Lily Collins has been open about her own struggles with an eating disorder, now she's drawing on her experience in new film To The Bone
Lily Collins is drawing on her own history with eating disorders for her new role in To The Bone, in which she plays Ellen, an unruly, smart 20-year-old, trapped in her struggle with anorexia and regularly shipped between one recovery centre to another.
The film, also starring Keanu Reeves, won rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival and was quickly snapped up by Netflix for a reported $8 million. To The Bone is the semi-autobiographical tale of writer and director Marti Noxon, who also suffered from an eating disorder as a young woman.
Lily spoke to Vanity Fair about how she found a kindred spirit in Marti, and knew right away that it was the role for her: ‘Marti is such a badass. She’s such an empowering woman. It’s loosely based on her experiences and also on my experiences with eating disorders in my past [sic.]. When I started speaking to her in that first meeting I was like – oh my god we’re like soul sisters. I related to it right away.’
Lily is not the only person in the public eye to have opened up about her struggle with eating disorders – Zayn Malik and Jessica Brown Findlay both recently revealed that they too had been affected by them.
However in Lily’s case, taking on the role of Ellen forced her to revisit her past and required to her to again lose weight – a lot of it. In one scene, the outline of her ribs protrudes sharply from her small waif-like frame – which for the most part of the film is covered in baggy jumpers and shirts. Although we already know that this is a film about anorexia, this early scene still manages to be shocking.
Thanks to her experience of having an eating disorder, Lily knew that it was important to lose the weight responsibly: ‘I wanted to get back into that mindset in as healthy a way as possible. We did it with a nutritionist, I met with the UCLA head of an eating disorders clinic. I went to an anorexics anonymous group – and really surrounded myself with the facts, which I hadn’t done as a teenager.’
Lily opened up in her autobiography ‘Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me’ about how her own eating disorder was triggered by her dad, Phil Collins’ divorce from his third wife Orianne Cevey.
In her book, she writes an emotional letter to her dad, stating that he is ‘forgiven’ for ‘not being the dad I expected.’ She writes. ‘I couldn’t handle the pain and confusion surrounding my dad’s divorce, and I was having a hard time balancing being a teenager with pursuing two different grown-up careers.’
Lily’s mother understandably didn’t want her to take on the role, but Lily felt it too important an opportunity to miss: ‘This is a real issue, it’s something that I went through and something I have a real connection to [sic.] it’s such a taboo topic which I think people avoid because they feel uncomfortable talking about it, but the second that they do, anyone who is going through it feels less alone.’
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Yet despite the serious subject matter, the film is darkly funny – Ellen is self-deprecating, quick-witted and smart, yet at the same time painfully oblivious to the damage she’s doing to her body, insisting that she has it ‘under control’. Like any normal 20-year-old, she’s struggling to cope with her dysfunctional family (a family therapy session quickly descends into the blame game between her mother and step-mother, while her father is noticeably absent) and finding her place in the world. While Keanu Reeves plays her unconventional doctor, who bluntly tells Ellen that he doesn’t want to talk to her about food because ‘it’s boring’.
Watch the cast and crew of To The Bone talk about the reality of Eating Disorders in honour of World Eating Disorders Action Day
For Lily herself, it has been ten years since her struggle with an eating disorder and taking on the role of Ellen made her realise that she’s put those issues well and truly behind her: ‘I used to have a fear of gaining weight – now my fear is not living in the moment.’
To The Bone launches on Netflix on 14th July