“The Last Tycoon” might be a period drama, but it’s set in a world that is familiar to 28-year-old Lily Collins.
“I’ve grown up in LA with a mother who is obsessed with old Hollywood, so I felt like I knew so much of the surface value of the 1930s,” the actress told amNewYork while in the city doing press for Amazon’s latest drama series, based on a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
What was more of a revelation, she said, was “all the nitty-gritty stuff the show goes into,” such as impact of the Great Depression on the film industry and the influence of Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II.
“I wasn’t aware of all that, and I think there’s a beautiful balance here of the glamour, but also the real darkness of the period,” Collins said.
As well as “Tycoon,” we chatted with the star about her acting influences and how she likes to spend time in her “second city home” of NYC.
What in particular appealed to you about “The Last Tycoon?”
I loved the character of Celia. I loved that she was feisty and passionate and a go-getter. She’s naïve and a little bit sassy, and really fighting for her own path and to step outside of her family. I loved her tenacity in that.
I also loved the fact that it was Matt Bomer. How could I not? And Kelsey Grammer and Rosemarie DeWitt. But the first draw was Billy Ray. He’s an incredible screenwriter and an amazing director, and his passion is so infectious that I met with him and I was like, “Can I start tomorrow?” It was a no-brainer, and I felt very lucky to be a part of it.
And the costumes. You can’t really get much better than Janie Bryant.
No, you can’t. She is a genius. Complete genius. What she did for “Mad Men” for years was just exquisite, and the fact that she gets to source all of this real, amazing material for us to use and to get to wear these little outfits and these hats, and then have hair and makeup as well be so amazing, it really helps transform and bring you into the character right away.
Did you identify much with your character, Celia?
I was in a way Celia when I was 16, because I was going into board rooms and pitching ideas for talk shows and facing people saying “no” all the time. She’s going through this for the first time. I’ve lived it, and I’m 28 and she’s 19. . . . I’m a little bit obviously older than her, but then that also lends itself to me being able to understand what she’s going through more. It’s a Catch-22. But I have more in common with her than not.
You do a lot of writing. Do you have anything in the works in terms of screenplays?
I would love to do that. Not currently, but I also love reading books and optioning. I want to produce as well. The idea of sourcing material and being a part of that conversation early on is fascinating to me, and that’s ironically what Celia does. I think we’re mirroring each other in a way as well, which is fantastic. She’s not the actor, but she’s inspiring me to become the other entrepreneur that I want to be. I wrote the memoir [“Unfiltered”] not knowing that I could write a memoir, and I thought, well, maybe I could write a script.
Past and present, who are your acting icons and influences?
Definitely Audrey Hepburn. I love the John Hughes ’80s films, so Molly Ringwald. Cate Blanchett, Penelope Cruz . . . Tilda Swinton, who I had the honor of working with. I think she’s fantastic. She just blows your mind in everything she does. And I mean, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep. . . . Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock. Melissa McCarthy I think is fabulous. I’d love to work with her.
And most of them are mothers. Family women. I think that’s amazing because they get to do both, and they prove that they can do both and be great at both, and not have to lose one for the other, which is, I think, the goal. It’s my goal. I’d love to have a family and get to still do what I’m doing and test myself every day and surprise myself.
How do you like to spend your time when you’re in NYC?
I love walking around in Central Park. I always have to go to the little café at the bottom of Bergdorf’s because I love their salads. My gosh. My friends just kind of take me to all these new spots. I love going to art galleries that I’ve never known existed. Also in Brooklyn we go exploring. . . . I have friends that live here that are some of my closest friends from high school and college, so it’s always such a pleasure to come here and stay with my friends, and I just love the city. Going to museums, going to Broadway. It’s definitely a second city home.
Speaking of Broadway, will we see you on stage one day?
I’d love to. It really would be fun. I started out doing musical theater when I was younger and it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed with a live audience. Terrifying — but in the best way. To do a play or a musical I think would be great, and it would give me an excuse to live in New York for a while, which I would absolutely love to do.