Lily's everywhere at the moment - an interview in the Daily Mail:
'The geek in me loves learning': Lily Cole, the model with a social conscience
5th September 2009
Super-smart, super-charming and a supermodel to boot, Lily Cole has the world at her well-heeled feet. Jane Gordon tries to stop staring and find out what’s next for the beautiful British starlet.
Lily Cole has such a startling physical presence that it is almost impossible to talk to her without staring in a way that you know is borderline rude. The combination of the supermodel’s height (she is 5ft 10in in stockinged feet and probably 6ft 3in today in her Louboutin heels), her colouring and her haunting – almost extraterrestrial – face is so extraordinary that I have to force myself to stop gaping and engage in conversation.
We meet to talk about her work with Rimmel cosmetics (she joins Kate Moss and Sophie Ellis-Bextor as the third face of the brand) and her burgeoning film career, and the first question I ask is whether – as a teenager – she had any insecurities about her unconventional looks?
‘Yes, for sure when I was younger. I can’t remember what it was specifically – my height, my hair or just features I didn’t like. I was like most teenagers. I wanted to look more conventional – you know, to just be the pretty girl in school,’ she says, as if she were looking back two decades rather than two years (she is just 21). But there were, she says, no particular role models she aspired to when she was growing up, and since she was scouted when she was only 14 – on a London street – she learned very young that being different was an advantage in the modelling industry.
Is there any aspect of her appearance that she would change? ‘In all honesty, I don’t think I would. I have made a living off the way I look, and I have really learnt to accept myself for being unusual,’ she says with a little laugh that softens her fabulous – if serious – face.
Another indication of her ‘unusualness’ is the fact that, unlike most other schoolgirl supermodels, Lily did not give up on education when she was discovered. Indeed, the favourite word of the girl reckoned to have earned £11 million from modelling is ‘geek’.
Born in Devon but raised in London by her single mum Patience Owen, now 50 (little is known of her father, rumoured to be a fisherman from Brixham), Lily achieved three grade As at A-level and a place at Cambridge University, which she deferred for two years.
She has just completed her first year studying History of Art at King’s College and is relishing the opportunity of being able to learn while still pursuing her work as a model and an actress (but not, she is quick to point out, ‘a model-turned-actress’ – an expression she detests).
In May, a week after she had appeared at the Cannes Film Festival to promote her role in Terry Gilliam’s latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Lily – who doesn’t particularly relish being a paparazzi favourite – was photographed emerging from her first-year exams at Cambridge. Despite her busy work schedule, she was one of only three students on her course to gain a first.
‘I think, in the circumstances, my exams went better than they might have done. I am enjoying my degree. Sometimes it’s hard with everything else that is going on, but the intrinsic learning – well, the natural geek in me loves that,’ she says. ‘I’m really proud of my first. I put a lot of work into it so I felt I deserved it.’
Juggling her academic work with her Rimmel contract, her modelling and her acting career (she also features alongside Jude Law, Judi Dench and Eddie Izzard in Sally Potter’s avant-garde film Rage, which takes the form of face-to-face interviews, and is Alice in Marilyn Manson’s forthcoming film Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll) cannot be easy, but she handles it with extraordinary self-assurance. ‘It can be difficult, but I manage fine,’ she says.
Early reviews of her performance in Doctor Parnassus, a dark modern fantasy to be released here on 16 October, have been promising (The Times described her as ‘mesmerising’) and her luminous, doll-like features are as spellbinding on screen as they are in photos.
Lily is reluctant to talk about her co-star Heath Ledger – who tragically died during the making of the film – or how she got on with the actors (Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law) who between them took over his role. Making the film was, she says, ‘weird and difficult’, and she is only now beginning to get a perspective on the experience.
Lily plays Valentina, the daughter of Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) who runs a travelling theatre troupe that have made a deal with the devil, enabling them to take their audiences through a magical mirror to explore their imaginations. ‘It was such a long and emotional and difficult period filming it, so it’s nice now, over a year since we finished shooting, to actually get to see the work,’ she says. ‘It got a positive reaction and I feel really proud of everybody who made it.’
