With her doll-like features, piercing blue eyes and red ringlets, English model Lily Cole became an industry favorite from the moment she first hit the catwalk at age 14. Now 23, Lily’s effortlessly made the transition from major model to indie actress—and even had time to graduate from Cambridge with an art history degree. In her new film The Moth Diaries, she plays an introverted transfer student at an all-girls boarding school—who might just be a vampire. I chatted with the eloquent Brit about the flick, her life trajectory thus far and her favorite designers.
The Moth Diaries is based on a novel of the same name [written by Rachel Klein in 2002], and the story itself is pretty twisted. What attracted you to this project?
I’m not usually drawn to the vampire genre, but I loved the story’s ambiguity—it uses the vampire as a metaphor for real human relationships. The way that both the book and film are structured, in a diary form told from the point of view of [protagonist] Rebecca, it sort of puts question marks around everything you’re seeing and how my character Ernessa is portrayed. The accusation of my character being a vampire actually comes entirely from Rebecca. Is it true, or just a projection?
In addition to being about, well, vampires, The Moth Diaries deals with many problems all teenage girls face. Could you relate to that on a personal level?
Oh, yes. When I think back to my own teenage years, everything always seemed so heightened—your emotions, feelings and relationships with friends. When I look back at my old diaries, it’s so cheesy—before you get to all the boyfriend melodrama, there’s the friend drama. I was always usually the bullied rather than the bullier in those situations, but it’s all slightly absurd when you look back on all of it as an adult.
You had to dye your red hair black to play Ernessa. Did you enjoy the change?
I’d never gone that dark before! And you know what…I actually stayed that shade for about six months afterwards. It was nice—it felt very different, and I almost felt more protected with the darker hair.
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Ernessa plays the piano. Is that something you already knew how to do, or did you learn it for the role?
I do play piano, but I tend to learn by ear or memory rather than by reading music. Before the movie was scored, I actually suggested three songs to Mary [Harron, the film's director] that I thought might work for that scene—one of which was this Chopin piece I knew. I think Mary took that to mean I was this great piano player who knew all of Chopin’s work, though, so she assigned me a completely different piece of his that I’d never heard before, just one week before we started filming! Being the masochistic, overly enthusiastic person that I am, I spent that whole week sitting in a café and learning it so I’d be ready.
Well, practice makes perfect! Ernessa’s style in the movie is very dark and Victorian-influenced. In your real life, which labels are you loving right now?
I’m really the worst person to ask about fashion—I never follow seasons or even trends, so I’m not very clued in. But I’ve been loving quite a few things from Acne recently, and Stella McCartney always does amazing stuff. I wore an orange dress from Mulberry recently that was just amazing. And Simone Rocha’s new collection is incredible—slightly androgynous but feminine at the same time, if that makes any sense.
I have to ask—do you ever miss modeling now that you’re focusing on acting?
Modeling was an amazing experience that I’m so grateful I had, but it was never something I wanted to do—or intended to do—for the long term. That’s why I always did it part-time while still going to school. Acting, on the other hand, is something I’ve been doing since I was young, and it’s something I really enjoy.
What would your absolute dream role be?
I’ve always been intrigued by Zelda Fitzgerald. She just had such an interesting life.
The Moth Diaries hits theaters and VOD on Friday, April 20.
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