All it took for Lynn Collins to give up her two-pack-a-day smoking habit was six weeks of acupuncture and a man named Kerry Gaynor. “He’s amazing,” says Collins of the certified hypnotist, who’s talked the likes of Matt Damon, Aaron Eckhart, and Charlize Theron into butting out once and for all. Collins got Gaynor’s phone number from her friend Rashida Jones, who got it from Paul Rudd. Three sessions later, she was nicotine-free. “I haven’t had a cigarette since,” says Collins, “and that was three years ago.” Yet for all the credit due to the Gaynor method, Collins herself was well-prepared for the battle against cigarettes, having recently cast a much fiercer demon from her life.
In the winter of 2008, Collins was shooting the Marvel spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine in Australia opposite Hugh Jackman. Every morning, she came to set hungover after a night of heavy partying and binge drinking. “It was just a party everywhere because I met a lot of Australians and they’re so much fun,” says Collins, who is sitting in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel in Manhatttan, cradling a glass of sparkling water in her right hand. I ask how her punishing nightlife routine affected her demanding role as Kayla Silverfox, the telepathic mutant and love interest to Jackman’s Wolverine. “When you’re a functioning alcoholic, you can hide it,” she says. “And I was young enough that it didn’t show in my face. But it got to a point where somebody was like, it’s not cute anymore, and I was like, Oh God.”
Lynn Collins is not yet a household name, but that might change when Disney’s gargantuan sci-fi tentpole John Carter, in which Collins plays a martian princess, is released on March 9. For now, her struggles with alcoholism remain generally undocumented by the press. She is, however, remarkably candid for an actor whose last check was signed by The House That Mickey Built. “If I picked up one drink right now it would mean I’d be gone by the end of the night,” says Collins, who’s been sober for almost four years. “I never understood people who can have just one. I’m like, Don’t you want to get bombed?”
In 2008, Collins married the actor Steven Strait after a four-year relationship. Strait, who stars on the upcoming Starz series Magic City, was with her during her darkest hours, although in the beginning they were just a young couple having fun. “Until I took it all to hell,” says Collins, with surprising nonchalance. “Steven is incredibly smart and incredibly powerful, and he knows what he wants. Whatever I was doing, he was the rock, and now there’s two rocks. It’s a more equal relationship, but it wasn’t always like that.”
In person, Collins is bubbly and effervescent (In a moment of keen self-awareness, she tells me, “I don’t need bubbles to be effervescent”). She speaks as though she’s constantly sharing a secret, leaning in close across the table, and often lowers her voice to a whisper like she’s confessing to her best friend. She describes her newfound clarity as addictive and calls herself a workaholic. Between her two blockbusters, Collins shot the independent dramas Angels Crest, Unconditional, and Ten Year, but she seems frustrated that none had seen a theatrical release yet. Just before we meet, she was glued to her iPad, tweeting obsessively about her new business, a webzine devoted to spirituality and fashion called InnerChic.org. Collins, who is launching the site with a close friend, is a hardcore fanatic of all things New Age.
She studies numerology, the I Ching, and tarot. When she left AA, she supplemented it with transcendental meditation, which she still practices twice a day. On the set of John Carter, a movie she calls “mind-expanding,” Collins gave her costar Taylor Kitsch an astrology reading. “My mom told me astrology came from the devil,” she says, explaining the origins of her fascination with the Zodiac. “And I was like, Really? You think this is from the devil? That is so interesting! I think there’s a part of my mother that will always wonder if I’m going to hell.”
Collins was born in Texas to Christian parents, but spent much of her childhood in Singapore after her father, an employee at Exxon, was transferred there. Her eclectic, international upbringing set her up for serious culture shock when she returned to the U.S. at the age of 10. “I had been around all these different faces, different styles of worship, dress, and eating. Then I get back to Texas, which is all Dooney & Bourke bags,” she says. At 17, Collins moved to New York City and enrolled in the prestigious Julliard drama school, where she devised a list of career goals. The first was to perform at the Public Theater, which she accomplished in 2000 after being cast as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet, starring Liev Schrieber. In 2005, she ticked off another goal: becoming the lead in a Shakespeare in the Park production, gracing the Delacorte stage as Rosalind in As You Like It. Her break in Hollywood came when she guest–starred on HBO’s True Blood as the vampy (but not vampiric) waitress Dawn Green. After the character was killed off during the show’s first season, Collins turned her attention to movies, landing a part in the underrated thriller Uncertainty, opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But it was her role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which grossed $373 million worldwide, that gave Collins the clout to audition for John Carter.
Adapted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom serial, John Carter marks Pixar genius Andrew Stanton’s live–action debut—and one of the largest gambles in Disney’s history. If the story of a former Confederate captain (played by Kitsch) who gets transported to Mars and involved in the planet’s civil war does not connect with audiences, it won’t come close to recouping its reported $250 million budget. Collins is confident the film will find a large audience, not because of its special effects (of which there are many) but because Stanton set out to make a movie with a poignant message. “Anything Andrew Stanton does is just so big,” Collins says. “Look at Wall-E. I don’t want to speak for him, but from witnessing his work and witnessing him as a person, he truly cares about human life, the planet, and our existence.”
For her role as the extraterrestrial warrior Dejah Thoris, the head of Science and Letters in the martian city of Helium, the five hours a day she spent getting bronzer and fake tribal prints applied to her body was the least rigorous part of Collins’ physical transformation. The actor endured weeks of sword training and brutal workout routines—because Burroughs’ martians have a famous aversion to clothes. “The costumes for John Carter were like blue booty shorts that go up my ass,” says Collins. “At one point I had to wear this chainmail belt and it was horrible. But I don’t see Dejah as someone who cares if her body is exposed, because she doesn’t see herself as an object.” But Collins gained more from her training than abs of steel. “Working out gave me a great high,” she says. “And I’m a connoisseur of highs.”