The fantasy adventure The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones opens today. Actor Lily Collins and director Harald Zwart share their experiences of bringing Cassandra Clare’s popular series to screen

Lily Collins was apparently the first choice to play Clary, “I auditioned and Cassandra (Clare, author) said I look just like how she had envisioned Clary in her head,” the actors says in an email interview.

Lily, who we saw earlier as Snow White in Tarsem Singh’s the fairy tale reboot, Mirror, Mirror says: “I am not especially attracted to characters based in fantasy. But who would not like to play characters based out of stories they have heard and read in their growing up years?”

Talking of the two directors’ working style, Lily says: “Harald always says, if we make it too fantastic, no one’s going to believe it, while Tarsem Singh has a predilection for pushing boundaries. I have learnt a lot from both the director’s working styles.”

Describing herself as a huge fan of the books, the 24-year-old says: “The beauty of Cassandra’s writing is such that you cannot stop reading it once started. This has helped me to do justice to the character.”

Clary Fray according to Lily is “a typical teenager with a normal life which is just about to change. Clary has been living quietly in Brooklyn for as long as she can remember, when she suddenly begins to see startling and seemingly impossible things. Discovering abilities and courage she never knew she possessed, the young woman surprises even herself as she proves to be a formidable opponent against an array of deadly adversaries. It is a very challenging character as it is very different from the ones I have played onscreen before.”

The best thing about playing Clary Lily says: “is the innocence and the obliviousness. She has those “what” moments that turns what she thought was true upside-down every day yet she remains calm.”

The actor doesn’t see the time commitment of being cast in a series as a burden.

“It’s more important to be just to the series and ensure that it gets completed with me being a part of it till the end.”

Lily insists she doesn’t fear getting typecast when she says: “I believe I have talent and can do justice to any role which comes to me by giving my best to it.”

The feisty actor says the stunts were tough as “Harald insisted on having the actors perform as much of the action as they could and we embraced the challenge, undertaking months of training for the film. It gets pretty rough with stunts in mini dresses and high heels. I have had to work around all this, but it hasn’t saved me from getting a number of bruises at like 4 am!”

Making tough choices

Director Harald Zwart talks about the pros and cons of making a film based on a well-beloved series. The 48 year old director from Netherlands also talks about his brief to the costume designer and cinematographer.

How did you come to be attached to the project?

I had just finished the remake of The Karate Kid starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, when I came in to meet the producers to helm the direction of Mortal Instruments – City of Bones. The moment I read the book and met Cassandra Clare, the author of the book I fell in love with the characters and the world. After a single two-hour meeting with Cassandra, she realised, how much I wanted to do this movie and I became attached to the project.

What are the pressures that come with adapting a well beloved series on screen?

To fit the sprawling narrative into the limited length of a feature film is one of the pressures. that comes with adapting a well beloved series on the screen. When you adapt a very popular book, you have to make some difficult choices. You have to give up certain things for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps something doesn’t work for the logic of the movie, or it’s a stumbling block to moving the story forward, or simply for budgetary reasons. We did our best to preserve what’s really important, and thankfully, Cassandra was very supportive of the choices we made.

How did you deal with the pressure?

I dealt with it by approaching the material, not from the genre world as they had been anticipated, but from a grounded, character-specific perspective. The passion to recreate them just as they are in the book and envisioning the characters, the setting, the colour palette, even the magic, in such incredible detail helped me to deal with the pressure. Also, if I had questions about anything, I went directly to Cassandra, which made it a very transparent and fluid process, because she is so intimately connected to the fans. If she mentioned any aspect of the film to them, we immediately had thousands of responses.

What was the most difficult sequence to shoot?

In the movie a character named Madame Dorothea undergoes a terrifying metamorphosis over the course of the film, which the actor C.C.H. Pounder was asked to undergo without the benefit of elaborate special effects. I decided that I’d rather see the internal emotion expressed by the actor, rather than creating a computer graphic effect. This was the most difficult sequence to shoot.

Can you tell us about the casting?

Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins were the first choice to play their respective characters and were selected after their auditions. We cast Jamie Campbell Bower because he has a slightly ethereal, but still very dangerous, quality that we thought would be perfect. When he first read with Lily, no exaggeration, sparks were flying.

Had you read the series before coming on board?

I had heard about the series but hadn’t read them in detail. However when I was called by the producers to helm the pilot project of The Mortal Instruments, I asked few teenagers about the series and incidentally one of the producer’s daughter turned out to be a huge fan of the series. Then I read the books in detail and believe me I fell in love with the series, the characters and the world they lived in.

What was your brief to your costume designer and cinematographer?

We went for very realistic costumes and casting choices. We have to believe that this place exists within the city, here among us. The costumes, which were designed by Gersha Phillips, are incredibly fashion forward. The designer also incorporated runes into the costumes. We focused on quality cinematography and when we sat on the set looking at the images on the monitors and couldn’t believe the cinematographer got that kind of quality so quickly.

Do you like working with young people?

Yes, I do love working with young people. The energy, passion and the enthusiasm to learn new things is quite great and that’s what attracts me to work with them.

Can you share a memorable moment during the shoot?

There are many memorable moments which happened during the shoot. But I have been always interested in those small and emotional moments between the characters. These days, our eyes are tricked so commonly and casually in movies.