November 7, 2009
From: Times Online
Once described as looking like a porcelain doll having a fit of the sulks, the model Lily Cole seems much less startling in person. Her face loses its surreal surprise: the eyes become a little less wide set, the face a little less flat and the mouth a little less Victorian. “When you talk to me, I’m real,” she says. “I’m talking and coughing and drinking — you know? There’s a reality there which you don’t have in pictures and I’ve lived that reality all my life so to me it’s a no-brainer!”
Cole is also terrifically self-possessed in the flesh, with a gurgly snigger of a laugh that pops out as if catching her unawares, thin fragile fingers, a hasty throwaway voice and an accent that sounds Australian, even though she is from London. At 21, her set-back air combines normality with a trace of curiosity and insecurity, but, like every other supermodel I’ve interviewed, she has the slightly muffling sophistication that comes from having met everyone and done everything while still in her teens. She has been involved with most of the big fashion names of our times — everyone from Topshop to McQueen — as well as attending the University of Cambridge and starting a film career (she recently starred in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and was also cast in the St Trinian’s remake a couple of years ago). She actively campaigns for several good causes by lending her profile to charities.
It was thanks to charity that she met, and had dinner with, Bryan Ferry last year, a daughter-and-father-figure pairing that excited the press. This seems genuinely to surprise her. “I’ve only met Bryan Ferry a couple of times,” she says. “I did a charity thing with him a year ago and then I met him again with the girl who organised it and the repercussion was that I was going out with him! It’s kind of funny.” She gives a little smile, and looks at me with her unapologetic blue eyes from her slightly absurd little-girl face. Does she get lots of male attention?
“I’m sure my boyfriend would love to know that! I don’t feel like a girl that gets lots of attention when I walk down the road. I don’t get that at all at Cambridge.”
As well as Ferry, she has been linked with Jude Law and Colin Farrell, but her current boyfriend is the actor Enrique Murciano, 36, who plays Danny Taylor in the television series Without a Trace. He lives in LA and Cole, when not on planes to and from modelling and acting assignments, or hard at work in Cambridge, is with him. She will even compromise her decade-long vegetarianism by eating a couple of slices of Thanksgiving turkey at his family’s house this month. “I don’t want to talk about him too much. Keep a little bit back. But he’s brilliant,” she says, her face softening. “Just funny, a very special human being.”
She is wearing his huge green cardigan with a silver and black jumper from Miss Sixty and a Marc Jacobs red chiffon skirt; As she talks she plaits and gathers her long red hair, which is washed an even deeper red with vegetable dye. “I used to be teased for having red hair and that made me very insecure,” she says. “Now I love it but I’m quite detached from the way I look. I only think I look unusual because lots of people have told me so!”
Discovered outside a burger shop in Covent Garden at 14, she has been modelling and travelling ever since. Isn’t the modelling world a bit sleazy, especially at such an impressionable age? She says that she has had no more experience of drugs in modelling than in life. “I think drugs are taken all over the world. And I’ve never really experienced it.” And the weight pressure on models? “When I was modelling at 15, I had a child’s body and a lot of the girls are really young so they have naturally tiny figures. I saw eating problems more at my school than in that industry. I do get that there is an aesthetic — it changes generation by generation. There’s always been an ideal, from the Fifties or the Eighties.”
Last year, arriving to study history of art at Cambridge, she hung back from making instant friends. “I’ve only been back two weeks but I’ve immediately enjoyed this year a lot more,” she admits. “I’m pretty comfortable and confident in my own friends and my own life — like, anything I take from Cambridge is extra to that, you know. And I’ve made a couple of friends who are smart enough not to, like, be interested in me for any other reason, so I feel pretty safe.”
But Cole’s idea of fun appears to be learning things rather than socialising and relaxing. Making Dr Parnassus with Terry Gilliam, she says, was her idea of heaven. “It was such a high concentration of people who were very smart and very creative. All of them – Johnny [Depp], Terry, Heath [Ledger], Tom Waits – were all really brilliant people.” How did she feel when Ledger died halfway through filming? Her face darkens. “I found it very difficult. I’m not going to lie.” Ledger had reportedly taken Cole under his wing on set and she has said that it was the first time someone close to her had died.
Growing up, she says, she was “half the time adorable, half the time a monster”, but her mother always told her and her younger sister that they were the two most beautiful girls in the world. “But I never believed it and I don’t think my sister believed it,” Cole remarks. “We just thought it was Mum being Mum.”
Her mother, Patience Owen, is an artist and writer and her father, Chris, a one-time fisherman who has spent his life building boats. He left when Cole was a baby and lives in Spain. She looks a bit blank when I ask about him. Her father wasn’t part of the family growing up? “No, not at all.” And she doesn’t see him much today? “No. I think he’s spent most of his life on boats and building boats.” He doesn’t seem to figure at all.
She is back home in London today to promote Sky Rainforest Rescue, a three-year campaign by the broadcaster Sky and the World Wide Fund for Nature to save one billion Amazon trees by financially rewarding local communities for their role in forest conservation. Cole is noticeably tired although impeccably polite.
Does it feel odd that she has the power to make a difference? She gives a little shrug. “Oh, I don’t like to ever think of it in those terms. Because then it becomes a scary mix of, like, narcissism and ego and, like, duty, and guilt. I feel very privileged I can come and speak about something I do care about because I have a lot of friends who’d probably like to do the same thing, but they’d hit smaller circles with that conversation.”
Fame, she claims, has had little impact on her. “I was with a friend the other day and she said, ‘God, do you get sick of people staring at you?’ I really think I’ve grown up with horse blinkers on and they’ve grown bigger and bigger,” she says. “I prefer to create a space around me and live in it and not notice. I kind of do my own thing. For me to be worried about sitting on a train or walking down a street is really stupid because a lot of people don’t even know who I am or care .” She flicks her eyes up at me. “I keep a space in which I feel safe.”
It seems amazing that at the age most people are setting out in life she has worked with the world’s best actors, directors, designers and photographers, Cambridge and the rest of the globe’s famous club. What next? “I’m modelling a lot less now,” she says. “I’d love to make more films. But who knows what will happen.”