to Hughes, but it’s a great return for Beatty behind (and in front of) the camera after many years out of the limelight.  (Collins even gets to perform the title song “The Rules Don’t Apply,” written by Lorraine Feather and Eddie Arkin.) 

On the phone with Collins from the L.A. junket, chatting with her reminded us a little of speaking to the likes of Anne Hathaway and Emmy Rossum, as she’s very bright and cheery, even though this was going to be her last interview of a very long day.

LRM:  I was just reading that you’ve been acting since you were 2, and now I feel like such an underachiever. I wasn’t doing anything when I was 2.

Lily Collins: But I only have very few memories of it. It’s not my career high.

LRM: Have you watched it back ever?

Collins: No, I haven’t, but I was talking to my Mom about it recently and she says she has videos somewhere, and we’re trying to see if I can get them converted to watch them, but I really want to. 

LRM: How did you find out about Warren’s movie? I know it’s been brewing for a long time. How did you hear about it?

Collins: Actually, I had a friend about three years before I was involved init, so I guess about 5 ½ years ago. I had a friend who had been meeting Warren about the movie, and he was telling me about the meetings, and I thought it sounded so surreal and crazy and awesome and all these things. Cut to three years later, I get this phone call that Warren Beatty wants to talk to me about the movie, and it was just bizarre how it had come full circle. 

LRM: Did you say “he” or “she” had been meeting with Warren?

Collins: “He,” so it was obviously before Alden had signed on.

LRM: I remember talking to Felicity Jones years ago and I remember she was going to do it…

Collins: Yeah, yeah… I also heard that she had been attached for a little while, and I remember talking to her after she was supposed to be doing it, so I guess I’ve had a couple people I’ve spoken to at different iterations of the movie. 

LRM: It must be interesting to meet Warren, because if you watch this movie, you’d assume it was similar to what your character goes through meeting Howard Hughes. Was your audition process at all similar? What was it like to meet him?

Collins: It actually was quite similar. I never really had an audition in the regular sense of the word. I just had a bunch of meetings and lunches and dinners with Warren and Annette (Bening) and their kids. I guess there was one night when I read aloud some lines with Alden, but it wasn’t like the next day we got a phone call saying that I got the role, so it was very different than any experience I’ve ever had, but at the same time, it’s what made it so special.

LRM: Was there something of yours he had seen that made him think of you for Marla? How did he connect to you?

Collins: He apparently saw me on a talk show in the morning and called my agent and said, “Why have I not met with this young woman? I have met everyone else in Hollywood” and he gave my agent… well, he told me to him at home, so I just had to call Warren at home. I was given their number and I called and Warren picked up, and that’s kind of how it allstarted.

LRM: So you got to read lines with Alden, too, so he could see that the chemistry between you two worked, because the chemistry between you two is great.

Collins: Oh, thank you! Yeah, we actually have this weird history where we both grew up in the same city. We had mutual friends and our Moms knew each other. We just never met. 

LRM: I always wonder about that because I feel like in Hollywood, I just assume that everyone the same age knows each other—either they went to school together or run into each other at auditions.

Collins:  I mean, sometimes that’s the case. For a lot of girls, that’s true. I did run into a lot of girls for a long time over the span of a couple years and you start to get to know each other. You kind of create these audition room relationships, and in some cases, I have one friend that transcended (that) and now we’re really good friends outside of that experience, but we met in an audition room. 

LRM: I’ve only been to L.A. three times in my life so my view of Hollywood is from movies like this, so that’s how I see Hollywood or maybe a little less, since I’ve been writing about movies for so long…

Collins: Right, well there is a romanticized version of what it’s like and it’s all based on some sort of reality, I think, a little heightened but some sort of reality.

LRM: This is interesting in that way because it’s looking at Hollywood from the late ‘50s and Warren was probably very young but I assume he was around back then…

Collins: Yeah, Warren came to Hollywood in 1958, which is when the movie is based, so he got to really impart wisdom on us as to what it was like at the time, and I got to ask a bunch of questions, being of a character that was in a similarsituation as him, albeit a female but similar.

LRM: Did you know anything about Howard Hughes before you read the script or knew about this movie?

Collins: I did! One of my Dad’s favorite films is Heaven Can Wait, so I was very aware of his work when I was younger. I hadn’t watched all of his movies but I had definitely been made aware of him growing up and once I was cast, I went back and watched a lot of them again, and watched ones that maybe I hadn’t seen before, so I had a mini-marathon.

LRM: I actually asked about Howard Hughes… but I’ll change my question to “Warren Beatty” so it doesn’t sound like such a strange answer.

Collins: No, don’t…  well, Howard Hughes I was aware of, but I didn’t know the scope of influence he had on all these different industries. I knew that he was involved in Hollywood and aviation, but politics and medicine and all that, I had no idea. 

LRM: Were you curious at all about how much was real and how much was fictional? I assume you had a whole script at one point early on…

Collins: I did. I did have a whole script, but as the beginning of the movie says, “Never check an interesting fact,” so a lot of it was based on reality, but this is not a Howard Hughes biopic, so I think certain liberties were taken, and I just asked a bunch of questions, and Warren answered and told lots of stories.

LRM: By the way, “The Rules Don’t Apply” is a really catchy song and I wondered if that was a real song or something made up for the movie?

Collins: It was created for the movie. Lorraine Feather wrote it, and it’s beautiful lyrics, and it was something that was around… well, definitely around before I was involved with the movie and definitely before the title of the movie was chosen, so it kind of helps set the tone for the vibe of the film. 

