Lily Collins earned a Golden Globe nomination last year for her role as a ’50s aspiring actress in Rules Don’t Apply, but her latest film is less glamorous — and more personal.
In To the Bone, the 28-year-old daughter of Phil Collins plays a prickly young woman named Ellen who lands in an anorexia-recovery program led by an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves). It’s a spiky, snarky, and emotional role — made all the more intimate by the fact that Collins herself grappled with an eating disorder as a teen.
“Even if you’re only dipping into that mindset for a short time, I know how tricky it can be,” says writer-director Marti Noxon (Lifetime’s UnREAL), who based the script on her own experiences. “But Lily really recognized the power this story could have.”
With To The Bone now on Netflix, Collins spoke to EW about the film’s message and why she decided to open up about her own past struggle.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With your history, did you have any apprehension about immersing yourself in this character?
LILY COLLINS: I got this script, and I just knew that the person who had written it must have had a connection to it. There was just too much in there that felt personal. I met with Marti, and she was so open about her experiences that I thought, “Well, all right, I’m just going to talk about it too!” At first, my mom and some people that knew my history brought it up. And I said, “I really feel like I’m at the place where I want to tell this story.” I wanted to pay tribute to the 16-year-old girl that I was and make a movie that would’ve helped open my eyes.
Hollywood has made plenty of movies about mental illness, but there aren’t a ton of stories about eating disorders. Why do you think that is?
Well, Marti has been open about the fact that when she was pitching this to financiers and producers, she pitched it to a male who said the script was great but it was too small of a subject matter. I just can’t believe that. This conversation should’ve happened years ago, but if not now, then when? It’s only getting worse. People need to better understand the gravity of the situation. I go back to the idea that [movies about this don’t get made because] it’s awkward. Sometimes, when something has not been done, who wants to be the first one to put it out there and hold the flag?
You decided to work with a nutritionist and lose weight for this role. How did that work?
No one ever gave me a number to lose or a weight to reach. I knew that Marti was showing very specific moments of body — nothing gratuitous, just certain moments where you as an audience need to kind of gather what is going on. But [losing weight] allowed me to emotionally access some of the feelings that my character was going through. There has to be a bit of uncomfortableness in the way that you view her. But it was done in a way that provided me with the nutrition and the supplements and the energy I needed to do my job. And obviously, with Marti and all the other female producers and Keanu and everyone, I was being held accountable. I know my limits, and I was not about to let Ellen’s story take over my own.
Films that tackle heavy subjects like this can be a trigger for certain audience members. How did you work to portray eating disorders in a way that was safe but also honest?
We wanted to touch upon some uncomfortable moments because it is an uncomfortable subject matter. For me, I was so adamant that this was a character, and I could give my experiences and my emotions to the character, but at the end of the day, I was Lily, years later. So there was that balance: I wanted to give as much as I could to Ellen, but Ellen can’t take away from me.
To the Bone is now streaming on Netflix.