A Compendium of Actors: Lily Collins can do it all

Graphic art for "A Compendium of Actors" column is pictured. Graphic courtesy Aliza Kibel

Often, we try to box actors and actresses into their appropriate category: indie actor here, big-budget action star there. This column has surely fallen prey to that same difficulty, establishing genres and niches that actors may unilaterally fill. Still, actors are not monoliths. They can do what they like, take on the projects they want and thus spread their talents far beyond a singular career pathway. This multifacetedness is exemplified by Lily Collins, an actress who takes on both trashy Netflix shows and prestigious Oscar films and does so with ease. This is a testament to her talent; Collins is able to tackle a myriad of roles, making her a jack of all trades.

You likely know Lily Collins for her performance in the sometimes funny, often wild “Emily in Paris” (2020–). Collins stars as Emily herself, an American transplant in Paris trying to make it in fashion marketing and find love. The series has a quaint Hallmark-esque style, one that can numb the mind (in just the right way). The show is by no means good dramatic writing, but it sure is a good time. That’s a talent itself, being able to act so over the top that it commits to the fervor and character of the show. For this, Collins must be praised. It’s easy to argue that “Emily in Paris” represents bad acting. Maybe, however, it represents a committed and daring performance within a different type of acting, one separate from the high-stakes dramas and laugh-out-loud comedies. It’s a whole different skill set, and Collins tackles it brilliantly.

Still, Collins is also able to dip her toe into prestigious, high-drama acting. She stars in the recent Netflix thriller “Windfall” (2022), where she brings emotional nuance and depth to her character. The performance is a feat of character development, moving from a quieter performance to the ultimate justified craze of the film’s climactic ending. Similarly, Collins starred in the Oscar-bait, black-and-white drama “Mank” (2020) as Herman Mankiewicz’s secretary, Rita Alexander. This is the apex of prestigious performances, entirely divorced from the basic enjoyability of “Emily in Paris.” Though the film may be pretentious and overblown, Collins’ performance in it demonstrates her range of talents. Collins can take on those illustrious, respected characters and bring them true depth.

Actors can have dimension, expanding outside of their home territory. Lily Collins illustrates this exact principle, taking on a wide variety of roles and doing so with perceived ease. In fact, to box Collins into just one category may be problematic. If Collins is thought of as the “‘Emily in Paris’ actress,” she loses her depth. When considering the careers and talents of actors, we must allow them to be multifaceted. If not, we deprive them of their full abilities.