Lynn Collins is by far the best thing about the $250m sci-fi fantasy film John Carter. The self-confessed mystical pagan talked to Evan Fanning
IT would take a brave soul not to be intimidated by a job description that calls for "the most beautiful woman in the universe" but it was going to take more than that to dissuade Lynn Collins from her dream role.
In fact, the 34-year-old says her attitude towards the part of the character that calls for such stunning beauty was a laid-back "whatever".
Whatever it was, it worked. Collins is one of the stars of the mega-budget intergalactic sci-fi epic, John Carter, the first live-action feature from Pixar wizard Andrew Stanton, the writer/director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo and writer of Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
Based on Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs's book, Collins plays Dejah Thoris, a princess on Mars who enlists the help of galaxy hopping US civil war soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) to help prevent her city from annihilation. It makes sense when you're watching it, trust me.
John Carter is a high-wire act, on and off screen. The budget is said to exceed $250m and with its combination of motion-capture characters, spectacular setting on the red planet, special effects and futuristic action it comes across as part-Avatar, part-Flash Gordon and part-Star Wars.
Collins is the best thing in it, giving Thoris a steely edge as a warrior and fearsome scientist. Not to mention the most beautiful woman in the universe.
Today she's dressed for business in an expensive-looking grey and black trouser suit.
Collins and Stanton collaborated on the character and together they created a Disney princess for the 21st Century.
Collins explains: "I wanted her to be modern so that modern women could relate to her on a mental and emotional level so that possibly they could be inspired by the character."
Collins's most notable previous roles were as Portia in the Merchant of Venice, alongside Al Pacino; in X-Men: Wolverine, and in the series True Blood. John Carter is, by some distance, her biggest role to date. Her desire to give the character added depth and relevance came in handy when her mind's insecurities came to the forefront on set.
"When it got hard I would say to myself, 'Why am I doing this? I am doing this for girls and women so that they will have something to look to, to be inspired by and so that men would say: I would like to support this kind of woman and I would like to inspire this energy in women'.
"So it became a very spiritual situation -- which I didn't expect at all."
From where does this spiritual element of her life come?
"It's inevitable that it was going to be that way for me," she says. "My family are very, very religious in Texas. They're Southern Baptists. I left to go to New York when I was 17 and I realised I wasn't Southern Baptist. That's not how I am inclined. I started studying all different religions and all different beliefs -- mysticism, paganism, everything. I got to a place a few years ago where I realised that, to me, they're all the same thing. Everybody is going to have their own perspective, but to me that's what it was."
Collins has been married to actor Steven Strait since 2007, and feels that as they share a profession it will prepare them for whatever lies ahead as such a high-profile lead role potentially opens doors to bigger movies, longer shoots in far-flung locations and much more time away from their New York home.
"The travelling and the being apart is super hard on the relationship but there's a lot about two actors being together that is hard. At the same time I want to be with somebody who understands what I do, because what I do is so strange" she says.
She is also prepared for the fame that will come her way on the back of John Carter. At 34, she can't be accused of having it handed to her on a plate and she is honest enough to admit that a part of her is excited by it.
"I look forward to the opportunities that are coming my way and will come my way," she says. "I know what comes with it. I'm not an idiot, I know. I'm not afraid. I've had a lot of time to be super-anonymous and mercurial and a chameleon. It's OK to be exposed now."
Back to the movie, and John Carter did call for the most beautiful woman in the universe, and one whose attire brings to mind Princess Leia's metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. I wonder if she feels insecurity about her body when she is acting in such revealing outfits.
"I suppose because I'm exposing so much that I must not. But, of course, there were moments where I would ask, 'Is my ass dimply? Or are my arms flabby? Or how do my boobs look?' And then you think, 'Wow, I can't change any of that'.
"For this job I worked out and boxed and trained and ate the right way as diligently as I could so at the end of the day I thought, 'Well, I'm doing everything the right way so I'll just accept it'.
"It's the same on any job where I've had to expose my body. I'm doing everything I can for it so I'll just accept it internally."
In Collins's mind, however, Thoris is far more than a character to be objectified. Few roles she has played have had anything like the same impact on her.
"Perhaps Ophelia, but in a negative way," she laughs. "I got a little mental.
"You can't fake the qualities that Dejah has, I had to find them in myself, those seeds, and make them grow. The blessing is that once these seeds have sprouted they don't stop. I'm so lucky to have played her because she's informed my life and my own personal journey within."
It has left her ready for anything. Or almost anything. The promotional tour of a $250m movie is taking its toll. Rest is needed. "After lunch today I'm not ready for anything," she says, "but tomorrow I'll be ready for sure."
'John Carter' is now showing in cinemas nationwide
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