Based on the real-life experiences of filmmaker Marti Noxon, co-creator of UnREAL and current executive producer of Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, To the Bone tells the story of 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins) and her battle with anorexia. Ellen eventually joins a group home run by an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves), where she’s drawn to a male ballet dancer (Alex Sharp).
The film is an impressive and emotional feature directorial debut from Noxon and sees an alarmingly skinny Collins makes good on the promise of her recent Golden Globe nomination.
“I’m trying to start a conversation,” Noxon tells ET about the purpose of her new film. Not interested in normalizing (or glamorizing) anorexia, the filmmaker hopes it will cause more people to talk about the issue. “I’ve gone through it myself and I know a lot of people who have. The focus on body image and disordered eating, I just don’t think people talk about it enough.”
“It’s a topic that is taboo, I think, with young girls, and it's really important to tell a story with this subject matter in the way that we tell it,” Collins recently told ET at an EE British Academy Film Awards nominations party in January.
Earning rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, where it made its world premiere on Sunday, To the Bone was quickly purchased by Netflix and is set to debut on the streaming network later this year.
For Collins, who recently opened up about her own battle with eating disorders as a teenager, To the Bone has been a cathartic experience. “It was terrifying as well. You’re facing something head on that you’ve come out of and now you’re willingly putting yourself back into,” she reveals at Sundance.
In fact, Collins, 27, had just finished writing a book detailing her teenage struggles when she got the script for Noxon’s film. “It was like the universe putting these things in my sphere to help me face, kind of dead on, a fear that I used to have,” she said in a conversation with IMDb Studio.
Given Collins’ own history with eating disorders, the actress surrounded herself with medical experts and a nutritionist to lose the weight for the role, but also to gain it back. “This was not something I’d done when I was younger,” she tells ET. “It was a new way of looking at the disease, but coming from someone 10 years on and looking back at it. I got to insert my own experiences, but at the same time, this was for Ellen; this was research for a character that I could relate to but who is very different from me. It was like therapy -- I got to surround myself with very strong women and Marti, who went through it as well.”
While her journey for the film was handled in a professional (and healthy) manner, Collins does admit “it never fully goes away.”
“It’s a part of who you are,” she says, adding that while the battle is constant, it’s a matter of control and self-preservation. “You don’t have to participate in those thoughts. It doesn’t define who I am as a person, but it’s something I think we should all talk about.”
As for Collins’ first Golden Globe nomination -- her biggest accolade to date -- for her starring role in Rules Don’t Apply, it still feels “very new and very fresh.”
But will it change much in terms of her career path? “I don’t know. I guess I’ll see what that’s like in the upcoming months as I decide what’s next,” Collins says. For now, she’s busy filming the Amazon series The Last Tycoon with Matt Bomer and Kelsey Grammer, and will next be seen in director Bong Joon-ho’s Netflix original film, Okja.
“I’ve always picked projects because I’ve related to them and because I’ve loved them,” Collins continues. “It’s never that I’ve picked them because I think it’s going to elevate me in some way. I think the subject matter will stay the same in terms of how I relate to projects, but maybe new opportunities will come up that wouldn’t have before.”
--Additional reporting from Valentina Valentini