Lily Collins zooms marie claire from the stylish surroundings of the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, Charlie McDowell, and their rescue dog, Redford. It’s the picture of domestic bliss as the actor chats about the joys of working on Emily in Paris while McDowell keeps a low profile, coming onto screen occasionally in the background as he goes about his day. Their pug-terrier mix, on the other hand, is eager to make himself known. “This is Redford,” Collins explains with a laugh when he pops up on her lap, vying for screen space.
The casual outfit the 33-year-old is wearing is a far cry from the eye-popping ensembles her character and other castmates don on the Netflix hit series. But if anyone can make a khaki jumper look like couture, it’s Lily Collins. And with her new bangs framing her gorgeous face, the British-American actor has certainly got that effortlessly chic Parisian thing down pat.
Born to singer Phil Collins and his second wife, Jill Tavelman, Collins began acting at age two when she appeared in the BBC series Growing Pains. Her breakthrough role came in 2009, when she played alongside Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, then she started clocking up leading lady roles: as Snow White in Mirror Mirror, in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in Love, Rosie and in the television adaptation of Les Misérables. But it was Emily in Paris that made her a global sensation. Here, she reflects on the overnight success of the show, reveals what’s in store for season three and explains how she took a very Emily Cooper approach when planning her own wedding.
marie claire Australia: You were married in September 2021. I imagine that you were a real planner but I could be wrong: maybe you were happy to let go of the reins and leave it in the hands of a professional?
Lily Collins: No, no, no, you’re absolutely right. We planned the entire wedding while I was shooting season two, which was crazy. It became normal to do multiple things at once: learn my lines, source a florist and find local artisans in Colorado because it was really important to Charlie and I that we utilise local talent and local resources for the wedding, finding those people and creating that family that could help manifest our dream wedding.
I’m a very detail-oriented person and even though people tell you not to worry I do feel like the little touches can make a big difference to the overall experience. That’s what helps make it memorable and special.
MC: When you look back now at that day, what stands out to you?
LC: Oh my gosh, it was the most wonderful opportunity to gather people together in a neutral place surrounded by nature at a time when people had been cooped up during Covid. We created a type of camp where you got to just take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, appreciate each other’s company and just breathe, finally hug each other and celebrate something so special. I’ll also never forget the non-stop dancing.
MC: And how is married life treating you?
LC: It’s amazing. I got to marry my best friend. So it’s wonderful.
MC: We’re weeks away from the new season of Emily in Paris. What can you tell me?
LC: I can tell you that she stays in Paris. Wait, can I? Well, I think that’s fairly obvious from the teaser. I can tell you that it starts out with her being very much stuck in the middle in many different ways. She’s still culturally between America and France. She’s stuck between two potential roads in terms of her jobs and her bosses, and she’s emotionally struggling [romantically] between Gabriel and Alfie.
What I love about the new season is that she starts making decisions and sticking to them, following her heart and letting the consequences be what they are. She’s more comfortable about making decisions and using her voice, which leads to her having far more grounded experiences within Paris. That was fun to explore and it gave space for the other characters to really come to the forefront of the story as well. But, of course, along the way there’s more laughs, more drama and more fashion. Everything felt a little more elevated this season.
MC: If that’s even possible!
LC: Right! Somehow they keep topping it and we got to game up again with the fashion and the locations. This year we got to shoot in some really special places. You’ll see there is so much more of France and that’s also in terms of the language and culture.
MC: That makes sense for Emily’s progression as well. She’s not new to town anymore.
LC: Exactly. It was important that she’s a little less of a fish out of water. She’s getting more used to living in the city and more in tune with understanding the cultural differences. Her language is better … it’s mirroring my own experience with going and shooting over there. My husband and Redford join me for filming and Charlie takes him around the city. We get photos of Redford with all the monuments, with a baguette and wearing a beret and all of that.
MC: Redford in Paris. He could have his own spin-off.
LC: He totally could.
MC: You’re now three seasons in, which is testimony to what a monumental success the show is. But going back to season one and when that dropped, were you surprised by the overnight success?
LC: We all knew that it would be appealing to a lot of people because [creator] Darren Star’s shows are quite magical to watch. They’re always so aesthetically pleasing, with travel, the best fashion and such fun characters. I know that when I was filming it, I thought, “This is something I love to watch. I know it’s what my friends would love to see.”
