The first time Lily Collins appeared onscreen, she was two years old. It was on a show in England called Growing Pains, a different version than the one we know in the U.S., and she didn’t realize she was acting. It wasn’t until years later, in 2009, that Collins earned her second role, as a drunk prom girl on the reboot of 90210.
The day she wrapped her two-episode arc, Collins found out she’d landed a role in The Blind Side, the film that set her current trajectory. “I always loved dressing up and telling stories,” Collins says, sitting on a bench in Malibu. Her latest film, Love, Rosie, out February 6, is a quirky comedy-of-errors story.
The 26-year-old actress moved from England to Los Angeles when she was 5, after her parents, British rock star Phil Collins and American antiques dealer Jill Tavelman, split up. She began to pursue acting during high school, but she didn’t ask her dad for any help with his show biz connections. She even drove herself to auditions and meetings, and on set she never mentioned that her dad was a famous musician.
Collins, who is soft-spoken and decidedly humble, professes not to have many friends in the entertainment industry, spending most of her free time watching movies and going bowling. (Although she has been linked to a few of Hollywood’s it boys, like Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner.) Before she was an actress, she pursued a career in journalism at the University of Southern California. Collins wrote about everything from politics to fashion to body image for magazines like Seventeen and Teen Vogue and had a short-lived career as a political correspondent on Nickelodeon, notably during the 2008 presidential campaign. “I always loved meeting new people and asking the questions other people think are awkward,” she notes. “I have no problem.”
This quiet confidence has served her well, especially when taking on roles alongside some of the biggest actresses in the industry. She played Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side; she played Snow White (she was a natural with her alabaster skin and perfect brows) to Julia Roberts’s evil queen in the 2012 film Mirror Mirror; and mostly recently, she appeared with Annette Bening in this year’s Untitled Warren Beatty Project. Not much is known about the film, but Collins says she plays a 1950s Hollywood actress who engages in an affair with billionaire Howard Hughes. “I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many successful women who are moms as well,” Collins says. “They prove that you can do both in this industry.”
Collins considers her own mom her best friend as well as her fashion muse. “She was always wearing vintage, and people would put their noses up at her because it wasn’t as fashionable back then,” Collins says, recalling when her parents were a red carpet fixture in the ’80s. “But she rocked it. And when I was growing up, I was really into vintage. She has all the vintage Vivienne Westwood and all these cool pieces that are so hard to find.”
Her father played it much safer, opting for a uniform of cargo pants and a black T-shirt. “I remember we used to go to Abercrombie and Fitch together,” she says, laughing. “We’d have Abercrombie shopping trips together—go figure.”
These days, the actress has moved on from mall brands and prefers designers like Alexander Wang, Sandro, and Chanel, which she wore to the famous Crillon Ball in Paris in 2007. She refers to Karl Lagerfeld as a “genius” and says her style hasn’t really changed since she entered the public eye. She likes to mix flea market and vintage finds with classic pieces, channeling her mom’s free-wheeling American aesthetic with a smart European sensibility. “It’s so polar opposite, but that’s me,” Collins shrugs. “I have these two different histories.”
Collins explores her British roots in Love, Rosie, in which she returns to the British accent she lost when she moved stateside. The movie, based on the novel Where Rainbows End, is slightly grittier than Collins’s previous roles. The film follows two friends over the course of 10 years, chronicling their near misses when it comes to romance, even as Collins’s character finds herself a single teen mom. It’s especially notable for that depiction of teen pregnancy, a topic the film treats without the usual drama and judgment.
“Rosie is very real, and she’s someone who is forced to grow up very quickly,” Collins reflects. “She is a very strong, empowered young female. I found that really inspiring because it was showing this teenage pregnancy in a way that was very uplifting as opposed to negative.”
When asked what she wants to do next, Collins only smiles and says she doesn’t have a plan. She knows she has a long way to go when it comes to solidifying herself as an actress. “Hollywood is such a fickle place, and you really have to go day to day and with the flow,” she says. “Things happen so quickly, for the good or the bad. But you also have to know that everything happens for a reason.”