MSN Movies caught up with our leading heroine Lily Collins at WonderCon last month to talk about launching a new movie franchise, what sets The Mortal Instruments apart from other Young Adult franchises and the faithfulness of the adaptation that will attract readers and new audiences alike.
MSN Movies: I understand that doing “The Mortal Instruments” has been a very personal project for you.
Lily Collins: It is. It’s really personal for me. I was a huge fan of the books before I was cast. I looked up to Clary as a fellow reader, and I associate a lot of similar qualities with her because I’m really super close with my mom. And Clary goes on this whole journey to get her mom back, and it’s a personal quest for her as she’s growing up in search of finding her mom. I completely would act the same way that Clary does if I were in that situation. So I felt very close to the project.
Two-part question: What sets this apart from the other young adult adaptations that have been coming out, and how do you get people beyond that core readership into the film? What does it have for them?
What’s different, I think, is that our story involves reality and a fantasy world married together. And it’s not just this is happening when it’s fantasy and there’s magic involved and then this is when she’s at school. It’s like there are two worlds intertwined throughout the entire movie. And the way that we’ve filmed it, you forget which world you’re in because it just seems so normal. Like the magic stuff just feels obvious to you during the film, so it’s not like you’re taken out of a reality at any point.
I think what we’ve done in this film is not only hopefully really pleased the fans but invited people in that don’t know the story, whether you’re a young child or you’re a parent. We have made this film that could have been so CGI-heavy into a film about character and emotion. And the icing on top is the CGI and the special effects. It’s really a story about growing up and finding yourself and what you do when you’re thrown into these situations — which, I think, older people might be able to remember going through when they were a kid. And then kids can go, “Oh, that’s me.” It’s not something that’s, I think, alienating to a certain age group.
So the mythology is that the Shadowhunters are half human, half angel and they hunt demons, but they sort of hidden beneath the surface of everyday life.
Yes, it’s basically this thing called a glamour, which is if you were to look at like an old decrepit building, someone who has the sight can see through that glamour and see that it’s actually a beautiful cathedral. So it’s the idea that you have these powers — like Clary. The reason that Clary can see Jace, Isabelle and Alec in the club when they murder this demon is because she has the sight and she can see them. Whereas, nobody else in the club even knows they’re there. So it’s these worlds happening at the same time but only certain people have the sight to see it.
You mentioned that this was less reliant on CG. So was a lot of it done practically?
All of the sets were there for us, which I think is amazing. The art department deserves all the credit for these sets because they were so intricate. In the big library scene, there were hand-painted books that you will never see on camera, but the attention to detail was so specific and it felt so rich in quality and atmosphere because it genuinely was there for us. Of course, there are magical elements like the demons that are going to be done in post-production. I remember in “Mirror, Mirror,” the dragon at the end was like a guy in a green suit holding a ball, you know, and we had to be afraid of that. Whereas in this one they genuinely had big epic scenes and things that were made for us to react off of, which was really special and quite rare for a big-budget film.
How faithful is the movie to the book and the character of Clary?
Clary, I think, is pretty much as she’s written. I think Cassandra wrote her so perfectly in that she is this normal girl who finds out she’s not normal. She’s feisty, she’s persistent. None of that changes. Obviously when you’re making a book into a film, four pages is describing how a place looks. Whereas on film you don’t need to describe anything; you’re just already there. So a lot of the stuff is self-explanatory and a lot of things creatively may or may not work when translated on the screen. And also when you’re trying to invite a new audience in, there’s some things that they just may not get or aren’t necessary to reference. But it’s not fully edited yet, so I don’t know exactly what has been left in or out that people are looking forward to. But I know that from what I have seen, it’s honoring Cassandra’s work. But at the same time it’s adding new fun elements that I think film can only accentuate.
Have you had the opportunity to meet any fans of the book at all?
Yeah. I mean, I did a Q&A at the Grove (in Los Angeles) recently where like 500 girls showed up with posters and were, like, hyperventilating. That, to me, is so strange because I’m like, “Why are you guys like that? It’s just me. It’s just Lily.” That stuff is still quite new. But the passion that they have for the project and the enthusiasm that they have is amazing. I mean, that’s what you hope to have for a film, I guess.
Are you kind of prepared for that? On one hand, it’s a beautiful thing how fans will embrace the actors playing these characters, but on the other hand, it can get a little crazy out there.
It can, and I’ve seen it happen with other films. I think it’s hard to compare this to “Twilight” because that was the first time that happened and that was an entity unto itself. And you never want to be the second version of something … but I’m really excited for people to be enthusiastic about it, and if they really like it, then that will only benefit us in terms of making a sequel, which I would love to do. But I think it’s kind of a day-to-day thing. My best friends are from school, you know, so I lead a very normal life. There’s nothing normal about girls screaming your name, but I think we’ll all kind of just take it as it is and it’ll just be fun.
So they don’t have to drag you back kicking and screaming if a sequel gets ordered — you love the character.
Oh, I loved Clary. I signed up hoping to get to play her for as long as I could. I love it.