Lily Luahana Cole (born 27 December 1987) is a British model, actress and entrepreneur.
Cole pursued a modelling career as a teenager and was listed in 2009 by Vogue Paris as one of the top 30 models of the 2000s. She was booked for her first British Vogue cover at age 16, named “Model of the Year” at the 2004 British Fashion Awards, and worked with many well-known brands, including Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier and Moschino. Her advertising campaigns have included Longchamp, Anna Sui, Rimmel and Cacharel.
Cole’s first leading role as an actress was as Valentina in the 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Her other film work includes Passages, a short directed by Shekhar Kapur, and There Be Dragons directed by Roland Joffé. In 2013 Cole founded impossible.com, an innovation group and incubator (previously a gift economy social network, now renamed Impossible People).
Cole made her acting debut as Polly in the 2007 comedy St Trinian’s, a rework of the black and white films of the 1950s and ’60s, alongside Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Russell Brand, Jodie Whittaker and Stephen Fry.
Her first leading role came in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 fantasy film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, playing Valentina, the teenage daughter of Christopher Plummer’s title character, Dr Parnassus, whom Parnassus has promised to the Devil (Tom Waits) upon her 16th birthday. Acting alongside Heath Ledger (who died before filming had finished), Cole, in an interview for the Daily Telegraph admitted that, at times, she felt out of her depth in the role — saying “I’d only done a couple of films and here I was surrounded by amazing actors like Christopher Plummer and Heath Ledger, and it was intimidating at times,” also describing the role as “the biggest role I’ve ever done”.
Gilliam said of Cole: “She has an amazing look and grasps what is required so very quickly. If she wants a career as an actress, she has a brilliant future”. According to Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times, writing as Parnassus was released in the United States, “Cole brings a surprising well of emotional tenderness to her part as Valentina”, while Ryan Michael Painter wrote of the film on ‘inthisweek.com’ that “all of the performances are delightful, particularly Cole’s as Valentina, proving that the haute couture model has more to offer this world than a pretty face”.
Cole appeared at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in December 2009 to promote Parnassus. She was featured as herself in one episode of the online series T Takes, a series of short, improvised films published by The New York Times. Cole appeared as “Lettuce Leaf”, a celebrity supermodel in the 2009 film, Rage, directed by Sally Potter. Cole also played “Aline” in the 2011 film There Be Dragons.
In January 2010, Cole gave an interview to the Canadian edition of Elle in which she expressed her desire to focus more on acting than on her modelling career, saying she “wouldn’t want to treat acting as a convenient thing to do now and again”, going on to mention her roles in the upcoming films There Be Dragons and Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll and saying of her modelling “I’ve been doing modelling for years and I feel like I’ve taken out of it what I need to and I’m ready for new things” and that “film asks for a much bigger emotional and intellectual commitment.” Cole had a part in Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries, which was released in 2012.
Cole made a minor appearance in the music video for the Girls Aloud and Sugababes cover of “Walk This Way” in aid of the British telethon charity Comic Relief, in which she struts up and down a catwalk in “hilarious ways”, interspersed by the bands and several well-known British television personalities. Cole had another minor role in Primal Scream’s 2008 video “Can’t Go Back”, in which she and other models featured in a horror-style video based on the films of Dario Argento. The models, including Cole, are graphically “murdered” and “meet their ends in rather striking ways” with the aim of looking “hot even when dead”. Cole again starred in a music video for Sir Paul McCartney’s song “Queenie Eye” featuring a number of actors and musicians including Gary Barlow, James Corden, Jude Law and Johnny Depp.
It was reported in October 2009 that Cole would make her stage debut at the Old Vic Theatre in London’s West End at the theatre’s annual “24 Hour Plays” held in November, but “scheduling commitments” forced her to pull out. Cole ultimately made her stage début at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge, as Nina in a student production of The Seagull.
She appeared in “The Curse of the Black Spot”, the third episode of the sixth series of science fiction series Doctor Who, in May 2011. She played a Sea Siren. Cole stars in the music video for Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2013 single “Sacrilege” as a woman burned alive by the many men and women that she has had affairs with. In 2017, Cole starred in the title role in the three-part docu-drama miniseries Elizabeth I, which aired on Channel 5 from 9 to 23 May.