Fans of The Mortal Instruments book series can rest easy: Lily Collins, who’ll bring Clary Fray to life on screen, is just as obsessed with Cassandra Clare’s books as you are. (“Join the club!” she says with a laugh.) Collins, who was cast as Fray over two years ago, has been a fan of Clare’s work for quite some time. Now the story, which centers around a young girl who discovers a brand-new (to her) supernatural world, is finally coming to the big screen this summer, with a cast that includes Jared Harris and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
“The special effects and the CGI are going to be incredible, but it’s not a film based on that,” Collins says. “It just adds to the other elements of the film. We’ve kept the humor [from the book], and we’ve really made it about human emotion and character. I’m just excited to see the action and giggle and swoon over the romance. I hope that everyone loves it as much as I loved making it. I would love to play Clary over and over again.”
Collins talked to EW about what she likes about Clary, her thoughts when she saw the Institute set for the first time, and her reactions to Jamie Campbell Bower (Twilight) as “cocky” bad boy Jace.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know you were a longtime fan of the books. Did you envision yourself as her while you were reading it?
LILY COLLINS: Well, I think any young girl who reads a series like this, where there is such an amazing female character, I think everyone is secretly like, ‘I wish I was Clary.’ Not because she has these two guys fighting for her attention —
But it’s kind of nice!
[Laughs] Not going to lie, that’s a perk to Clary, but the thing about her that I love is that she’s this strong, empowered young woman who is going through normal teenage life, and yet all these different crazy situations are thrown at her and she handles it with such grace. I [always thought], “She’s feisty and she kicks butt and she’s got this amazing adventure story.”So I totally would have loved to play Clary when I was reading it but never did I imagine that the day would come that I actually got to play her. So for me, like you said, I was a fan before, so it was a fan getting to live out a dream. So that made it all the more special for me.
What was your reaction the first time you saw some of the sets?
Oh my gosh! When I saw the Institute library where Hodge (Jared Harris) hangs out and where a lot of the fight sequences take place, that was the first time when I went, ‘This is exactly how I imagined it!’ The epic proportion of it, the detail — so many books had been hand-painted that you don’t even see. The amount of time and energy that went into making those sets…they were just vast and massive. And then the City of Bones, all the graveyards and skulls they had put in [it]. The art department is just so incredible and the aging on all the weapons and everything, they spared no expense to make it perfect. Even if the audience doesn’t see every particular thing that they put in the set, walking around it truly felt like we were there. It transforms you and transcends any reality that you’re in. All of a sudden, you’re just a part of it.
So as a fan, what was your favorite scene to shoot?
Hmm, there’s so many different scenes [that] are all so different! I mean, the fight sequences were fun.
What was your training like for that?
We trained like three months before filming. Stunt training and physical fitness, and then every day while we were filming, getting up at four or five in the morning I would train and then go to set. We had the stunt coordinators, we had aerial training with wires. We were training with swords and knifes — it was the most intense experience I ever had with training. I came off the project so exhausted, but it was worth it because I got to learn so many new kinds of tricks. Hopefully if [the movie] goes to sequel I would get to show more skill with it which would be amazing.
NEXT PAGE: Collins talks about Cassandra Clare and her feelings about Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace. Plus: That ending!
What has your contact with author Cassandra Clare been like?
I didn’t meet with her before I was cast. I spoke with her on the phone a few times during the casting process but I met her for the first time the weekend right before we started shooting, when she came out to Toronto for the table read. We all went out to dinner with her. It was so crazy to be at the table with her, the creator of these stories. The ability to pick her brain about things, and hear her opinions and ideas and just for her to be at the table read and give her two cents on the script. To have her involvement and enthusiasm in the project was unparallelled. I just wanted her to revel in her books being made into movies! I wanted her to come on set and I wanted to see her reaction to the scripts and all this kind of stuff. It was really amazing to have her there and hear her feedback.
Fans are quite pumped about seeing Jace on the big screen. What do you like about his performance?
I love that Jamie plays Jace in this way – he’s got this amazing balance between being this cocky and sarcastic guy, which is what we love about Jace, and then all of sudden he can turn and be incredibly vulnerable and emotional and sensitive. And Jamie’s got these two sides to him – I think it takes an incredible actor to be able to want to show a vulnerable side, because I think so many actors just want to be this masculine character. Jamie can be doing amazing fight choreography and flips and sword fighting, and the next second he can be getting emotional and cry. … I’ve said from day one [when Jamie walked in], that was it. He had this amazing playful energy that is so collaborative. I cannot wait for people to see him as Jace because it is Jace come to life. I’m really proud of him.
[Slight SPOILER alert if you haven’t yet read the book!] I need to talk to you about the ending of the film. If you don’t change anything from the books, you’ve got quite the scandalous ending for Clary when the first movie ends. Were you concerned at all about fan reaction?
It’s interesting: For fans of the book who’ve read the series, they know where [the ending] leads, so it’s not going to be a shock for them. But obviously making it into the film, you also want to draw in a new audience so you’re kind of toying with [the scandalous revelations]. It’s interesting because the people who don’t know the story are going to think it’s really weird — and it is weird! — but there’s a fine line there. [Director] Harald [Zwart] (The Karate Kid) was really amazing in the way he talked to all of us about how we were going to end it. It’s all about our reactions; it’s all about our physicality and awkwardness. A lot of it is played out not needing words. But also, that’s the way the first book ends. So you have to pay tribute and honor Cassandra’s work, but at the same time it’s that fine movie line where you have to make sure you don’t turn viewers off who don’t know the story! I think we’ve done it in a way that keeps people wanting more and addresses the issue but doesn’t leave you going, “Eww!” [Laughs] I think [the ending has] been done in a really balanced way and I’m excited for people to see it.