Lily Collins says she’s jet-lagged, but there really is no evidence of that. Here she is on Zoom, friendly and fresh-faced in an oversized chambray shirt, the day after she returned from her month-long Scandinavian honeymoon with her husband, filmmaker Charlie McDowell. The 32-year-old is framed by big windows pouring in all that gauzy California late-afternoon sun. It’s almost golden hour and the effect is stunning.
It’s been a lazy kind of day. This morning, Collins took her dog Redford to be groomed and squeezed in a facial. “Got to get hydrated!” she jokes, before her Vogue Australia photo shoot. Life is good. It’s the eve of the release of season two of her phenomenally successful Netflix series Emily In Paris and Collins is really savouring being in the moment.
“I think when I was younger I was far more focused on the future, because I knew so badly where I wanted to go and where I was headed. Or hoping to head,” the actor reflects. “That was my focus, and I lost sight of present moments, and the ‘now’ moments. My real focus and passion was with my work. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy being with my friends, of course I did, but I was always so work-driven and future-driven.” Recently, that balance has shifted, Collins says. “But now, what I really want to find in my future is what I have with my husband
and our dog, so that’s caused me to focus far more on the present, and the future will come.”
Being present is important to Collins, something she achieves through meditation and keeping a daily gratitude journal. But she says she is still “innately a planner” and has “always thought long-term, big picture”. So when she does let her mind wander further afoot, what are her hopes? “Being a mom,” Collins says. “When that happens. Having a family. And just being able to continue being a part of the creation of stories in front of and behind the camera,” she adds of her expanding role as producer on Emily in Paris – but more on that later.
Her recent wedding was a small, intimate affair in Colorado in September. The bride wore an intricate lace gown by Ralph Lauren, with a high neck and long sleeves, which paired equally well with both heels and hiking boots, which Collins swapped into later in the day. Then came the honeymoon. First stop Copenhagen, dining at Rene Redzepi’s Noma, a spot of Danish girl-influenced impulse purchases – Collins tips her head forward to show the scrunchie in her hair that she bought, on a whim – and then over to Sweden and Norway, before finishing in London. All told it was a month of adventures, 13 flights, a handful of car trips and total, absolute heaven. How is married life, then, one month or so in? Collins beams. “Amazing,” she says. “Very, very happy.”
“How did you get so lucky to move to Paris?” is a question the Gallic pixie dream girl Camille poses to Collins’s Emily early on in the first season of Emily In Paris. It’s a question Collins often asks herself, too. How did she get so lucky to land this role of ‘Emily from Chicago’,
confident, enthusiastic and resilient, a fish out of water who keeps leaping back out of the pond, no matter how often she makes a mistake, no matter how badly she fumbles French pronunciation, no matter how many times she is told with a sniff and a shrug of some silk-shirted shoulders, pas possible. “She is work-driven, passionate, determined, bright, bold, bubbly, a little bit obvious and unapologetically herself,” Collins sums up. “She’s funny and she’s in on the joke – and it was Paris! There were so many factors that I found extremely appealing.”
Famed producer Darren Star – the man behind Sex And The City – offered Collins the job on her 30th birthday. “From the moment I met Lily I was struck by her charm, her beauty, her light, dynamic personality,” Star recalls. “I knew I had found my Emily, but I couldn’t believe it was that easy!” The role is the biggest of her career: she is in almost every scene of the first season, and has to embody a deceptively tricky blend of innocence and resolve. Collins
filmed Emily In Paris in 2019 and watched it explode on Netflix in October 2020, when most of the world had barely left their homes in months, let alone wandered a Paris backstreet at
dusk, flirting with a gorgeous French chef while wearing an outfit dreamt up by legendary stylist Patricia Field. Whether you loved it, or loved to roll your eyes at it, Emily In Paris was vibrant, bubbly and light, like a macaron that evaporates on your tongue. Do you need a reminder of what October 2020 was like for most of the world? Not great. No wonder 58
million people ate it up when it was first released.
Emily In Paris is “escapism at its best”, muses Ashley Park, who stars as Emily’s best friend Mindy. Their closeness on-screen is mirrored by a deep and forever love off-screen, too. “Lily is one of my best friends,” Park confirms. “We met at our very first table read. A lot of people were like: ‘How many years have you known each other?’ We’d known each other 45 minutes. But you meet certain people in your life and you just feel the same. It goes beyond a soul sister. We both didn’t realise that there was this place in our heart for each other ... In the past year, there’s been no better ally or friend than Lily.”
A perfect example was Park’s 30th birthday, which fell in the middle of production on season two. She details how Collins went above and beyond to make it a special day: morning shopping spree, cafe lunch, dinner on the terrace at an iconic restaurant – “and she paid for the whole day, she didn’t have to do that”, Park shares. “But it was the loveliest 30th birthday. I’m so glad I got to spend it with her.”
For season two, Collins spent four blissful months in France, and McDowell and Redford decamped for some of it, too. On her rare days off, the couple ambled around the city, taking Redford for walks in the Tuileries. (“How is this real?” she remembers thinking. “Right in front of the Louvre! Redford, you better be grateful, this is not the normal dog walk.”) Park says she and Collins were constantly beset by French fans who recognised them. “Not even by teenage girls. I can’t tell you how many middle-aged men came up to us, like ‘Oh, it’s you guys!’ she says, laughing. “Especially when the two of us are together. I don’t even think we’re that loud, but I guess we really do sound like ourselves!”
