Around this time last year, when we all needed a little escapism during our endless lockdown winter, Emily Cooper landed in our lives. And while Emily in Paris may first have appeared on your Netflix feed as a shiny, festive bauble of a show, within a matter of days it became a near-inescapable global phenomenon—sparking endless debates over just how accurately it depicted the expat experience in Paris, in what seems to be one of the most mind-boggling cases of missing the point in recent memory. When it came to ticking the boxes for escapist binge-watching, lest we forget, Emily in Paris did exactly what it said on the tin: offered breathtakingly gorgeous backdrops, impossibly attractive actors, wildly expensive fashion, and plotlines as delightful as they were implausible.
At the center of this whirlwind was Lily Collins, not just appearing as the occasionally hapless yet unwaveringly upbeat protagonist, but also producing the show alongside Sex and the City creator Darren Star. “We were so grateful that during a time when everyone was at home craving exploration and travel, we were able to provide that,” says Collins, talking over Zoom in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. “From when I first heard about the project, it sounded so appealing and magical. I loved that Emily was so unapologetically herself. I loved that she was bright, bold, bubbly, daring, funny, witty, charming, down-to-earth, and silly. All these qualities, that I thought: How can that all be in one person?”
If they are to be found in one person IRL, it seems that would be Collins. Just as cheery and effervescent as she is onscreen, the actor also has Emily’s ability to talk a mile a minute—albeit without her fictional counterpart’s tendency to drop a faux pas a little too regularly. After all, it’s easy to forget that the eternally youthful-looking Collins is something of a seasoned pro, now more than a decade into her career. It’s one that has proven surprisingly versatile too. When she first arrived on the scene back in the early 2010s, her breakout roles came in the form of fantasy epics such as Mirror Mirror and The Mortal Instruments or rom-coms like Love, Rosie. But in more recent years, she has turned toward weightier subjects, from her critically acclaimed performance in the controversial anorexia drama To the Bone to her appearance in David Fincher’s starry, Oscar-nominated ode to Old Hollywood, Mank.
The fact that she’d taken something of a break from lighter fare, she explains, wasn’t necessarily intentional, but instead a matter of waiting for the right project. “The overall tone of Emily in Paris was something that I’d been wanting to find for a long time, but it’s hard when it comes to romantic comedies. There are so many different shades, and it’s about finding the one that works the most for you.” What was it about Emily in Paris that made her feel like it was time to get involved behind the scenes too? “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I felt a real sense of partnership with this character right away,” she says. “I felt like there were things in myself I wanted to add and ways in which she was going to change me.”