In the upcoming film version of "City of Bones," directed by Harald Zwart, Collins plays Clary, a seemingly ordinary teenager who finds out that she's actually part of an ancient bloodline of Shadowhunters -- half-angel, half-human warriors tasked with keeping our world safe from a host of demonic creatures (including, yes, vampires and werewolves). And when her mother (Lena Headey) is kidnapped by a disgraced former Shadowhunter named Valentine (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) aiming to disrupt years of peace, it's up to Clary to stop him.
That alone is a lot to thrust on anyone's shoulders, not to mention the responsibility of establishing the next blockbuster fantasy film franchise. Luckily though, as a big fan of the book series, Collins knew what she was getting into.
With "City of Bones" releasing on August 21, Moviefone sat down with Collins to discuss approaching her character from a fan's point-of-view, how she first stumbled across the book series, and what separates "The Mortal Instruments" from other young adult franchises out there (namely, ahem, "Twilight").
Moviefone: Do you find it helped to have already been a fan of the books going in, to understand what fans' expectations might be for Clary?
Collins: Definitely. Having been a fan myself, I never envisioned myself reading the books as Clary. I never really read books envisioning myself [as a character], and I didn't know they were making it into a movie when I read them. Then after I read the first one, that's when I discovered they were making it into a series. But I wasn't active on social media, so I really had walked into a bookshop, saw the spine of the book, picked it out, thought, "Oh my God, I've discovered a really great series." Had no concept they'd been around for years, didn't know how many millions of copies had sold. [Laughs] So when they cast me and then released that, and then the fandom just burst with news, I was like, "Oh my God, I had no idea I was signing on for something this massive."
Still, I kind of felt like, as a fan, I had expectations [for] Clary. So I wanted to bring that into it, and be like, "I know what the fans want, they're gonna want this." So I did feel like one of them in that sense. It was exciting to have that attachment to her already, definitely.
Was it easy for you to relate to Clary because of that?
I've noticed in all these mall tours, when the fans are watching footage and getting so invested and showing their love for Clary, it's because they relate to her. And I think because she shows a vulnerability and a confusion and a very realistic teen experience within this fantasy world, and then can kick ass and have this superhuman kind of quality about her, everyone can somewhat relate to Clary. So I'd like to think that if my mom was stolen -- because I related to her on that level, my mom and I are so close -- on that level alone, I saw myself being able to have the passion to go after my mom like Clary. But then Clary also taught me a lot about self-discovery, and [that] your weaknesses can be your strongest points. And I think she can teach a lot without being preachy.
What did you see in this property that we maybe haven't seen in other young adult franchises? What sets it apart?
It's got a comedic undertone that I don't think the other ones have. We don't allow the audience to laugh at us, we beat them to it and laugh with them, with a joke, or with a lightness to the story. It's not a full-blown romance – it's got romance in it, of course, but it's not just a girl being defined by men. She never victimizes herself, she is one of the guys, she's not choosing a world that's not hers. She is a Shadowhunter and she's learning how to deal with that.
We're not defining our movie by fantasy characters like vampires or werewolves; they exist within our story, but you could take those away, as well as the CGI, and the story would stand alone on character and emotion. That's what Harald [Zwart] wanted. He wanted people to be invited in that didn't know the story, but also fans to appreciate the characters. As a fan of the books myself, I do feel that's what is so appealing about the books, that it is so character and emotionally-driven. It's set in a fantasy world, which makes it more interesting I guess, but it's really the characters that you feel for. Everyone really feels for Simon or Jace or Clary. People love Magnus, people love Isabelle, people love Alec.
It's not that they're like, "This is a vampire story, this is a werewolf story, I like vampires better." It's about character. And I think when you add in those elements it makes it maybe more modern, because that's really popular right now, but Cassie wrote these books before "Twilight" came out. The first publisher she took them to said, "Can you make Clary a male? Because no one wants a female heroine. And no one's going to be interested in reading about vampires and werewolves." [laughs] Like, clearly they were ahead of the game, right? So I do think that it can stand alone because it's not defined by these fantasy characters.
Were there any scenes you were really anticipating shooting going in? [Warning: Spoilers]
Probably the greenhouse scene. Because as a reader of the books, that's the most romantic moment, and the anticipation of that scene was so heightened in the book. So this greenhouse sequence is a moment where you're like, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Do it! Do it! Do it!" It's kind of like, you're excited, and then it happens, and if that wasn't magical in any way, it's a letdown. [laughs] Because all the girls are going, "Oh my God! Oh my God! It's the greenhouse scene!" Like, on the mall tour, literally all Jamie [Campbell Bower] and I had to go was, "Greenhouse" and they'd go, "Ahhhh!" It became this whole soccer match thing, and it was funny, it was like a game.
But yeah, I was excited about the greenhouse scene because it's a magical moment. It's where Jace shows his vulnerability, so I was excited for Jamie because he got to show a different side of himself, and it's the romantic part of the movie. Again, it's not a romance, but it is the moment of chemistry, it's the moment of romance, it's that gratifying moment of "Finally, they're together." Which only makes the scene later when they find out they're brother and sister that much more heartbreaking, because you need those extremes.
Was it encouraging for you when the sequel was announced well before the first movie was set to come out?
Oh yeah. That was a major boost of confidence. I think we all went, "What? [laughs] Excuse me? We're not even finished editing the first one yet!" That just proved to us that the studio really believed in it, and when you have that fueling you going into press and going into these mall events, it's great to be able to tell the fans we get to continue the story. Because as a fan myself, knowing Clary's journey, it would be such a shame not to maximize that and to keep going, because she has so many stories to tell. And also, it's really hard when you translate books into movies, especially a franchise like this. With the brother/sister thing, you have to introduce it, and then clear it up in a way that if you don't go to a sequel doesn't leave people going "Ew." [laughs] But also leaves them wanting to know more. And it's difficult when you don't know if you're going to get to do more.
We had finished shooting before we found out, obviously. But at least you get to go, okay, so if there's anything that wasn't tied up that people had an issue with, you get a second chance to almost bring that back. Or if we'd already planned on a way of doing that, we get to show that next time. And for me, especially as Clary, I only got to show this much potential of my fighting skills. I love the idea that she becomes bad-ass. So for the sequel, she is already a Shadowhunter, she can only show more. And I'm excited for more action. So yeah, we're definitely pumped. But it was a huge source of this fire to get us going again. It's great.
"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is now playing in theatres.