Lily Collins has always had an edge when it comes to portraying Clary Fray. Being a fan of the books prior to getting the coveted role definitely brought a sense of confidence to the fandom in regards to her portrayal and understanding. Lily has been passionate about this project since she was cast in 2010. She’s been through the ups and downs and remained as dedicated since the day she was cast. And eventually everything worked out for the best. Simply put, it was worth it.
For Lily, being a “fan that got to play a heroine that she admired” was not only surreal and thrilling but nerve wracking. As a fan of the books she understood Clary and the weight of tackling the beloved heroine. But it was that prior knowledge of the series and her love and passion for Clary that brought out the best in her character.
When I first saw Lily on the set, she walked in to join us on the City of Bones set with that trademark red hair, black Shadowhunter gear and sporting a warm smile. All I remember thinking was: “that’s Clary.”
But, as we know, portraying a character isn’t about the physicality of it but the emotional connection and acting chops. So when Lily started talking about the film, the sets, the surrealism of being a part of a project that she has loved for years, you could just tell how much this movie, this story, these characters meant to her. And it’s for those reasons why Lily is the perfect Clary. Like us, she gets it. After all, she was one of us.
What scene were/are you most nervous to shoot when you were cast as Clary?
There are so many intense moments in this, especially in the script, the way that they’ve translated parts of the book that you wanted to, to do it justice. One of the scenes I was most nervous about I think was my first encounter with Jace in the alleyway because I’m doubting everything that I’ve ever known to be what I thought my life was and who I was and I’m confronted with this mysterious person who is both intriguing and extremely frightening at the same time and I have no idea what’s going on. The way that we’re doing this film, it’s really trying to stay true to a realistic sense of the fantasy world, it’s not just taking the book and making a movie version of it, so I wanted to stay as real as possible in the sense of freaking out about “if you found out that your Mom wasn’t your Mom” as opposed to just keeping it that “I’ve got these special powers”, it was really about making the fantasy realistic…so trying to act out being paranoid and intrigued at the same time and threatened but also curious – so many emotions going on at once that a normal typical teenage girl doesn’t have to go through. I was kind of nervous about that, and especially since it was the second day of filming with Jamie, and we were just thrown into it, and it was like “ok, go ahead and have that moment”, so I was nervous about that but again it was the second day and it was really really fun and when you feel it in the moment and then you watch it on playback, you’re like “ok I think everything I wanted was coming out of my eyes” so I am happy with that. But it was really really fun.
What was it like getting to wear the awesome Shadowhunter all-leather outfit for the first time?
It was fun. What I love about this is that you do see this normal Clary, you know, kind of hippie chic artsy girl, wearing boyfriend jeans and Doc Martens, going into this tube top of a dress and then into the Shadowhunter leather gear. When I first saw the outfits on the rack I thought they were Isabelle’s and then they were like “no, no, actually these are yours”. And so, I love it. It’s really fun to be able to have this other persona of Clary brought out in the clothes as well as in her situations and what she’s put through. But I would not wear what I saw in Pandemonium because they really went there, which is great, I mean, it looks beautiful on screen, um, but it’s very edgy and very sexy and very much how it should be in that fantasy world.
If you could create a rune like Clary can, what would you make one for?
I think it’s something that I feel I have but maybe could use a little more in different situations. Determination. I think that sometimes it’s easy to get told “no” and maybe give up right away or be told something that you can’t do something and then take someone’s word for it and not continually try to push forward. So if you had a Determination Rune that when you’re feeling down, you could then use it to encourage you to keep going or go after something that you really want. Just that extra oomph of enthusiasm to keep going.
What was your first impression of Clary when you read the script or the book?
Oh wow. I think she is just amazing, she is a heroine. But she is a normal girl at the same time and this kind of encompasses another question that maybe one of you have but it goes towards Clary..Is that this whole series is based in this fantasy world yet is still so realistic because it’s based in modern-day New York, in situations that every teenager goes through as well as having this parallel universe and it’s completely fantasy, but it marries the two together so well. I love that Clary lives in our world and also lives in another universe and she goes between the two and she’s fighting these demons of a fantasy world but also demons that every teenage girl goes through and she is able to do so without losing herself completely. I just love the way that she’s comedic and doesn’t take this fantasy world too seriously but knows when to really stay focused. She is such a well-balanced character and she is so much fun to play as well, especially in the version that we are doing, we do play up Cassandra’s comedy because that’s the beauty of the book. You read and you start giggling because they’re really funny and yet there is demons and this fantasy world going on and you’re like this shouldn’t be funny but because you’re not taking it too seriously, you’re able to agree with what’s going on and to actually understand it. That’s what I love most about Clary is that she is able to play that balance…and kick butt. It’s been so fun doing all the action! I was like, “do I get to do all this hanging from a wire and sword fighting?!” I LOVE the action part of it and they’re letting me do as much of it as I can, and that’s really fun.
