Usually the words “celebrity” and “unfiltered” indicate a series of explicit photos, the involvement of a tabloid magazine and a juicy exposé. Not for Lily Collins. The 27-year-old (turning 28 on March 18) English-American actress’ first book, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me. ($14, Harper Collins), which releases March 7, is an honest look at the person behind the public persona and the glamour of the silver screen. But those salivating at the thought of behind-the-scenes gossip may want to simmer down. This is not a tell-all. In her debut essay collection, the actress pens a poignant, honest conversation about things young women struggle with, including body image, self-confidence and relationships. Nevertheless, Collins has jitters. “I’m anxious,” admits the petite actress, looking impeccable in black Paige jeans, Stuart Weitzman suede boots and a loose white Tularosa top.
Her nerves are understandable. The last time we chatted with Collins about her award-nominated turn in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, she said: “Keep private whatever you hold dear,” a reasonable mantra in a celebrity-obsessed world where privacy is hard to come by. Now, she’s about to willingly open the door to some of her deepest secrets, from her yearslong battle with eating disorders to an emotionally abusive relationship.
“I still believe that,” she says, when reminded of her mantra. “But these are things that I felt I wanted to put out there. Not necessarily so people know that I experienced them, but to create, hopefully, a space for more open conversation about the topics I discuss.” And some things are still off limits: “When I talk about relationships, I don’t reveal any details about it or names because that is not important. That was not the point of why I was going there.”
Collins’ life has certainly appeared charmed from its inception. The daughter of English musician Phil Collins and American Jill Tavelman was born in England and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 6. Collins has always been a self-starter. She cold-called magazine editors as a teenager, which landed her a column in ELLE Girl UK, and initially pursued a career in broadcast journalism before her role in The Blind Sidetook her on a different path. Leading roles in Mirror Mirror; Love, Rosie; and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones followed, but it is in the past year or so that Collins’ career has really hit its stride, with Rules Don’t Apply (for which she received a Golden Globe nomination); the upcoming Amazon series The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last book about 1930s Hollywood; the Netflix original film Okja, in which she stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton; and To the Bone, which premiered in January at Sundance to rave reviews and was purchased by Netflix for $8 million. Even her colleagues can’t stop gushing over her. “She’s very much in charge of her life and her professional life in a way that I think is really admirable,” says her Rules Don’t Apply co-star Annette Bening, who refers to Collins as a “badass” who “has her sh*t together.”
Yet despite a successful career and her Audrey Hepburn-ish looks, the actress was anxious to reveal she is susceptible to the same feelings of inadequacy and insecurity as the young women who look up to her. “What really inspired me to write the book is that I was getting all these young girls interacting with me on my Instagram, and they would tell me their stories about what they’d gone through, but they would always add in there that they didn’t think I could understand because I’m an actress,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Oh, my God. You have no idea.’”
Collins understands them better than most. Her intense struggle with body image started at age 16 and continued in ebbs and flows for 10 years. And right as she was revisiting her own harrowing journey with eating disorders for the sake of sharing her story, To the Bone—Marti Noxon’s script about an anorexic girl confronting her addiction—happened to come her way. “When I read the script, and I knew what the story was about, there was a slight hesitation at first because it’s something that’s very close to me,” says Collins. “You have to re-enter that mindset.”
In the end, her deep understanding of this character won out and the ability to revisit the struggles of her youth with the help of a nutritionist and a support system is an experience Collins calls “the best form of therapy.” She adds: “I think most people will assume the movie experience was probably hell, and it wasn’t at all. It was one of the most fun, freeing experiences I’ve had. Within playing Ellen, I got to come to terms with a lot myself. That was a proud moment for me.”
“What really inspired me to write the book is that I was getting all these young girls interacting with me on my Instagram. ... they would always add in there that they didn’t think I could understand because I’m an actress. And I thought, ‘oh, my God. You have no idea.’”
Collins also credits her ambassadorship with Lancôme as grounding her among an incredible set of women, including Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Isabella Rossellini. “It’s the most inspiring group of women,” she says. “We do amazing work with making women feel good in their own skin and enhancing their inner beauty.” Collins is grateful the company’s message encourages what she has always been passionate about encouraging within young women.
Admittedly, the hardest chapter for Collins to put down on paper is the one in which she sheds light on a long-term relationship during which she experienced an incredible amount of emotional abuse. “For a long time, I wanted to shy away from talking about that experience,” she admits. “But it’s a part of my story, and it’s a part of how I interact in relationships with friends, with family and in romantic situations. And to write all that stuff down, and to then say it out loud, made it so much more real. And it actually made me feel strong because I’d moved through that, and I’d moved past that. And I’ve learned so much more about myself and about what I deserve or how I deserve to be treated.”
She offers no details on who this man might be, but hints that any cross-referencing with her public relationships might be a fruitless exercise. “It’s funny because I think everyone’s going to assume certain people I talk about are famous people, but they’re not,” she says. “Just because I kept people anonymous doesn’t mean that people would have known who they were anyway.”
There is, however, one man in her life she cannot keep anonymous. “I couldn’t not talk about my parents in this story, obviously,” she smiles. In her book, Collins reveals to readers that her father’s absence took a toll on their relationship. “It’s hard when that person isn’t around a lot,” she says. “I have amazing memories of being able to travel and being able to have family all over the world. Were there things that would have been nice probably to experience as a family? Of course. But it didn’t happen that way. And I’m me for a reason. I mean, everything that happened made me who I am.”
Collins addresses these feelings in an emotional letter addressed to her father. “That was a hard chapter to write because he is public. It’s a weird situation to be in, to be writing about someone that people already know, but they don’t know my experience with [him],” she says. “I am just a daughter talking to her dad, and I think that a letter felt appropriate because it can be translated to any relationship with daughters and dads. As a girl, you always want them to see you as their little girl, and you’re always going to need them and want them. And even if you say you don’t, you really do.”
It feels oddly comfortable delving so deep into one somber topic after another with the actress, perhaps because Collins radiates such peace with herself. Hers is a lesson that even the seemingly most impenetrable package comes with some fragility. After opening up about her experiences, Collins says she feels truly unleashed. “I think it’s allowed me to let go a lot more,” she admits. “I kept hearing from certain directors or people in my life, ‘You should just let go more. Let go more.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean? I am free!’ or ‘I am letting go!’ But I realized I was holding on to a lot. And the second I put it out there, I could just kind of live and breathe in the moment.”
She now dreams of starting a family, but is in no rush—especially since there is currently no man in the picture. “I’m in a relationship with myself,” she quips. “I think a lot of young girls should do that. I think it’s important to figure out you and to have fun and to be dating and to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. It’s what growing up is all about.”
Besides, right now, her focus is on work and living life to the fullest. “I want to keep doing what I love to do,” she says. “Last year, I would never have said, ‘This year, I’m going to shoot a TV pilot, three movies and finish a book.’ Never, would I ever have thought it was possible. So I want to keep being terrified to try new things. That’s what pushes you beyond your limits—and to never take any of it for granted.”
Photography by Andrew Eccles | Styling by Jordan Johnson and Jill Lincoln//Photo Assistants: Jason Johnson and Tarik Richards | Digital Tech: Maxwell Tiggas