V140: A Lily's Blossoming
Lily Collins helped shape a cultural shenomenon. What’s more: she made it look easy
Lily Collins helped shape a cultural shenomenon. What’s more: she made it look easy
A lily’s bulb, like an onion, has layers. And so while you might assume to know everything about 33-year-old producer and actress Lily Collins thanks to dozens of magazine covers, a very famous father, and the inescapability of her hit Netflix show Emily in Paris, you’d be mistaken.
Even if you haven’t seen Emily in Paris, you already have a rough impression of its plotline: Emily Cooper, an American girl from Chicago, is just minding her own business (Elle s’occupe de ses oignons as they say in France), when she’s asked to relocate to Paris for one reason or another (in this case, it’s a job opportunity via her marketing company to bring her American perspective to a newly acquired firm in France). The polar opposite of a Francophone, she blunders her French, is the catalyst for cringe-worthy cultural clashes (“Emilie” stems from the Latin word for “rival,” after all), meets and falls for supermodel men who play the roles of chefs or bankers, wears head-turning outfits, gathers a gaggle of friends and, over time, adjusts to life after being cast out to sea on her lonesome.
“I read the pilot and thought, I would want to watch this,” Collins says over Zoom. She’s somewhere North of Los Angeles, preparing for Thanksgiving with her family. “It’s totally something I’d binge, and I knew that my mom would, too.” She mentions her mother specifically on the topic of the show’s appeal to a wide age range, something she didn’t initially anticipate. “The first season came out when we were experiencing COVID, so we didn’t get many human interactions after releasing the show,” she recalls. “But when we came back to Paris, people were recognizing us, and the age didn’t matter—it could be 10 years old all the way up to one’s grandparents’ age.” And while Nielsen reported that 77 percent of season two viewers were female, (hence the shenomenon), and I’d love to think of the show as being for the girlies and the gays, we’re not alone. “A lot of husbands would come up to us and say, ‘I started watching it for my wife but I think I wound up watching it quicker than she did.’”
But while Emily in Paris is silly, colorful, hilarious, and heartfelt, how did it become one of the most-streamed shows of all time? Well, Americans have been either dreaming about moving abroad or actually doing so in droves, particularly in recent years (during which Emily in Paris happened to be on TV).
“Since 2020, we have seen a steady increase in traffic of people from the United States coming to our website to learn about how to move abroad,” said Alison Johnson, co-founder of wherecani.live. “It’s not slowing down, either,” she added. The website saw a 193 percent spike in U.S. traffic immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 of this year. Such spikes are regularly seen after incidents of gun violence in the U.S., signaling that, sadly, people are looking to leave for fears of safety (there was also a 22 percent jump in traffic after the January 6 Capitol riot) or the loss of rights. According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, a majority of those moving abroad are between the ages of 25 and 34 years old, with 23 percent of expats moving due to work—that’s Emily Cooper, exactly.
And so while the show’s plot mirrors (and somewhat fuels) a very literal and physical move into a new place, so too is it relatable to anyone starting a new chapter, or dreaming of doing so. Safe to say, that’s a majority of the human population, helping to explain how we watched 107.6 million hours of the second season in its first five days. Whether you’re fantasizing about actually leaving your life behind and starting anew thousands of miles away or are simply looking to start a new chapter—“It’s almost like when you’re a kid and you got to a new school and are just like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll see what happens,’’’ Collins remarks—simultaneously enjoying the excitement of novelty while also conquering its sidecar of difficulties is an inescapable part of the human journey. What Emily in Paris succeeds at is capturing this beautifully and accessibly.
Unsurprisingly, Collins has started several new chapters before reaching that of global screen queen. “I wrote for magazines starting at 16 years old in England. I wrote for Elle Girl, the L.A. Times, I worked for Nickelodeon, I reported on Obama’s inauguration,” she says about her days working on the other side of the media. Previously, she’s mentioned being thankful for this time as a journalist—in a way, it was a unique form of media training for her current celebrity. She then went on to write a book, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me.
“When I wrote my book, I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna have my Carrie Bradshaw moment. I’m gonna just move to New York, hide away in an apartment, and I’m just gonna write my book,’” she says. “I got dates, I got an editor, I got a publishing house, and then I wound up booking three jobs back-to-back and had to write it all over the world.”
Those bookings were surely for acting, something Collins has technically done since her toddlerhood, although she didn’t dive in more professionally until she was about 20, with roles in The Blind Side (alongside Sandra Bullock), and Abduction.
“I definitely got rejected a lot at the beginning,” she admits. “I got told ‘no’ over and over and over again. The feedback was that I was too green. I was like, I don’t know what that means,” she jokes. “Like, green as in ‘go’”? But really I needed a little more maturing, practice, and experience. I guess, for me, it was always really important to not take [rejection] as, “No, this isn’t going to be for you.” It was just, “No, not right now.” I think whatever creative outlet, whether it’s music, acting, or writing, if you want to be a lawyer, a dancer, if you feel strongly that it is just so much a part of who you are, deep down to the core, you know that, ultimately, you’re going to get there somehow.”
A lot of kids today, raised with social media, might expect to springboard from the platforms into movie star roles. In the rare chance that this happens, it’s not necessarily the healthiest way in. “I think to meet people, to connect, to learn, that’s all going to better inform the craft, the skills, and your strength,” she says. “Even if you were an overnight success”—which now, with several decades of acting at various intervals of seriousness, Collins was not—“even if you had an amazing hit song or hit movie or hit TV show, and then the next thing you did bombed, well, it’s kind of that famous saying, ‘You’re only as good as your last performance.’ You really need to develop the backbone to be able to power through the negative, because you’re not always gonna get good reviews. I’ve not always gotten good reviews—believe me.”
For Collins, that backbone (in a professional sense) took well over a decade to build. “The first movie I did, I was 20 years old and I’m now 33. And to be able to have done my first film and now be talking about creating a production company, you know, 13 years later. If I were to have told my 20-year-old self I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, this is so long, that’s gonna take so long.’”
Outside of marriage, a chapter she’s now been enjoying for a year alongside her husband, American director and screenwriter Charlie McDowell, Collins has also dived head-over-high-heels into production. “I’ve always loved the idea of producing, before I even knew what the word ‘producing’ meant,” she says. “I’ve always loved acting, but like I said, being a journalist and reporting from 16 years old, going into the editing room in college, putting together stories from the ground up, that’s producing content. And that always fascinated me because it meant that I was creating something bigger than just myself. Now having a platform as an actor, I can be a conduit through which a story is told.” And while her role as a producer has only manifested more recently, the desire is nothing new. “Whether it was through writing, or even as far back as high school and being a teen therapist, I really just wanted to listen to other people talk and tell their stories and communicate and help, help them come up with the answers themselves and help them use their voice and tell their story…I love the idea of giving other people an opportunity to be at the forefront of a story.”
All this to say, yes—Emily in Paris came out at a particularly opportune time, interestingly highlighting a wave of Americans. But this should not remove any credibility from Collins herself, who, in great part, is responsible for the show’s success. And as basic or “ringarde” as her character Emily might be, Collins and Emily are not to be overly intertwined. The latter has more depth, more layers, and more projects ahead.
Makeup Francelle Daly (Home Agency) Hair Orlando Pita (Home Agency), Manicure Thuy Nguyen (A-Frame) Producer Kevin Warner (Photobomb), Production coordinator Merry Nestor (Photobomb), Digital technician Evan Strang Photo assistants Ramon Felix, Kevin Coffey, Stylist assistant Mattie Tiggleman, Emma Oleck, Production assistants Paul Draper, Nick Lambrakis Location JK Media