If there is one word that explains an attribute of your character, but could also be used to describe yourself, what would that be?
I would say Passionate. Definitely passionate because another thing about Clary that I love so much that I completely feel the same way about with her is that my Mom and I are best friends and so if something were to happen to my Mom, I would do everything in my power to get her back or to find her. I’m so passionate about our relationship and I would do whatever it would take to get back and so I think Clary is passionate about so many things and that translates to any generation. Whether it’s her artwork or family or a guy, or whatever it is, she puts a 100% of her heart and soul into what she does and I’d like to think that I am a very passionate person too.
What do you love most about The Mortal Instruments series?
I have been a huge fantasy fan since I was little. I would read every series of books that involved anything to do with magic or fantasy because I love because I loved disappearing for a little while. But what I love about this is that you can disappear for a while but still feel involved in it because it’s based in reality as well. It’s got this really cool parallel universe going on at the same time as keeping you grounded and, like I said before, Cassandra includes humor into it so it’s not this dark story taking itself so seriously that you kind of just play it off as a series of books, you actually become invested in the story, you laugh along with it, you side with the characters. And at the end of the day, yes it’s a fantasy series, but it’s got so much realness to it that you can get involved in the story and not just reading about these fantastical creatures that are unbelievable. And Harald has taken that kind of feeling of the series and brought it to the movie where we’re not relying on CGI in order to convey the scariness of a situation or the fact that people are actually demons. It only enhances the movie because he’s made it so character-based and emotionally-driven and that’s how the book has already made as well, incredibly emotionally driven and the characters is what sells the story not necessarily the fantasy world itself. I think no matter what generation you are you can always associate yourself with a character and an emotion as opposed to a fantasy world.
Were you familiar with the series before you acquired the role?
I was and that’s what made it even more…I was a fan of series and all of a sudden it was like I was being cast as a heroine that I admired. My Mom’s read all the books and the prequels. My Mom is just like “you remember that scene when…” and I’m like “Mom oh my god, I’m doing a movie, I need to focus on the first book right now. She and I would talk about it all the time and then I had just done Priest and Screen Gems and there was all this talk about making it into a movie and I was “just letting you know, I LOVE the series” and then I was cast and it was amazing because I was so passionate about the series of books and so aware, wasn’t aware of the huge fan base and the blogs and everything about that side of it until I was cast – when all of a sudden everything blew up about casting – Oh my god, I can’t imagine if anything had been taken badly in the Twitter sphere and the blogging, because I had no idea about how big the books were, I just knew that I responded to the literature of it. So for me this is like I’m a FAN that got to play a heroine that she admired. It’s really cool.
How do you think you are different from Clary? How have you worked around that aspect of it?
She needs a little bit more of encouragement from other people. Clary has one main friend – Simon – who she confides in and has confided in forever. I’m not someone that has a bunch of friends but I do have a close-knit group and so, I think I have kinda of grown up with so many different types of people that I’m not easily shocked by someone that’s different. My Mom would take me to all different countries and I would travel a lot so I’ve been kind of more exposed to the quirks of different people and such where I think Clary has been very sheltered in that sense which, rightfully so, her Mom wanted to keep her sheltered from this world so as to protect her and my Mom obviously wanted to protect me too but I feel like I have been more exposed to different types of people than maybe Clary was. So in those situations where she is very shocked and going to Pandemonium and going “I don’t fit in here”. I’m not necessarily saying that I would “fit in” to Pandemonium but I think I would maybe feel more comfortable in different situations than her because I have been exposed to different types of situations and people than her. Still protected, but less sheltered.
The novels have appealed to both teens and adults… How in your perspective, will this movie appeal to both teens and adults?
Well, I think the fact that Harald, is making it so character-driven and emotionally-driven and not based on just trying to aesthetically appeal to an audience – It’s beautifully shot and Geir is an amazing DP – but I think the fact that he’s spent so much time on making sure that what we are doing is believable and is not silly or too CGI or too heavily relying on post-production. It’s something that my Mom as I do, enjoy watching old movies, where – black and whites – you can say so much through your eyes and you don’t have to speak to actually convey a message. That’s why Audrey Hepburn, those types of actresses are my favorite, because you can she see her on screen and she conveys a message without saying anything at all, and the way that we are shooting this film, you could almost watch it on mute and understand what’s going on because it’s so emotionally charged and it’s not relying on instant gratification – image, image, image- and it’s not based on just the aesthetics. When reading a book like this where you can laugh, you can cry, you can side with the characters, it’s something that no matter what age you are, you can relate to. You can relate to passion. Passion is universal. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you are passionate about something you feel for it, and our film is so filled with that and it doesn’t rely on just the imagery – that no matter how old you are you can become invested in the story, it just keeps you on your toes.