Set Visit: Lily Collins takes a dark trip in 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones'
I'm standing in a cavernous "library" before a large statue of Raziel, an angel known in Jewish mysticism as the "Keeper of Secrets." In the "Mortal Instruments" world, Raziel mixes his blood with that of a human man named Jonathan in the 11th century. This action is undertaken to create the Shadowhunters - a race of warriors whose sole job it is to protect humankind from demons.
In one hand Raziel holds the Mortal Cup, a mystical relic capable of creating an entire army of beings known as "Dark Shadowhunters" should it fall into the wrong hands. In the other he grips the second of the three "instruments," the Mortal Sword. The third and final item is known as the Mortal Mirror - or, more specifically, Lake Lyn, which serves as a portal to the Shadowhunter's home country of Idris.
The set, a library located inside the aforementioned New York Institute, is magnificent - on all sides, walls filled with books and artifacts rise like monoliths. Artifacts contained within the massive circular space include a jagged sculpture made of spears, swords and other sharp weapons; a richly-detailed miniature "floating city"; a large hourglass; and a portrait of an unknown-but-seemingly-influential man wearing a colonial-style wig.
It's a lot to take in; everywhere I look I find new little worlds to explore. Though we're given only a few minutes here before moving on, I linger a bit longer than the others, drawn in by the compelling intricacies of the impressive production design by Francois Seguin and crew. No matter how the actual film turns out, there's something to be said for the superb level of craftsmanship on display here.
"The Institute set, which is where we’re shooting today, the second I walked on that about two weeks ago, I got emotional," says Lily "Clary Fray" Collins, who assures us that "City of Bones" is more high-octane adventure flick than "Twilight"-style romance. "It literally is exactly how I pictured it in my head." The actress, an avowed fantasy junkie who was a fan of the books even before being cast in the lead, stares out at us from wide doe eyes set in a round, angelic face. She has a warm and open energy, very different from Bower's. Her frequent smile never feels like a put-on.
"What they’ve done with this project," Collins continues, "is really acknowledge the fact that [because] it is such a fantasy world, that if we don’t make it real in some way, you’re going to lose the audience in the CGI stuff. So making these sets so intricate and so deep, and the colorization on screen, it kind of evokes this emotional state that normally I wouldn’t associate with a fantasy piece. As a fan, I think the world is encapsulated really, really well."
So, working with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers...
"He’s so intense. Yeah, Jonathan, oh my gosh," she says quickly.
He's a nightmare to work with, I imagine her saying. That's in my head.
"This is my second scene I’ve done with Jonathan, and the one I did a couple of days ago last week, is when I first met him," says Collins. "It’s the most heightened situation in the movie. Then yeah, you yell 'Cut,' and [he's] like 'Are you okay?' Just playing around and fake fighting and stuff… It’s nice to be able to have that because it’s rare that on a set where you have emotional scenes like this, that the other person will want to interact normally with you afterwards."
Translation: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a grounded human being with a wonderful sense of humor. He's loose and loving and...completely friendly and normal. Well, okay.
"With this movie, all the cast have an amazing rapport," she goes on. "No matter if we’re laughing in a scene and then we continue laughing after, or it’s a crazy stunt-action done at four in the morning, where they are pulling me up a fire escape and I’m bruised and bloody...afterwards we’re like, 'Ha ha! That was fun!' It actually makes it really cool because we’re all going through this together. Even someone like Jonathan, who is so incredible and so intense and so seasoned, he still likes to have fun as well. And that makes it a group experience and very family-like."
In the world of "The Mortal Instruments," Collins' Clary Fray is the main protagonist, an "ordinary" teenage girl living in New York City who discovers her true identity only after her Shadowhunter mother Jocelyn ("Game of Thrones"' Lena Headey) is kidnapped by Rhys-Meyers' diabolical Valentine, who is hell-bent on obtaining the Mortal Cup Jocelyn has in her possession. His quest: utilize the Cup's powers to create a new army of Shadowhunters, then set them to ridding the Earth of "Downworlders," a race of half-humans/half-demons whose long-standing peace accord with the former would be irrevocably broken were Valentine's plot to succeed. It's up to Clary, with the help of Bowers' mysterious Jace, to stop this from happening,
"I think Clary has become way more proactive since the beginning, since the first script," Collins tells us of the screenplay's various iterations. "She really fuels a lot of the scenes. It’s less about being thrown all this information and floundering. She gets thrown a lot of information now and she’s actively pursuing an outcome. I really liked that about her in the books. I felt like she’s gotten stronger and stronger in the rewrites."
Something else that's gotten stronger? Collins' forehead.
"On that last take, I actually did smack [my head] against the table," she tells us of filming the scene we'd witnessed earlier. "It really helps, I have to say, because with a lot of the stunt stuff, something is bound to go a little awry, and most of my reactions have genuinely been me saying 'Ow!' and screaming. When I was [faking] carving this rune in my hand, the machine that had smoke coming out started to burn my skin. I started yelling 'Ow! Ow! Ow!' but I didn’t stop the take. And when they finished, they were like, ‘Was that…?’ And I was like, 'No, I really had burn marks on my skin.'"