Long before she became a model, Lily had a strong interest in the performing arts. Encouraged by her mother, who has been a guiding force, she studied drama as a child and sees acting as a natural progression in a career that she hopes will be multi-faceted.
‘My mother is inspirational. She is a brilliant writer, and she paints and draws – she can just create what she feels. I am very proud of her.’
Lily cleverly manages to deflect any question that encroaches on her private life. She does admit, though, that her family – her mother and her 25-year-old sister Eveline – are incredibly close, and have helped her to remain grounded.
‘I am really, really close to Eveline – I love her. She is a primary school teacher and she is wonderful – one of my favourite people in the world. Me, my mother and my sister are very close-knit, and I don’t think they would ever let me be anything other than grounded.’
In the early days of her modelling career – when size zero first became an issue – her mother dismissed suggestions that Lily was too thin, insisting she was a normal teenager who ate healthily and had inherited a naturally tall, slim body shape that ran in the family.
These days – it has to be said – Lily has filled out, and you cannot help but wonder if her curves (specifically her bust) still fit into the tiny sample sizes that Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman recently decried as an insidious part of the size zero obsession.
Looking at her chest, Lily nods her head. ‘Yes, actually if you had asked me a few years ago what I would change about my appearance I would have wished for boobs – but I got those,’ she says with a giggle.
She does not seem remotely vain (‘I don’t think I am, but maybe it’s vain to say so?’ she comments) and you sense that, although she is a fashion natural, she does not take any aspect of her appearance seriously. When asked who designed her dress (a long brilliant red creation that should – but doesn’t – clash with her hair), she thinks for a moment before replying that it is Alberta Ferretti and then suddenly remembers something else she would like to change.
‘I would like better colouration on my legs. A permanent olive, perhaps – although that might be a bit extreme with my colouring. But I would definitely like a little less of that English, mottled purple thing that makes it necessary to wear tights all the time,’ she says, pulling her dress up to reveal slender, bare pinkish-purple legs.
Polite, charming and natural (the film industry has not turned her into a luvvie), she nonetheless displays a wariness that probably has something to do with the attention she’s received from the media since she was 14.
Paparazzi reports last summer linked her to Jude Law, Bryan Ferry and even Colin Farrell, but she is actually dating 36-year-old American actor Enrique Murciano, star of CBS series Without a Trace. This June, there were rumours that the couple were engaged after Lily was seen wearing a ring on her engagement finger while out in London’s Primrose Hill with Enrique. The ring, I comment, is conspicuous by its absence today.
‘No, that was all speculative. But we are very happy together – incredibly so…’ she says with a dazzling smile that doesn’t exactly deny an engagement and suggests that it is a serious commitment for them both.
Does she resent the fact that she can’t go shopping with her boyfriend – or to dinner with Jude Law – without being targeted by the paparazzi? ‘Luckily it still comes as something of a surprise to me when I run into it, so I am not paranoid all hours of the day. I don’t seek it out; I try to avoid it. It’s horrible – I think it reflects, dare I say, a vulgar, overly interested aspect of our society,’ she says.
Alongside the word ‘geek’ in the Lily Cole lexicon is the word ‘ethical’. The range of Rimmel products she promotes in the new advertising campaign have all, at her insistence, been ‘ethically sourced’ (her favourite – and her most indispensable make-up item – is the Max Volume Flash mascara).
Outspoken on a number of ecological issues, Lily is much more tuned into the state of the planet than into planet celebrity. When I ask her if she is still involved with WaterAid, a cause she has promoted in the past, she says she has been too busy with ‘school’ – automatically using the American word for university.
Does she see her career – post graduation – leading her to America where her boyfriend is based?
‘America has had an influence on me, as has going out with a Cuban-American guy and having lots of American friends. But I am still fundamentally British and speak with a British accent and feel very English,’ she says.
As we part, I suggest that she is a refreshing role model for young girls in our ‘vulgar’ society – not only because of the individuality of her looks, but also because of her social conscience and her determination to finish her education.
‘I don’t think of myself as a role model for others, but I like to live my life by my own integrity. So in that sense I might be a positive influence. I do believe you should get over your insecurities and just try to be the best you can.’
__________________ You're perfect, yes, it's true. But without me, you're only you.