The Verge: Lily Cole

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Terry Gilliam often likes to shoot his actors using a fisheye lens, but with new find Lily Cole, that embellishment is hardly needed. Cole's wide-set features and exotic beauty landed her high-profile modeling work on the pages of Vogue and the runways of Chanel and Versace, but Cole says her biggest career challenge was playing the ingenue Valentina opposite Heath Ledger and Christopher Plummer in Gilliam's upcoming fantasy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Earlier this month, I spoke to the 21-year-old about her transition from model to actress, the tragedy of Ledger's death while filming, and the challenge of suddenly acting opposite the new actors (Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law) called in to finish out Ledger's role.

Acting obviously has a lot in common with modeling, but how similar do you find directors and photographers to be?

I think there are a lot of parallels. Like you said, there are some similarities between modeling and acting -- actually, models often just end up being models because they're picked randomly, you know? Whereas photographer and directors have both chosen those paths. I know a lot of photographers who've played with making short films because there's often a storytelling element to taking photographs. That seems only to be expanded by a director's work.

Have you ever been challenged by a photographer the way you were by Terry Gilliam?

No, and that's not to belittle any of the photographers I've worked with. I've worked with some really brilliant photographers, but I find that it's usually their vision that's put on me, and there's a small amount I can do with that to role-play and achieve what they're going after. It's more their creative vision and I'm just a part of it -- which is true to a certain extent with Terry's work, but Terry is obviously much more demanding of me to contribute and create a character, as he would be with all his actors.

Obviously it's nice to be asked to contribute more, but is it daunting at the same time?

For sure. I've always gone after fears and tried to stifle them by doing them. It is daunting, but it's more rewarding.

What was challenging about it?

From the outset, being amongst really talented and experienced actors and being expected to do something and create someone. Whatever it was that was expected of me, doing it opposite those actors was daunting.

They're all so different in technique! Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Verne Troyer, a newcomer like Andrew Garfield...what did you learn from seeing all those different approached to acting thrown together?

The thing with actors is that I don't know any of their techniques! If they have them, they're probably secretly locked away. [Laughs] Actually, even though they all have very different skills, there is a similar element of being present, of being real. They know their character and then they play with it, and that's something that I aspire with practice to also do. It started off that I was very intimidated and I wasn't quite sure who Valentina was. The whole enterprise seemed very nerve-wracking to me, but with time, I had to be her. These characters all emerged and my character emerged, and suddenly it became a lot more playful.

How did you know you were succeeding? Could you tell whether you were impressing Terry?

I never knew if I was succeeding or not. Sometimes he would let me know, but not often. I only really think I might have succeeded now afterwards, when he'll respond positively to what I did. During the process, I was constantly walking on a high rope.

Why were you so nervous?

Once we started filming, I actually got more comfortable with it. The concept of going into the movie was what I was intimidated by -- sitting in a read-through with Christopher and Heath and Terry and Verne and Andrew. They sat there with more experience and gravitas and ideas, and suddenly I realized how new I was and what a big role I had. I didn't know what Terry expected of me, but I had to try and live up to something, you know? It was more the proposal that intimidated me than the actuality.

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