Lily Collins Finds Love in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Work

Lily Collins dived into the life of Edith Tolkien, a young woman of artistic sensibilities who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's writings.

When you think about The Lord of the Rings, or any of the novels and stories associated with it, you think of one person; J.R.R. Tolkien. The author of The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and the other countless stories of Middle-earth, it’s easy to imagine Tolkien putting pen to paper, or spending time with the Inklings, a group of young writers who included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia), but one person you might not have heard of, is the love of Tolkien’s life, his wife Edith.

Portrayed by Lily Collins (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Okja) in the new biopic, Tolkien, audiences get the chance to see the woman who not only stole the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien but also helped nurture and support the more creative aspects of the young man who was just starting to create one of the most popular stories of mankind—all while being forced to stymie her own musical ambitions. While all the details of Edith’s life might not be that well known to the public eye, there was plenty to help Collins get the groundings for the character portrayal she created for the film. We sat down with the actor to discuss just what goes into making the life of Edith her own.  

Obviously Edith and everyone in the film are based on real people, but it really feels like a film about how folks care for each other and make things capable for one another. Is that the feeling you used to build your performance?

Yeah, there is very limited information on Edith. There are a couple of photos I saw, but very little to go off of, other than the fact that she encouraged him to tell the stories that we all know now and love so much. If I re-introduced myself properly to the stories that were then formed because of his relationship with her and his friends, I could then try to work backwards and distill her into a real grounded human being. That helped me create her, because otherwise, I didn’t really have much to go on. I did research on what it would have been like to be a woman in that period, with that social standing, with those prospects, and that was also helpful, but yeah, there was kind of an amalgamation of creation there for her.

While it is clear that Tolkien and Edith did have feelings for each other, in a way, as a viewer, I feel like she was trapped and he was the first person she met; and I’m wondering how much that may have played into how they connected?

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I definitely think—they were both orphans, they both lived in the same house, she never met someone like him; but she is also a very creative person, and with her situation she wasn’t really capable of doing more than she did. In him, she saw a form of escape and someone she just felt connected to right away. You see her in one scene connecting with the other guys, but in a different way. I think they really did have love at first sight because it was a slow burning relationship, and there was a period where they never saw each other. When they came right back together, it was like they never left. It was palpable, it was infectious; there was no denying that was always there. So I think it played into it, that they both were in the same situation, but at the same time, they both encouraged each other for things they maybe didn’t know they were encouraging toward.

You mentioned before that you studied the time period of the piece, and I’m wondering, when it comes down to it, when you finally get those costumes on, does that bring in a new layer to the character that you didn’t even think about?

Very much, especially playing a woman wearing a corset, and wearing multiple layers of clothing underneath. The overall aesthetic of the period, I find so beautiful. I love period dramas, and the hair and make-up, everything about it helps lend itself to creating a new character. And every movie that I do, I very much rely on meeting with the hair and make-up, and costume department; it helps. In our daily life, we wear things because we want to feel a certain way, and that is not different when you’re playing another human being and that very much helps.

read more: Tolkien Review

I’m glad you just said it, because I was almost afraid of saying “period piece.” Because when I hear that, I always think…

You think stuffy, yeah.

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I mean, we are moving along so fast in life.

Well, the 1990s are a period piece. You know, the connotation can go in so many different ways. I think a period piece is something of a very specific time, and this in its own right, was a very specific time.

It very much is, and it makes sense.

Yeah, but it’s funny, you always think of something like Game of Thrones, or you think of something stuffy.

Yeah, I think it always seems like it is supposed to be the Victorian Era.

Right, yeah, exactly.  

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Tolkien is in theaters now.