"To the Bone" star Lily Collins told us why a dialogue about eating disorders matters
Earlier this year, actress Lily Collins added to (and hopefully stimulated) the conversation surrounding eating disorders. She made the subject accessible in her beautifully forthright memoir — Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me — by opening up about her own experiences with anorexia and bulimia during formative years, her teens and early 20s. Because these conversations are crucial, Collins continued her dialogue by teaming up with director Marti Noxon for her Netflix film To the Bone.
Premiering this Friday, July 14th, the film follows protagonist Ellen (played by Collins), who has been in and out of recovery for anorexia. Hoping that this will be what heals her, Ellen’s family moves her to a group home that’s supervised by a doctor with a different approach, played by Keanu Reeves. It is not an emotionally easy movie to watch, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
To continue the conversation, Lily Collins agreed to speak with us about her journey as Ellen.
HelloGiggles (HG): You’ve been open about coping with both anorexia and bulimia during your teens and early 20s. Since this is a deeply personal and often triggering topic, was it hard for you to decide whether or not you wanted to take on this film?
Lily Collins (LC): No, because when I read the script, it was a week after I had written the chapter in my book on my experiences. To me, I’m a huge believer in “everything happens for a reason,” and I felt like it was very serendipitous that this would come to me right after having started writing about it in my book. I read the script and right away, I knew that whoever had written it, and I knew it was Marti, but that the person who had written it had experienced it because it was written in such a specific way with all these nuances of humor, and just things that I felt as someone who had [also] gone through it.
I thought, “Well, if this is going to be told by someone who’s been through it and I’ll be supported the entire way through, this is a story I feel like I need to also tell on a broader level.” I knew that I was going to be with a nutritionist and my mom was aware of everything going on, and [so was] Marti and all the producers. I just had to meet strong, nurturing people behind me that I just knew that this was something that was going to be a very therapeutic, special experience, and hopefully would lend itself to more conversations. Today, [talking to you], is just still proof that that’s the case. We’re able to have conversations about it, which I think is so important.
HG: It was beautiful watching your character have, as Oprah would put it, her “a-ha” moment regarding her disorder. What would you say that moment was for you in real-life?
LC: I didn’t have necessarily an “a-ha” moment…like Marti did, but a moment that I had in the past year and a half was in writing the book, why write it when I did or why come forward with my story when I did was that I’m like, “Okay, well, I’m 27 and I’m going to be wanting a family soon and when I have kids, I don’t necessarily want this to be something that I pass down to them and I feel like now is the time that I want to talk about it because I feel like I need to.” So, for me, that was a moment that I had when I realized, “Okay, this is maybe when I want to start talking about it.” But I can’t say that I had a moment like Marti did.
HG: What did you do to prepare for this role and physical transformation?
LC: Marti and I both attended an Anorexics Anonymous group, where we got to speak to women in recovery. I spoke to the head of the clinic for eating disorders, and was surrounded by the facts surrounding [eating disorders] and the medical facts surrounding it. I was already reading my old journals and going back over my photos and talking to friends about stories, and memories for my book. So, I was already doing preparation before I even knew that I needed to do preparation for the movie, which was interesting. I watched documentaries that Marti had sent and really just spoke to her about her experiences because it is based a lot on her experiences. So, I wanted to make sure that I knew the intentions appropriately for different scenes and different moments.
HG: Is there a specific line or scene that stands out to you — especially as an eating disorder survivor?
LC: There’s a moment in the movie when my stepmom is in the bathroom with me and I have to take my clothes off and stand on the scale and weigh myself and then she takes a photo. On that day, I remember Carrie Preston, we did the scene and [during the scene] she took a photo and she turns it around and says, “Do you think this looks pretty?” or, “Do you think this is beautiful?” I didn’t know that she was going to [actually] be taking a photo of me, and then showing me the photo on the iPhone. It was just having this meta experience being faced with yourself and looking at it, and being asked this question of, “Is this about beauty? Is this just about vanity?”
That’s a misconception about the disorder, is that it is just a vanity-based disorder. So, it really was one of those moments when I just thought, “Wow. This is hopefully going to do so much for that conversation.” [Especially when it comes to] people’s assumptions on what causes the disorder or what it’s about, we’ll hopefully change [that] or hopefully we’ll be able to create more empathy towards that.
HG: What is next for your character?
LC: Interesting. She goes back to the house, so I think she would stay within the house. She has a long road ahead of her. But her going back showed a willingness and a hopefulness to want that help and to seek that. So, I think that she’d probably be at that house for a while, going through those steps.
HG: What is next for you?
LC: For me, Okja, a film I did, just came out yesterday on Netflix, and I have a TV series called The Last Tycoon, which comes out at the end of next month, after To The Bone, on Amazon. So, I’m very excited about that one. Whole different world — 1930s glamor and old Hollywood, golden age, very, very excited, and can’t wait for that. So, I hope we get to do a second season of that. But only time will tell. So, I’m not sure.
HG: What would be your advice to all the women out there who want to be doing all the amazing things that you’re doing right now?
LC: Don’t take “No” as, “No, this isn’t for you.” Take “No” as, “Maybe not right now,” because there were a lot of things when I was trying to get started that I went for and I was told no. If I had taken that as “No, this isn’t the right industry for you,” or “No, you can’t do that,” then I wouldn’t be where I am. But I just took it as almost like a “No,” comma, dot-dot-dot as opposed to “No,” period. So, I think there’s no stopping what you can do.
Once you’ve reached the point where you think you can’t do anymore, you’d be surprised if you push a little harder that you can accomplish way more than you thought you could. At least, that’s what happened to me. I feel like I’ve been pushing myself in a great way and being able to extend past what I thought I was capable of, [and that’s] a really empowering place to be.