And then of course the world fell into the pandemic. We had no idea that the show would be coming out during a time when people couldn’t travel, weren’t dressing up and were unable to see their friends. All the things that felt really special in the show were things we were missing and lacking in our everyday lives. And it was an amazing gift to be able to share something at a time when we needed it the most.
MC: I love the drama and the fashion and, well, a certain charming French chef. But one of the elements in the show that’s rarely commented on and has always stood out as being really the heart of the show is the female friendships. I wanted to know your thoughts about those friendships and how they’re handled in the show.
LC: Wow, yes, I appreciate that so much because it is something that stood out to me when I first read the pilot. And it’s something that all the females on the show have been very vocal about. There are so many different types of female relationships in this show – we see different age groups, which I think is really important. There’s Emily’s friendship with Camille, which is a complicated one and is constantly evolving.
In season three we really delve into the nuances of their relationship. Emily meeting Mindy when she did is such a pivotal moment for her. And they have this kind of soulmate friendship, which is something that should be celebrated. That relationship has kind of melted into my real life where Ashley [Park, who plays Mindy] is now one of my closest friends. She’s like a sibling to myself and my husband. We literally lived in the same apartment building this year. And there’s not just friendships but also work relationships and mentorships, such as with [her French and American bosses] Sylvie and Madeline.
Often females in the workplace are portrayed in a way where anytime they challenge one another, it’s written off as aggressive – or the character is typecast as demanding. It’s important to showcase women who are impassioned by what they do and have a real love of what they do. I was asked during press for season one: is Emily romantic or a workaholic? And I hated that question. Why does she have to choose one? She’s a romantic because she believes in love but she also loves her job.
MC: Let’s talk about the fashion. I spoke to Camille [Razat, who plays Camille] a little while ago and she told me that the only downside to working on Emily in Paris is that she doesn’t get to keep the clothes.
LC: I know, it’s ridiculous. It’s so sad. I’m always like, “So what can we take?”
MC: Do you have a favourite look that Emily has worn?
LC: There’s a look this season that I love because it’s so out there. There’s an episode where we go to a Pierre Cadault [fashion] retrospective at a museum and the outfit Emily wears is so outlandish. It’s got these crazy shoulders. The only way I can describe it is they look like an elephant’s ears. I know it sounds absurd but when you see it all put together in the environment, it just works.
MC: You have become quite an icon in the fashion and beauty worlds. And you have partnerships with Cartier and Lancôme – both highly respected French brands – which is a total coincidence, am I right?
LC: Yes! It’s funny because Lancôme has been part of my life for almost 10 years and Cartier is coming up to seven, so both long before the show.
MC: You were clearly destined to be in Paris. What factors do you consider when you are choosing who you partner with?
LC: Brand loyalty is something that really resonates with me. I wasn’t allowed makeup at my Catholic school, but I always had a Lancôme Juicy Tube on me, and their mascara was the first one I ever tried. So it’s a brand I already loved and used. With Cartier, my mother always wore a Cartier watch and so did my dad.
MC: You’ve worked with some amazing actors throughout your career thus far, such as Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side and Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror. Who is someone you would love to work with in the future?
LC: Oh, it’s Tilda Swinton, which is interesting because technically we have worked together before in a movie [Okja in 2017] but we didn’t have any scenes together. I spent time with her at the press conference but we haven’t actually acted on set together. I admire her so much. I think we could do something just completely left of centre – kooky but grounded. I am always blown away by the characters she chooses and the path that she’s forged for herself and how unrecognisable, stoic and quietly confident she is in all of her roles. So Tilda is definitely someone I would want to work with again but also for the first time.
To read the full story, pick up a copy of the January issue of marie claire Australia on newsstands from Thursday 15th December!
Photographer: Beau Grealy
Stylist: Alison Edmond.
Makeup: Lancôme Official.
Makeup Artist: Fiona Stiles.
Hair: Gregory Russel.
Manicure: Yoko Sakakura.
Production: Michael Power/ Cowboysanindians and Robyn Fay-Perkins.
Lily wears an Emilia Wickstead dress, Stuart Weitzman shoes and Cartier jewellery in the lead image.