Timothy White

Lily Collins’ career has her jumping constantly from one fictional world to another and even getting supernatural, as in her new film, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

To the casual observer, Lily Collins has lived a stable, cushy life: The 24-year-old actress and daughter of rocker Phil Collins grew up in Beverly Hills by way of London, attended the uberprivate ­Harvard-Westlake school, modeled in her teens for Tommy Hilfiger and, by her 22nd birthday, was cast as the lead in a blockbuster film (Mirror Mirror) alongside Julia Roberts. Still, Collins sees her rapid ascent in Hollywood as nothing short of scrappy. “I still go in and fight for my roles,” says the chirpy brunette, whose latest role as Clary Fray, the protagonist in the first installment of Cassandra Clare’s teen-fantasy series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, falls very much in line with her clawing-to-the-top self-image. “I’m not necessarily getting offered roles left, right and center.”

As Collins tells it, she’s a rather unremarkable 20-­something. When not shooting films, she visits flea markets, bakes and watches­ movies with her “non-­Hollywood” friends, insisting the club scene isn’t her calling. “I’m more of a quiet person when it comes to private stuff,” she says. “If I ever start to be anything other than Lily, I get called out right away. I love that. I rely on that normality.”

It’s in roles like Clary, for which she endured months of physical training, that Collins escapes from the everyday. “I loved reading books when I was little and disappearing into these other worlds,” she explains.

The one downfall of her day job? Remembering who she’s supposed to be for that moment. Collins recalls a three-week stretch while shooting the indie flick Stuck In Love that she jetted back and forth 23 times between the film’s set and a press tour to promote her role as Snow White in 2012’s Mirror Mirror. “You have to just be extremely dedicated to the character that you’re being at the moment,” she says. “It becomes this game and this balance you have to create for yourself.”

Collins always envisioned her career in this fashion: a never-ending journey into disparate genres (“I’d love to do a comedy-comedy; I’d love to do a sweeping British drama,” she says), alternate worlds and intricate characters. “I never wanted to be put into a box,” she says. “I just want to continue to play outside the box and not play it safe.

“Things in this business change at a drop of a hat,” she continues. “I’m into spontaneity now more than ever.”