For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
“I’m playing the most American character I’ve ever played,” says Lily Collins, the star of Netflix’s hit comedy Emily in Paris. “I’ve never felt more American, but in my real life, I feel very British. And yet I felt so disconnected from my European side, having to be Emily.” Collins is speaking from Paris, where she has begun filming season 2 of the series—which is coming off of a recent Emmy nomination that left her and her costar Ashley Park in bits. “[We] were together on set in my apartment when she read her phone and said, ‘Were we? Are we? We were nominated for the Emmys!’ ” the actor recalls. “We didn’t know they were being announced, and then we just started screaming and had to yell, ‘Cut!’ ” Collins, who was born in Guildford, Surrey, in the English countryside, might star in a Paris-based show as an American girl, but her roots, she says, are firmly planted in the U.K. This is part of the reason she chose to honor The Great British Bake Off for W’s TV Portfolio, in which she embodies judge Prue Leith—also, because she herself loves to bake. “There are these specific chocolate chip cookies that I make, which I’ve been asked many times for the recipe,” she says of her signature dessert. “Eight years ago, I started Googling ideas, and at this point, it’s all just based on memory and sight.” We’d like to think she’d do well against Paul Hollywood’s judging eye.
When was the first time you saw The Great British Bake Off?
I saw the show’s first season. I feel so at home in the English countryside, having grown up there, and I love any show about baking and cooking. I love being surrounded by the British accent, especially if I’m not in England; there’s something very nostalgic about it. I just watch every season, even when they were changing hosts. I can’t stop watching. I binge it.
Can you bake?
I do love baking. I see it as very therapeutic. I like to think of it as a bit of a puzzle piece, as well, because I bake a lot of gluten-free, vegan things, which a lot of the time people think sounds not so fun or gross, but I get such a kick out of making something with vegan chocolate, or more ingredients, and seeing if it works. And when my little brother told me that my cookies were absolutely amazing and he loved them and ate five, I told him it wasn’t real chocolate, and his mind was blown.
How did Emily in Paris come to you? How did you first get the project?
I saw Darren Star from across the room at a charity event years ago. I was with my mom, and I’m like, Oh my god, that’s Darren Star. I really wanted to say hi, but I was nervous. I just didn't say anything. Cut to almost a decade later, I got the script for the pilot, which was the first two episodes combined. I thought, This is what I’ve been waiting for, this is the role, because I shot two episodes of the reboot of 90210 years ago, which, obviously, is Darren Star. I was the drunk girl, Phoebe, at prom who really wanted to be prom queen and ended up barfing in a toilet. I remember thinking, Oh my god, I love Grosse Pointe. I love Sex and the City. I love 90210, all of the above. I love Darren Star shows. So they brought me in to meet with Darren. We had a great chat. Then a couple of weeks later, I auditioned. I threw together a wardrobe from my closet. I had one of my best friends come over, and we planned this look of what we thought Emily would [wear]: a J.Crew white shirt with a cashmere vest on top, a tartan skirt—which might’ve been an old Abercrombie skirt that I still had in my closet—and boots. I looked very collegiate and like I was trying too hard. I really felt it was Emily—definitely not the Emily we’ve created, but it was something. I arrived, and I auditioned for Darren. I felt good about it, but you just never know. I just wanted it so bad. On my 30th birthday, I was on set in Alabama, shooting in a bunker underground, and Darren called me and said, “Would you like to be my Emily?” I was very confused, because I just hadn’t heard anything [until then]. And I was like, “Me? Really?” It was a very Emily reaction, now that I think about it.
Do you get to keep any of Emily’s wardrobe?
I wish. I did get sent the white orchard dress that I get splattered with paint on last season. I got a clean one—the designer sent me one with a pair of shoes, so I get to keep that for memory’s sake. But I think a lot of my new favorite outfits are from this season. The wardrobe even went up more, which I didn’t even know was possible. From last season, I go back and forth. The opera house look felt like it was such an iconic moment for her. I can’t help but reference the Eiffel Tower silk shirt, because I just felt like that, with the Mona Lisa hat, was a real tongue-in-cheek Emily moment. She embraces “more is more.” She’s shamelessly herself. And I feel like she’s always in on the joke, and that just perfectly represented that to me.
Have you thought about your wedding dress for your upcoming nuptials to Charlie McDowell?
As a fashion lover and a person who’s obsessed with looking [for my own wedding dress], it’s a fun thing to start Pinteresting. I’ve always loved [a] fairy tale [look], but fairy tale in a very classic way. I like whimsy, but I also really love a classic look. So it’s trying to combine all of that, and it’s not something that you take lightly—you want to make sure it’s just right. I didn’t grow up with the ideal image in my head of what it had to be, so it’s really fun to think about that as an adult.