Lily Collins’ decision to lose weight to play Ellen, a woman battling anorexia, in To the Bone was entirely hers, director Marti Noxon says. It was a choice Collins made while being mindful of her history with anorexia and bulimia.
“We never asked her to lose a certain amount of weight. There was a discussion, and we didn’t have very much time. We only had about four weeks between her signing on and starting filming, because of her schedule. And it was really more of a conversation about what’s going to make you feel, as an actor, prepared for the role, but also how do we keep you safe, and not at a dangerous weight that’s going to be triggering for you,” Noxon tells PEOPLE.
“We had her work with a nutritionist, who actually worked with her throughout the entire process and for months after who, as she was gaining the weight back, was checking in with her all of the time.”
Collins said in an interview with Access Hollywood that losing weight was important to her, so she could properly inhabit the role.
“For me, I just wanted to feel like I was paying homage to the 16 year old girl that I was, that would’ve wanted to see this movie, but at the time I was just an actor playing a character,” she said. “There was never a weight goal, there was never a number. It’s something that I decided to do as an actor for a role. You lose weight, you gain weight, you change your hair color. There’s so many different things that you can physically change for a character.”
Still, Project Heal, the non-profit eating disorder prevention organization that consulted on the film, wrote in an online FAQ that they do not support Collins’ decision to lose weight, especially considering her history.
“We in no way intend to endorse the idea that people with anorexia nervosa can lose weight safely. This was a creative decision on the filmmakers’ part, and filming was completed before Project HEAL got involved in the film,” they write. “There is strong research showing that getting into a state of negative energy balance and/or losing weight can make people who have struggled with anorexia nervosa much more prone to a relapse. The weight loss aspect is not something that Project HEAL supports.”
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Project Heal does add, though, that the filmmakers employed special effects, wardrobe and prosthetics to make Collins look more gaunt, which Noxon affirms.
“Some of the things that look alarming are really not,” Noxon says.