Actors Robert Sheehan (left)

Actors Robert Sheehan (left)

The witty side of life in a world of shadows

It’s the big-screen adaptation of a series of bestselling books where werewolves take on vampires. A beautiful girl falls in love with a young heart-throb, but the relationship is complicated by the affections of others.

It’s the big-screen adaptation of a series of bestselling books where werewolves take on vampires.

A beautiful girl falls in love with a young heart-throb, but the relationship is complicated by the affections of others.

The girl comes of age in a world that lives in the shadows.

You may think you’ve heard this one before.

But The Mortal Instruments is decidedly different, says 24-year-old star Lily Collins.

“Ours has wit and humour, which I think is not so much in the other ones,” begins Collins, as she sits in a downtown hotel rattling off the differences between her film and the brooding Twilight and The Hunger Games — the character-driven plot; the presence of a love cube, not a simple love triangle; the fact that her character, Clary Fray, is not merely defined by two men.

“There’s always going to be that comparison, but it’s kind of like comparing any great actor to another great actor. The key audience may be the same target audience, but the stories are so different,” she said. “So (Twilight and Hunger Games) has set some sort of bar in the sense that we’re always going to get compared to it, but really they are like apples and oranges.”

Fortune helped bring Collins the part of Clary Fray, a 16-year-old who discovers that her mother (and by virtue of her lineage, Clary herself) is a Shadowhunter, a race of humans with angelic blood that secretly protects the rest of the world from demons.

She read Cassandra Clare’s first book of the series, City of Bones, and became a “huge fan,” prompting her to make inquiries about the rumoured film adaptation.

It ended up that producers for the project had been involved with a film she was working on, and gave her the role without an audition.

“It just kind of organically happened for me.

“And it was such an honour, because I loved Clary, and admired her and looked up to her.”

The rest of it — the ardour that has turned teenaged fans agog as the cast embarked on a tour of malls around the United States? That’s perhaps less organic.

“Never did I imagine with every mall it would get louder and (bring) more people,” said Collins.

“We did one in L.A. where 800 people showed up screaming, and it was like, ‘The film’s not even out yet.

“It’s not even a sequel.”’

Fortunately, she has had her male counterpart, co-star Jamie Campbell Bower, to lean on. Bower, 24, plays the dreamy Jace Wayland, and he’s seen this kind of fan fervour before, appearing in three Twilight films and even making an appearance in the Harry Potter movies.

His philosophy? Let things take care of themselves.

“We’re in an industry whereby we get scrutinized 24/7, no matter what movie we do,” Bower said.

“Are we ready? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s something that any of us are ever thinking about, really.”

If anything, his time surrounded by shrieking fans has affirmed the message he wants to send his growing and impressionable young fanbase — that celebrities are not worthy of worship.

“None of us are going to sit here and say that we’re perfect, because we’re all (messed up) in our own way.

“And that’s beautiful,” Bower said.

“Just because you’re in a movie doesn’t make you a sort of an idol. And it should never be that. I would never want someone to want to be me.”

It’s a hard thing to do, but the cast appears to be taking the long view as they prepare to shoot the next instalment.

“The only thing we can control is we show up in a month and make an even better film, and hopefully people like it,” said Kevin Zegers, 28, who plays terse Shadowhunter Alec Lightwood.

“Outside of that, the reality of the situation is a Jamie’s Jamie, and whether he becomes (insanely) famous … he hasn’t done anything different, it’s just the perception of who he is.

“If none of us were talented a if we weren’t going to do something after these films, if this were it for us, then I’d be terrified.

“This just opens doors for us to do the kinds of films we want.”

Collins shares their approach, and it’s a wise move, since many — fairly or not — will view her through the expectant lens of Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart of Hunger Games and Twilight, respectively.

That will come with the good — Lawrence and Stewart have since become style icons, something that the fashionable Collins is excited about — but also with the pressure of playing a character that readers have already created for themselves in their mind.

The hype is familiar, the pressures recognizable.

You may have heard this one before. But not if Collins has anything to say about it.

“Luckily, this isn’t my first film, so I feel like I’ve been able, with every project, to step out of boxes,” she says.

“Hopefully, this is just another character I get to embody and step away from and step back into, and I admire Kristen and Jennifer because they’ve been able to do independents and franchises.

“People are able to see them as different characters, and I think that’s really important.

“I didn’t see Clary as a vehicle to get me anywhere better. I saw her as a vehicle to better understand myself as Lily.”

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens in theatres nationwide on Wednesday. The sequel, like the first movie, will be filmed in Toronto, starting in September.