This Week's Model: Lily Cole
English model Lily Cole got her big break when she debuted in a 2003 Steven Meisel shoot for Italian Vogue and it was only a year later that she was named Model of the Year at the 2004 British Fashion Awards. At the height of her career, the wide-eyed, redheaded Cole—a favorite of designers such as John Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix—appeared on a number of international Vogue covers and starred in ad campaigns for Prada and Moschino. And then, like many so models, she caught the acting bug. Marilyn Manson cast her in the role of Alice in Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll (the film has yet to be released). Now Cole, 21, has a starring role in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which hits theaters Christmas Day. Acting alongside the late Heath Ledger and Christopher Plummer, Cole debuts serious chops as Valentina, a rebellious teen desperate to get away from her father’s surreal world.
Cole modeling at the Paris launch party of Sonia Rykiel’s lingerie collection for H&M
How did you first get interested in acting?
It just happened naturally. I always loved acting as a child and was asked to do the film with Marilyn Manson. It reignited my interest in acting and reminded me how much I used to love it when I was a kid. I think it really was The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus though, with [director] Terry [Gilliam], that solidified my interest.
How were you approached for the role of Valentina?
I was asked to do a film with Sally Potter, called Rage, through my modeling agency, and the same casting director was casting Terry’s film a few weeks later. She kindly recommended me to Terry, and I was sent the script and loved it. I auditioned with him on tape and got the part.
Cole with Colin Farrell in “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”
Tell us about your character.
Valentina’s feisty, and making the transition from child to woman. She’s excited by the possibilities, but also naïve to what that entails.
Cole with Heath Ledger in “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”
Were you nervous to be work with such accomplished actors as Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer and Johnny Depp?
When I started I was completely intimidated. I remember we did a read-through and I just sitting in the room with Christopher, Heath and Terry and being just like, “Whoa! What am I up against?” But they were all were so lovely and Heath and Christopher were so generous.
What was it like working with Heath?
He was brilliant at what he did, and such a kind and talented spirit.
From left: Cole on the cover of Elle Canada’s January 2010 issue; Cole in Rimmel London’s fall 2009 campaign
You’re still very young. Think you’ll ever go back to modeling exclusively?
I don’t think I have to be so absolute. Actors do model, whether it’s to promote a movie or advertising; there’s crossover there. I don’t want to completely sever ties with the fashion industry. I love some of the people I’ve met and I respect them and I’m still interested in fashion itself. If I’m lucky, I’ll continue making films, but still kind of keep my finger in that world.
What’s next for you?
I start school up again. I’m in my second year at university, so that takes up most of my time. Who knows for next year? I’m supposed to do a film with [director] Mary Harron and I’m open to other possibilities, but nothing’s confirmed yet.
Cole in “Dominica” by Juergen Teller in W’s March 2009 issue.
Read our previous model Q&As here.