I recently had the opportunity to experience the love, friendship and adventure of an iconic storyteller in the film biopic of J.R.R Tolkien. From the legendary halls of Oxford to the grim and bloody trenches of World War I, this enthralling biopic explores the early years of J.R.R Tolkien (played by Nicholas Hoult) and the relationships that defined the legendary author he would become. Chronicling his romance with Edith Brant (played by Lily Collins), as well as the various members of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society, Tolkien slowly grows from a shy and bookish young man into one of history’s most beloved writers, seasoned by life, and everything that comes with it.
In a Q&A interview with Lily Collins, she talked about the role she played in this remarkable movie. For those who are not familiar with Lily's work, she broke out as an actor with the likes of Priest, Abduction and Mirror Mirror, where she played Snow White. She then starred in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Stuck in Love The English Teacher and Love, Rosie. She won a Golden Globe nomination for Rules Don't Apply and earned much praise for To the Bone and the TV miniseries Les Miserables.
In what ways did the story of Tolkien resonate with you, Lily?
Lily Collins: Something that resonates with me very strongly in the story is that one can have a soulmate and it doesn’t even have to be romantic. It can be a friendship, and in this story we deal with Edith and Tolkien’s love, and that from a very young age was a soulmate connection. But he also has these three friends who are very much soulmates in their own right. You don’t necessarily know the impact you are going to have on someone and vice versa. It could be years later that you are still having that impact on them. Also, Tolkien, to me, is a creator of stories that deeply impacted my wanting to be an actor.
LC: I lived in the English countryside when I was little. It was very Shire-like and I used to go around the garden pretending that there were magical creatures everywhere. I would read the books and disappear into this world in my head and I wanted one day to translate that to other people. Acting is exactly what that does for me and, ironically, I ended up doing a movie about the man behind that. Tolkien found the magic in the mundane and in nature and that felt very connected to me from such a young age.
Did you read other books in that genre? C. S. Lewis, maybe?
LC: Anything fairy tale. C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter, Tolkien, anything fantasy based. I also loved reading the darker side of fairy tales, like the Grimm stories, which maybe are not the Disney versions we all know.
Who did you want to be in the Tolkien books?
LC: The elven characters resonated very deeply with me because I used to run around the garden pretending there were elves and fairies everywhere. I auditioned for one of the Peter Jackson films to play an elven character, one of hundreds of people, probably, and didn’t end up getting it. But then again, eight years later here I am playing the woman who partly inspired her and was quite muse like in that regard for all the elven characters. That was something I felt naturally inclined to.
What happened at your Peter Jackson audition, Lily?
LC: I didn’t do well. There was no script to read, just these sides that were quite confidential. Don’t ask me to do it now because I won’t be able to but we had to speak Elfish! And we had to make it up because they hadn’t given us a proper language. It was the role Evangeline Lilly played [Tauriel], so another Lilly, but not this Lily! It was just an honour to just go in for it.
Was Peter there?
Both these characters follow their dreams so how important was that for you, to be true to yourself and to follow your dreams?
LC: Something that I have always been taught me from an early age is to follow your gut and your heart and to do what it is that pleases your soul. But that doesn’t always come easily. Growing into adulthood has been a journey of discovering what it is that I really enjoy and why I enjoy it, as well learning about myself, and getting to know that road blocks are going to come your way; it is how you deal with them that defines who you are and where you end up. That is pretty much the book I wrote a couple of years ago — the book dealt with those kinds of things, too. It is an ever-evolving process and the goal is always to stay true to what makes you happy and to find people to surround yourself with who respect that, and maybe share some of your interests.
What are your own experiences with writing?
LC: I used to write for magazines when I was younger. I wrote for US and UK magazines, online stuff, and then I wrote a book two or three years ago which was a memoir of sorts.
What inspired you to write the book?
LC: I was receiving a lot of messages on social media, specifically Instagram, from young women all over the world expressing to me their insecurities and fears and feelings about themselves and always prefacing them by saying, ‘I know that you cannot relate to this because you are an actress and live in Hollywood, but this is my insecurity, my issue.’ I thought they were so brave because on Instagram your photo is right there so it isn’t anonymous and I thought, ‘If they are going to be brave and do that, I am going to be brave and do that.’ They are feeling alone and if they don’t feel alone, maybe it will help them get through it and maybe I will find something therapeutic about that, too. So it was really just me trying to say, ‘You are not alone so be brave.’ And for me, I felt I had a lot of baggage that I was carrying around, not that anyone knew about it but I thought I had to get rid of that in order to take on the baggage of any characters I played.
Was it difficult deciding what to sift out when writing the book?
LC: I’m not sure that there was a lot that I left out, to be honest. Maybe there will be a Part 2! At the beginning when I started to write it, my editor said, ‘Don’t sell yourself short. You can go a little bit deeper here, here and here.’ It was interesting because as I was writing, I was shooting To The Bone, which is about a subject matter that I write about [anorexia]. And my experiences within acting greatly influenced my understanding of some of my chapters. Therefore, I went deeper into those chapters and came to an inner peace more because I had worked through them. It was really interesting that they both married with each other.
Who introduced the Tolkien books to you?
LJ: I just remember the time period of being in elementary school and having always had this love of magic and fantasy, knowing the world of Harry Potter and then also Tolkien; they took me away to different worlds. I used to go to the library as a kid in school and I would just sit and read them. It was a private time and a sense of escapism in a way. And then I would look forward to the Peter Jackson films when the trailers were coming out. I got really excited and I would look at the release date and go with friends and I still have all my ticket stubs; I keep all my ticket stubs.
Lily, how did it feeling turning 30?
LC: It was great. I had a great time. It was gong to happen regardless so I thought I had better have a good attitude about it. I was filming in Birmingham, Alabama and my mom flew up for my actual birthday. But then the next weekend two of my best friends from the age of five flew out. We took a road trip to Nashville. It was so fun. We had 36 hours. We rode horses and went to all of the honky tonks, we went to the bars, wore cowboy boots and cowboy hats. It was great, just pure innocent fun and then I drove back and I went to work the next day.
TOLKIEN debuts on Digital Download on August 26
and Blu-Ray & DVD on September 9
With thanks to Sadira Cunningham at Fetch Publicity