That joie de vivre is something that Collins and Emily share, too. Collins stresses that there are several differences between herself and her most famous character, the first being that she learnt French as a child, when she was living in England before her parents, Jill Tavelman and music legend Phil Collins, separated when she was six. (Emily’s French is, to put it politely, a work in progress.)
“It was really hard in season one to separate learning and figuring out who this character is and be such a foreigner, whereas I understood so much,” says Collins. “I had to silence a lot of that and just be Emily most of the time.” But there are similarities, too. Emily’s hot water collapsing? Stepping in dog poo? Her inability to grasp the numbering system of Paris apartment floors? These are all things that actually happened to Collins or the writing team when they first relocated to the City of Lights for the series and were written straight into episodes.
And both women love what they do. Collins has always worked: her first role was on the British sitcom Growing Pains as a toddler, and she wrote for teen magazines in her youth. She did a year of university but dropped out in 2009 to star in The Blind Side opposite Sandra Bullock. Since then, she has acted solidly for more than a decade for critically
acclaimed directors including Bong Joon-ho and David Fincher. On Emily In Paris, Collins received her first producer credit, an opportunity she relished. “I got to be a part of conversations that I’d never been privy to before, [have] input creatively in front of the camera, behind the camera,” she explains. “More so in season two, I really felt encouraged and empowered to do so.”
Star is full of praise for Collins’s unimpeachable work ethic. “Lily cares about everyone who works on this show,” he enthuses. “She immerses herself in the details. She is not only the star – she is a team leader. During production she really lives and works Emily 24/7.”
Collins loves being a producer. She proudly details her work on season two: she was “very vocal” in favour of expanding storylines for her co-stars, ensuring her character became more meaningfully immersed in French culture and pushing for more diversity, both on- and off-screen. Many changes were a direct result of “conversations” around the first season, Collins shares. “When you’re given feedback after the first season of a show, it does allow you to do better, to listen, and to creatively still feel like the show you set out to make, but also allow for change, and more voices to be heard,” she stresses. “That was really important to me.”
As such, the second season of Emily In Paris is more diverse. Tony-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris joins the cast as fashion designer Gregory Elliott Dupree, while Lucien Laviscount stars as Emily’s classmate Alfie, a cheeky London financier – and potential love interest – who couldn’t give a sodding toss about croissants and the Champs-Élysées, thank you very much. It’s a canny plotline: firstly, because it gives the show’s writing team the opportunity to indulge in some English stereotypes alongside the French and American ones. But also because it allows Emily to step into the role of Parisian translator for a nonplussed newbie. This time around, the student has become the master. “I like the fact that there’s that shift,” Collins smiles.
The fashion looks in the second season are also some of her favourites so far, and thrilling to wear for the style-obsessed ambassador for Cartier and Lancôme. “The brightness and boldness and fun and sense of humour Emily has in her wardrobe enhances her personality, especially coming out of Covid where comfort was everything,” Collins reflects. “Not everything felt super comfortable after Covid, but it was really nice to have fun with fashion again in the most heightened way possible.”
Expect all manner of gloves and shades of purple, tiny Prada purses – “I really can’t fit anything in them, but they are quite funny and sweet” – lots of vintage pieces, and everything alive with embellishments, sparkles and joy. “There are literally no sweatpants,”
Collins says, laughing. Towards the end of the season, there are some “epic dresses”, she teases, that she wishes she could have taken home. “I didn’t keep anything this season,” Collins admits. Even her power as a producer has its limits. “Believe me, I’ve asked,” she quips.
Collins’s next movie as both actor and producer is one she made with her husband. Filmed during lockdown with a stripped-back crew, the noir thriller Windfall stars Collins alongside Jesse Plemons with McDowell directing. “Honestly, it was so easy working together,” she shares. “I would forget that it was him, because he’s so –” she breaks off, laughing, throwing an adoring glance over her shoulder at McDowell, who is sitting just out of frame. “He’s listening to me, so it’s kind of funny,” Collins explains. McDowell mumbles something.
“He just said: ‘I haven’t heard the word ‘genius’ yet’.’’ McDowell, whose father is actor Malcolm McDowell and mother is actor Mary Steenburgen, is a director who “knows exactly what he wants”, Collins says. “I thought it would be harder, I have to say. I thought it would be more stressful to have to work with him, but it honestly was really amazing and freeing. It was great, and I’m really,really proud of the movie and I’m proud of him. It’s a different type of role for me,” she adds of the film, which follows a young couple who arrive at their holiday home to discover it has been burgled.
She is looking forward to more work like that. But the future is the future, and what Collins is really trying to do is live in the present, because her present is pretty good, too. This also happens to be the central tension of the second season of Emily in Paris. What is the right way to live? In the moment, or always concerned with what’s next? Should Emily succumb to a hot French fling or protect her heart, knowing that in a year’s time she’ll be back in the Midwest? “You’ve got the rest of your life to be as dull as you wish,” advises Sylvie, Emily’s boss. “While you’re here, fall in love. Make mistakes.”
It’s good advice. We should all try to follow it, and Collins certainly is. “I don’t want to miss out on what’s happening right now, because of something that may happen,” she sums up.
“The important thing has happened, so now whatever else falls into place is what’s meant to be.”
Emily In Paris season two streams on Netflix from December 22