Hollywood Movies

How Lily Collins’ Love of Science Led to Breakthrough Awards

April 12, 20244 Mins Read

“It’s not what people would expect, right?” Lily Collins jokes about her long-standing partnership with the Breakthrough Prize, which honors scientists for their contributions to areas like fundamental physics and mathematics. On April 13, she’ll return to present at the awards (cheekily referred to as the “Oscars of Science”). But in fact, Collins — who has been acting most of her life and first broke out playing Sandra Bullock’s daughter in 2009’s The Blind Side — was a bit of a science buff back in her school days. The star called THR from Paris, where she’s filming the fourth season of Emily in Paris, to chat about her not-so-secret-anymore love of the sciences. 

So, tell us how you got involved in the Breakthrough awards. 

To be honest, I don’t know why I got my first invite to the awards. It was after I did [2016’s] Rules Don’t Apply, and I was intrigued. Science was one of my favorite subjects in school, and I, bizarrely, competed in the California Science Fairs. I actually won a medal one year. My subjects were more of the psychological sciences, based on fear and body image. 

Have you learned anything surprising since you started participating in the event?

I don’t think scientists get enough acclaim, so it’s incredible to honor them in this way and draw attention to their work in a way that’s entertaining as well. I think this will be my fifth time there, and I meet more interesting people at that dinner than I ever thought I would — like Nobel Prize winners. I love asking them, “What do you do?” And I have them pretend I’m one of their students and explain it to me that way. 

Do your creative wheels start spinning when you meet these folks? Have you gotten any movie ideas?

That’s so funny. It’s a great idea, actually. For me, as a producer and actor, and just as a human being who is curious, I love understanding people’s methods, processes, quirks and interests. Being able to talk to people in different fields that are completely alien to my own can only diversify the characters that I would one day develop or play. It’s important to have conversations with people outside of what I normally know and who I normally have conversations with. I do remember that one of the first years I went, The Theory of Everything was coming out and people were talking about Stephen Hawking in a way they hadn’t before in the entertainment space, so I do think that marriage between entertainment and science is very inspiring. 

Collins in Mank, directed by David Fincher.

Collins in Mank, directed by David Fincher.

Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

What career milestone of yours has meant the most to you so far? 

Working with David Fincher on Mank. I never thought I’d be in the running for a Fincher film. I was filming season one of Emily, flying  from Paris to do screen tests or rehearse. Doing scenes with Gary Oldman, who is now a dear friend — I don’t know whether he knew it at the time, but he mentored me through a very important phase of my career. I learned that I can be directed by someone who challenges me and it’s not going to break me. And I learned about my own strengths, and the ability to internalize and take direction. 

What are you most excited for now?

My husband [Charlie McDowell] and I and our producing partner Alex Orlovsky started a company last year called Case Study Films. We’ve been developing different things, TV and film, from the ground up, and that is something I’ve never done before. I’m excited to see those projects come to fruition, and I’m hoping to spend more time behind the camera.

Who do you look to for advice on working behind the camera?

I definitely talk to Charlie, who is a director, and to all of the directors I work with as an actor. On Emily, I’ve become interwoven with — and embraced by — the directors, producers and writers, too, which I’m so grateful for. 

This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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