THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
Clary Fray and Simon Lewis
Casting is always a sensitive and important part of filmmaking, a delicate balance of alchemy, artistry and the practical realities of the box office. But for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the filmmakers had the added pressure of the fans' expectations.
"I've never experienced anything like this," says Carmody. "And I've made a lot of fanboy movies. We didn't want to disappoint the readers. I don't want to disappoint them as much as I don't want to disappoint my daughters. They want to see this story come to life as true to the book and the characters they love."
Reassuringly for filmmaker and fans alike, author Cassandra Clare gives the casting choice an enthusiastic thumbs up. "It's been amazing to see it take place," says Clare. "They've made some really wonderful decisions. Lily Collins was cast first and I was just delighted, because she looked exactly like Clary did in my head."
Lily Collins had played just two small film roles when she was cast as Clary Fray, the Brooklyn teen who comes into her own as a supernatural warrior in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Even so, the word was out in Hollywood that she was a young actress to watch.
"We thought she would potentially be a great Clary," says Kulzer. "When we experienced some unexpected delays, she was offered the lead in Mirror, Mirror, and she took it. That turned out to be a total blessing for us, because all of a sudden she was starring opposite Julia Roberts."
"Collins has a talent that is rare to find in an actress just starting her career," says Kulzer. "She's an acting phenomenon. Off screen, she seems like any other pretty young woman, but the minute she walks on set, there's a transformation. She really is completely absorbed in the world of her character. Clary spends a lot of time listening to other people talk and there's something about the way Lily reacts that tells you she is completely present."
A fan of the books long before she was cast, Collins immediately agreed to play Clary. "Once you start reading the books, you just really can't stop," she says. "That's the beauty of Cassandra's writing."
But, she says, being a fan of the series adds a little bit more pressure. "There are advantages and disadvantages to reading a series of books before doing the movies," she says. "I've read them all, so I had to distance myself from the subsequent books, because Clary doesn't know what's coming next. At the beginning of the series, she really is a normal girl. Having too much knowledge would compromise her purity in the situation."
It was exciting for the young actress to watch as the script evolved. "It is a faithful adaptation of the book, but it can stand alone as a film," she says. "It's character-based and emotionally driven in both the way it was written and the way that Harald directed it."
"Clary Fray is just a teenager living in Brooklyn when the story begins," says Collins. "But when her mother disappears, it's up to Clary to retrieve a sacred object that has been hidden away from dark forces. She goes from an ordinary girl to a heroine with all this responsibility and these new powers that she doesn't yet understand. She's in peril for the whole movie, but she finds these new relationships along the way to help her, and she's forced to question ones that she thought she knew."
Collins has the ability to be convincing as both a tomboyish, all-American girl and a soldier in a treacherous and confusing new world. "She's never winking at us or trying to play a superhero," says Carmody. "As she plays her, Clary is just a regular girl who finds herself in this incredible circumstance. And she goes for it, because she has no other choice. She's not unafraid, but she's not cowering either, which makes her a great heroine."
Collins had already committed to playing the role when Zwart signed on as director. In fact, she was one of the reasons he pursued the project. "She shows great range as an actor, which makes my job very easy," he says. "It can get very technical making movies like this. She's great at preserving her emotions even when it does."
Clary's longtime best friend is Simon Lewis, a slightly nerdy young man she has known since she was six. Simon is alongside Clary on every step of her journey into the Shadow World.
"Simon is that geeky gamer type," Collins says. "He's also that best friend that she can joke around with. They finish each other's sentences, they've had sleepovers and they know each others' families really well."
A beloved character in the world of The Mortal Instruments, he is also secretly in love with Clary and has been for years. "Everybody sees it, everybody knows it, except Clary," says Kulzer. "In a weird way, he's the most heroic character because he's just a regular guy with no special skills or weapons. But he uses his brain and his bravery to defend Clary. He has almost a Clark Kent quality because he is the geeky guy with the glasses who is there with the funny line, but who hasn't quite found his place in the world yet."
In casting this and other key roles, the filmmakers relied heavily on fan input for guidance. "The name we heard over and over again was Robert Sheehan," says Kulzer. "He's an Irish actor, not a big name, but with solid credits. Simon has some really funny, kind of skewed one-liners and Robbie has the perfect comedic timing."
Clare agrees wholeheartedly: "Robbie is an absolutely terrific Simon. He has both that funny energy and the passion and accessibility that Simon has."
For his part, the actor responded to what he calls the script's "lovely sense of adventure and unpredictability."
"Simon is a different sort of character for me to play," says Sheehan. "He's the only normal guy in the whole script and he brings a sense of perspective to this entire magical world. He doesn't really have a moment to digest what's going on, which brings a bit of humor to the proceedings. Once they're thrust into it, he just has to concentrate on what's truly important to him, which is Clary."
He is also forced to face the attraction Clary has for the young Shadowhunter, Jace Wayland, creating a tense love triangle. "Simon sees immediately that Clary fancies Jace and Jace fancies Clary," he says. "That comes down on him like a ton of bricks. Simon and Clary have some lovely quiet, personal scenes where they address the unspoken love Simon feels for her."
Those are the kinds of moments in which director Zwart really shines, Sheehan says. "What Harald always seemed most interested in was those small and emotional moments between the characters. These days, our eyes are tricked so commonly and casually in movies. Clary and Simon have something very real."
The actor gives his leading lady high marks for her dedication and authenticity. "I know when you do a movie with someone, you are expected to blow their horn a bit," he says. "But she really is a consummate professional. She's becoming a true movie star, but she just takes it all in stride."
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