LRM: I love when people say the name of the movie in the movie, so you actually have a song that’s so catchy that I have that “Rules Don’t Apply to You” line stuck in my head every time I think of the movie.

Collins: (laughs) Yes, it does haunt you a little bit. 

LRM: That’s good to hear… “Original Song” Oscar right there… Boom.

Collins: Ha ha ha …   fingers crossed!  

LRM: Do you sing yourself? You obviously have a singer father but is that something you’ve had any interest in doing?

Collins: I did musical theater growing up, and I’ve always wanted an excuse to do it in a film, and this is kind of the perfect entrance into that, so I’d love to do a musical movie at one point maybe. It’s definitely something that’s part of me and how I grew up, but yeah, I’d love to try it again. 

LRM: In the movie, Marla says she’s more of a songwriter than a singer but you sounded pretty good. Did you have to tone that down a bit for the sake of the character?

Collins: 100%. It’s really interesting that you said that. No one’s actually brought that fact up—I usually do—but yeah, she’s a songwriter, not a singer, so Warren didn’t want it to be too sung really. He wanted it to be kind of spoken word and not too melodic, but if my voice cracked as Lily, because I was nervous, because I sung it live, it would really work as Marla. She’s not a singer by any means, but she can carry a tune that she’s written. 

LRM: You also make an adorable drunk.  What’s it like playing drunk in the movie because you’re a very funny drunk… you’re also funny not drunk…  but that was a great scene.

Collins: Oh, thank you. That was a scene that I was definitely anxious about when I read the script and those 13 pages in its entirety and progressively getting drunker, and you know, that’s a really hard thing to do, that fine line between a caricature of playing drunk and then not overdoing it. It’s definitely a balance to find, but I dunno, I had fun with it, and luckily, we had the time to be able to play around more and allotted a good amount of time to not be rushed with that scene, so I felt thankful for that.

LRM: I’m not sure if you’ve seen the new Emily Blunt movie “Girl on the Train” yet…

Collins: I haven’t yet, and I love Emily so much. 

LRM: Okay, because she gets very drunk in the movie and I talked to the director about that and he says that she gave him different levels of drunkenness, and I was surprised that actors need to know what a level “5” of drunkenness is or a “3” or a “2…

Collins: Right, like certain levels!

LRM: What’s Warren like to work with as a director after having seen some of his movies and talking with him?

Collins: It’s different. I got to be directed by him just as a director and then as an actor, and when he’s directing and in a scene, he directs in character, so it doesn’t take you out of the moment, which was very helpful for me. He’s very meticulous because he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it, and you just trust that he knows how he’s going to get you there, and you just give it up to him. He expects a lot from you and doesn’t give up until you give it to him, and I think he knows that you’re capable of more and really pushes you past what you thought you were capable of, which I’m very grateful for. 

LRM: I know you can’t make a movie like this in chronological order because of the locations, but did he at least try to do the early scenes between you and Alden early in the shoot so he could capture the “getting to know you” phase and shoot the stuff with him later?

Collins: Yeah, the last sequence in the movie was shot last and the first day of shooting was the first time we meet each other on the airplane, and it pretty much went chronological-ish, in terms of beginning to end. Of course, there are some out of sequence bits, but thematically, it needed to have that progression, and it was very cool that we got to do that, because it’s not always the case.

LRM: And then you had a whole chunk of days being in a dark room with Warren…

Collins: Yeah, very fun to be able to shoot with Warren and then I turned 25 on the set at the Beverly Hills Hotel, shooting the scene where I first meet him, which is a very epic way to turn 25.

LRM: Did you really shoot at the Beverly Hills Hotel?

Collins: We did, yeah. We shot a couple days there.

LRM: I’d think you’d have to change a lot of things to make that work, because isn’t it very different now? Or maybe not?

Collins: No, not at all, actually. I mean, everyone was obviously in costume and stuff, but the Beverly Hills Hotel pretty much looks exactly how it did. They really had a great location to work with and a lot of the locations we used were of the period, but Jeannine Oppewall is an amazing production designer and she recreated these sets on a stage in a very brilliant way.

LRM: You’ve worked with a lot of interesting directors including Tarsem, who I love. He’s a great, crazy guy, and I understand that you’re working with Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Snowpiercer”). I’m not sure if you’ve actually started filming “Okja” yet…?

Collins: I finished it already. He’s a total visionary. He storyboards everything before you get to shoot, and it’s very much like him handing you a comic book before you start shooting where every shot is drawn out already. He’s such a genius as well, and just in a very different way.

LRM: I’m not sure if there was a lot of CG in “Mirror, Mirror” but I believe this is another monster movie from Bong Joon-ho, so are you involved with doing scenes with CG in that movie as well?

Collins: Yes, yes. A lot of things that weren’t there that we had to pretend were there, which is always very interesting, but with this one, it’s very surreal and weird and wacko and I’m really excited to see it all done, because I haven’t yet seen it with any of the CG done to it, which I think is going to change it drastically, but really create a very surrealistic world.

LRM: Did you have scenes with Jake Gyllenhaal or Tilda Swinton?

Collins: Some of the scenes we have are together, but the way he shot it is very specific and we’re in different shots, so we never actually were on the same set at the same time. He works in a very different way then I’ve ever worked before.

Rules Don’t Apply will open nationwide on Wednesday, November 23.

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