If you think you know Lily Collins, get ready to go deeper. The actress and model has just added “author” to her impressive resume with a collection of super personal essays, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me (HarperCollins, $24), out now, that she says was both terrifying and liberating to share. And no topic is off limits in the book including her strained relationship with her dad Phil Collins, and perhaps most private, her experience with eating disorders. She lays it all out there in the utterly relatable way her dedicated fans have come to expect, and with a singular purpose: to help people who have been through similar things feel less alone.
We caught up with the 28-year-old fresh on the heels of her LA book signing to talk about anxiety, critics and the unexpected side effect of her book’s release that she calls “a really nice gift to be given.”
Why did you decide to write the book?
I did a lot of self-reflection and work on myself in the past two years and I came to a lot of deeper understandings about the things that I’ve gone through. The more I talked about it to other people, the more they were saying “Oh my god, I’ve been through that as well. I had no idea that you would have experienced that.” And it made me feel less alone and I thought, If it makes me feel less alone then chances are if I speak out, more people will feel the same way. I just happened to start writing it right before I got the script for To the Bone and that dealt with subject matter that I talk about in the book and I felt like Wow, obviously there’s a reason that I’m writing about this stuff now. I’m still young but I’m older than I was ten years ago and I’ve learned more about myself so I thought these are the most relevant things that are going on with me right now and chances are if I’ve been through them, someone else will have and it may help spark conversations among other people if I speak up and tell my truth.
Inevitably when a younger person writes a personal book, there are critics who say they’re too young. How do you respond to that?
Well, I’m writing about the things I’ve learned up until now. It’s really the first chapter of my life, it’s the things I’ve learned so far in growing up. I have been able to wrap my head around and come to terms with a lot of things that I’ve been through up until now. And since all of that stuff is still fresh in my mind, I feel like why not write about it when it’s still as relevant to me as possible? Back when I was writing for magazines when I was 15 and presenting for shows and doing red carpet interviews, I knew as a viewer myself that I was able to relate more easily to someone that was closer to my age. So the idea that I’m writing to an audience that isn’t that far off from my age just makes it more relatable. I’m not saying that I’m all knowing or wise, the book is not a tutorial or a how-to—these are truths that I’ve come to realize about myself, and about growing up, as I’m still growing up. And hey, there might be another book in the future where I talk about what I’ve learned after this one because I will learn more!
Now that the book is out, how have your fans been reacting to it?
It’s been incredible! I just had my book signing and girls, boys, men, women of all ages, from all over showed up, and people would say “Oh my god, chapter 2—I feel like I dated that guy!” or “That letter was so powerful” or say that they felt I was speaking directly to them. I was so floored by the support and positivity and really just this overwhelming feeling for myself, yet again, that I’m not alone. I wrote it for all those people that ever felt alone because I wanted them to know that they weren’t and yet I still found myself being surprised when someone could relate to something I’d written and say “You’re also not alone.” And I was like Oh my god, it’s working on me too! It was a really nice gift to be given.
On the flip-side of that, was there any anxiety related to the book finally coming out?
Oh yeah, it’s so personal so of course there were terrifying aspects of it. I was very anxious because I am opening up and so vulnerable in so many different ways, but if being vulnerable meant there was going to maybe be a greater result for more people, then I was totally willing to put myself out there. You can control what you put out there but you can never control people’s reactions and I had to be strong knowing that [writing this book] was a choice, no one was asking me to do it, and at the end of the day you just have to take the good with the bad. I’m prepared to answer questions because I know that I’ve written about certain things that are going to elicit conversations and questions, but I feel like it really has, pun intended, made me feel very unfiltered.
Have you always been somewhat unfiltered or outspoken?
I’ve never had a problem saying awkward things or putting themselves in an awkward situation to spark conversations. At the same time, in this business you learn how to separate what you need to say from what you want to keep personal and so you create a personal boundary. But I think there were always those things that I was still battling with or thinking about that maybe I didn’t know how to vocalize and now vocalizing them has been so freeing and powerful because you realize that you can relate to so many more people and that they can relate to you. It’s almost like I’ve gotten such a weight off my shoulders. I wasn’t necessarily keeping things secret on purpose, but it feels like I’ve able to unearth things I didn’t even know I was harbouring and facing that stuff head-on is super powerful.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
I loved writing in school and have always loved English literature. I also wrote for magazines when I was really young so I had dealt with deadlines before but it is a strange thing when you’re writing for fun and then all of sudden it’s like “Oh, but now you have to turn in an entire book”. It’s a little different, but I conceptualized the book at a time when I wasn’t working on anything film-wise and then right after I got the book deal, as luck would have it—and I feel very lucky—but I booked three things back to back and had to travel around the world for filming. So I had fit everything at the same time which was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I could no longer just focus on the book, I had to learn my lines and film a movie at the same time, so it was very stressful but then also writing about all this stuff was extremely therapeutic. It was like looking in a mirror and being forced to face a lot of fears and it was terrifying, but the reward was so much greater [than the stress.] I had to keep that in my mind as the end result because that’s what kept me pushing forward and at the end of the day, I’m really proud and I feel so much freer.
Which essay was most difficult to write?
Talking about my eating disorder past was something that, god, ten years ago I would never have imagined that I would do, let alone talk about on TV or at a book signing! I never thought that being able to talk about it would be a strength of mine but sometimes the things that we struggle with the most end up being our strength and that truly is now. It’s very powerful for me to talk about. But, the initial writing of that was very tough and daunting because I thought Oh my god, now I’m going to be held accountable and people are going to know but then I realized that the beauty of it is that maybe I am someone who needs to be held accountable because that’s how my growth will happen and so the nerves and anxiety surrounding it ended up being something that really created positivity for me.
You mentioned the film To the Bone which deals with eating disorders. Tell us more about it.
So it premiered at Sundance and I don’t know [when it will be released] but it should be this year, that’s the plan. Netflix bought it at Sundance, which I’m so excited about because to have the opportunity to watch it in your own home is such a brilliant concept. A subject matter like that is meant to prompt conversation and it’s not the most entertaining conversation, at times, or it’s a private thing and if people can relate to it, they may want to watch it in their own homes or have conversations about it with their family. For Netflix to take a risk and really support us is so amazing and so it will be available to everyone, which is fantastic. I’m really excited and proud of it.