Though most everyone either read or watched Peter Pan when they were little, Lily Collins has a special connection with the classic fairytale. Her father, musician Phil Collins, costarred inHook, the 1991 film that told the story of Peter’s nemesis. “I remember being on that set when I was really, really little,” she told Teen Vogue, adding that when she was growing up, the fairytale by J.M. Berrie was “a very pivotal story for me.”
It’s fitting, then, that she lent her voice to a new audio book recording of the tale, available now through Audible. We caught up with Lily to discuss what it was like to bring the story to life, and what exactly goes into recording an audiobook (hint: more cough drops than you think!). She also opened up about the fact that she’s often picked projects that have been adapted from books, and why her next project was the perfect way to begin acting again after a short hiatus.
Teen Vogue: Peter Pan is a really well-loved story. What was it like being a part of this project?
Lily Collins: It’s something that I never thought that I’d have the opportunity to do. As a kid there was nothing quite like listening to stories being told to you out loud, whether it’s my mom and my dad telling me stories or listening to the ones on tape. Having two younger brothers myself and being the one telling the stories, I know what it’s like to see their reactions. To be able to do that fairy tale for other young kids is really special.
TV: What was the process of recording the book like?
LC: It hurts after awhile! [Laughs] Doing it a couple days…it’s like 10 hours of just talking. It’s really a strain on your voice, so it was definitely a challenge that I’d never experienced before. You want to make the story exciting and keep people’s attention, so you have to keep changing the way that you’re telling the story…but also do it in a way that is very calming. It taught me a lot in terms of acting as well as when I’ll been reading stories to my future children. What sounds interesting, what sounds boring? You have to take all that into consideration.
I was drinking so much water, so much tea, I had cough drops because your voice starts to get hoarse and you don’t want there to be any difference in your voice from the beginning of the book to the end. In high school, you’re reading an essay or a school paper out loud; this is a book from page 1 to page 280 (or however long the book is) and you need the first part to sound exactly like the last part.
TV: How did you tap into that and use your voice to bring the story to life?
LC: I think there’s something to be said for [using different voices for] different characters, but without making it too charactery because you want it to flow. I kept picturing that I was reading it to my little brothers and trying to make every scene that much more magical. The bonus is, I was reading a fairy tale so I could make it sound magical because it was. Obviously in a movie you’re looking at a scene, you’re not having it explained to you. When you’re reading a book, you’re reading people’s reactions, you’re reading the setting, you’re describing what the characters look like. It’s not just about the dialogue, it’s actually about the entire setup of every chapter.
TV: Technology has progressed so far but books on tape always seem relevant. Why do you think this is such an enduring format?
LC: One of my best friends listens to a lot of books on tape because she takes a lot of road trips and she gets stuck in traffic on the way to work. Instead of just listening to the radio, she’ll put a book on tape on. When I told her I was doing this, she was so excited, and the more that I told people, the more people came out of the woodwork like, “Oh, I listen to books on tape all the time.” I had no idea. In big cities, you’re stuck in traffic a lot so you have the ability to get a taste of a story. And now with our iPhones and stuff, you can listen to it anywhere.
One of the most important things I think as human beings is our ability to use our voice and do storytelling, to keep that special kind of spark alive. It’s definitely encouraged me to listen to more books on tape because I used to love it as a kid. At least for me there’s this thought that it’s only for when you’re younger, but in fact it’s completely not true.
This [book] especially is the original version [of Peter Pan]; it’s been edited throughout the years with certain parts of the language in the book. This is as it was written originally. It’sPeter and Wendy, so it’s a different version than what’s in the short storybooks that you get now and read to kids in 4 or 5 minutes or however long. This gives more detail to the story that J.M. Berrie had intended.
TV: What was your favorite part of the story, whether you discovered it as you were recording the story or when you were a kid?
LC: I guess it’s the idea that John, Michael, and Wendy’s mother also had known Peter Pan when she was younger. I love the idea that when they return home and they’re talking about how they saw Peter and what that experience was like, it reignites this youthfulness and magic within their parents who, through the years, have forgotten what it’s like to believe in that and to see the magic. Through the eyes of young children, you too can have that mystery and fantasy and magic reignited within yourself. Seeing them get so excited about something and the purity of it all, you can’t help but not believe that yourself and reimagine all those things that you used to think of as you were a kid.
TV: A lot of your movies, including Blindside and The Mortal Instruments, started out as books. Is there anything that connects with you about bringing these stories to life?
LC: It’s not something I’m drawn to necessarily, it’s just kind of happened that way. Especially in recent years, the majority of projects now seem to be based on books because the source material either has such a following already or is so well-written or is such a great story that people really want to see it brought to the screen as opposed to just imagining it. […] And it is great to have source materials to refer back to and use as inspiration when coming up with character traits and what the character goes through. It’s also interesting because the scripts don’t always mimic exactly how the books go. It’s a tricky balance to refer back to source material but also keep in mind that the script is different. But I think it’s great to have things that we love and imagine in our own heads, translated to screen.
Part of the reason I wanted to become an actor in the first place is that I so loved when my parents would read stories to me out loud because I would imagine it in my own head. I knew one day I wanted to be a part of that magic-making process for other people. I wanted to be part of that storytelling, so I’m living out what it is I really wanted to do as a kid and weirdly enough, [the stories] actually happened to be from physical books.
TV: The Lost Tycoon, one of your newest projects, is based off an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Can you tell us anything about that?
LC: We finished the pilot so, fingers crossed on that one. It was an absolutely amazing experience, 1930s Hollywood is such an incredible period of history. Matt Bomer is an absolute godsend, he’s just a fantastic human being as well as costar. Everyone on that set was just so positive and I think it’s interesting to take that book that was never fully finished — F. Scott Fitzgerald passed away while he was writing it — and the potential ability to flesh it out in a TV setting would be so interesting. There are so many amazing stories about Hollywood that you can’t just fit into a really short amount of film.
For my character Celia, especially, there’s an incredible journey that she gets to go on (if we get to go to series) and I am so honored to play her. I also read it in high school and dug deep into that story. And now, getting to play in that world but in the 21st century, which weirdly enough isn’t that different when it comes to the studio world… I think it’s really cool to draw the parallels and then the similarities between the two, as an actor now playing a girl who’s very much involved with it in the ’30s. It looks beautiful and it all felt so right to me. I hadn’t worked in a very long time and it felt like there was a reason that this was coming up for me. There was something out there saying, “Hold on, wait a second,” and then this came up and it was a very, very amazing entrance back into it all.