Lily Collins on her career, a love for writing and Surrey memories

Lily at the premiere of Tolkin (Photo: Shuttershock)

Lily at the premiere of Tolkin (Photo: Shuttershock) - Credit: Archant

Showbiz royalty she may well be, but Guildford-born Lily Collins is determined to keep her private life away from prying lenses and let her talents do the talking – with an added helping of altruism wherever she goes, from Surrey to Hollywood

Lily Collins may well have just celebrated her 30th birthday, but she has been a regular occurrence in the celebrity limelight since her birth, right here in Surrey.

Being so connected to the entertainment industry by virtue of her father Phil, he of Genesis and solo musical fame, Collins junior has enjoyed a decade of on-screen experience already - from teen series 90210 to Oscar-nominated projects, The Blind Side, and even controversial dramas, To The Bone and the recent Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

At every point in a young actor's life, however, there comes a performance that makes critics sit up and take notice. It appears this year may well be a turning point for Collins, with 2019 being ushered in with a critically acclaimed turn as Fantine in the star-studded BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Collins' performance - lauded in various circles as "magnificent" and "emotionally rich" - is surely the result of hard-work behind the scenes in recent times.

"I've done a lot of self-reflection and a lot of work on myself," she nods. "I see myself as a young woman who wants to evolve and learn as much as she can about herself and the world around her. I've thought a lot about my relationships that did not work out, and I discovered a lot about myself that I hadn't really understood or appreciated before. And one thing in particular that I've figured out is that everything always happens for a reason."

Such a greater understanding of self could well have been crucial before taking on the complicated, intense role of Fantine - this being the performance that turned fellow Brit actress Anne Hathaway into an Academy Award-winner. But in Collins' eyes, she was actually a latecomer to cinema, having spent much of her early teenage years as an aspiring journalist and writer.

"I love to write, and I still consider journalism to be something which makes me more attentive to the world and a lot of the critical issues we are facing," she explains. "Earlier on when I was more involved in journalism, I developed a keen sense of awareness and interest in politics and culture and so many subjects.

Most Read

"There was a time in my life when I wanted to be able to voice my thoughts and deal with a lot of the questions that were very significant to my generation. At 15 I was writing stories for magazines and then by 16 I was aware of the bigger picture. From a young age, I just felt this drive — as if it were meant to happen."

Like her father, who was born in Chiswick, Collins mentions that she too came from a "small town" - in her case, Guildford. Though it may not compare to her latter upbringing in Los Angeles, her hometown's verdant surroundings did play a crucial part in setting Collins on the path to a cinematic career, whether she realised at the time or not.

"I was born and raised in the countryside," she reminisces. "I remember I was fascinated by fairy tales. It was this magical world for me, and I would run in the garden imagining myself to be a fairy and playing with the animals and the elves of the woods. I was always playing alone, but I was convinced that they existed and were around me."

In spite of her move Stateside soon after her parents' divorce, there is something quintessentially British about Collins that connects her time in her native country with her cinematic star status now - not least in her attitude to the press.

"I grew up in a family where there was already a lot of attention and so that makes you much more careful when it comes to not wanting to have your private life exposed," she shrugs. "I've always tried to separate things I've done in my work with the way I spend my time with my friends. I've never tried to attract attention to myself unless I've been promoting certain projects and films and I would like things to stay that way.

"I would also much rather stay at home and invite friends over or hang out in places where you don't find celebrities, and no one is going to pay any attention to you. It makes your life much simpler and you can just be yourself."

Perhaps this scepticism of the spotlight is what has driven Collins to work on causes behind the scenes to no real great fanfare. As an ambassador for Bystander Revolution, an anti-bullying organisation founded by another famous daughter Mackenzie Bezos, Collins is making her mark in a hands-on way as opposed to via a computer screen.

"Yeah, I don't feel the need to tweet about a great salad that I had!" she laughs "I look up to people like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Meryl Streep, I mean, obviously Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn were of an era where the mystery kept kind of their allure alive, and their personal lives were personal, and they were very endearing and very relatable," she says. "If I can be relatable to people and be accessible by meeting people or just by being myself, I would much rather that than uploading a video of myself getting ready for something. I feel like sometimes with people who do that, it's either that, or nothing. Whereas for me, I would like it to be about being in a room with someone and being personable."

Such an attitude will stand her in good stead for what's to come career-wise. Her recent turn alongside Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile shows once again that Collins is unafraid to tread darker territory with her film choices, whereas a leading role as the eponymous author's wife in the recent cinema-release, Tolkien is a far serener, middle-English affair.

Regardless of which aspect of Collins' character the next role calls upon, however, the blossoming star never has far to go should she ever require advice on how to scale the heights of the industry.

"My father always told me to not forget who you are," she smiles. "Jobs come and go, but at the end of the day, you're left with yourself. As long as you're happy with yourself without work, then the work will always be great because you'll be confident."

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is available on Sky Atlantic


- Surrey celebs share their favourite pubs, restaurants, views and places to visit - Over the years, some of Surrey's best known personalities have revealed what they most love about our county to Surrey Life. Here, we compile their favourite restaurants, shops, views, places to visit