Evangeline Lily from The Hobbit

2013-12-13 11:53
Evangeline Lily
Los Angeles - It's not easy playing a character in a fantasy franchise who does not appear in the original text.

Evangeline Lilly from Lost fame was cast as head of the Elven Guard of Mirkwood Forest and dagger wielder Tauriel. Her background story will involve the gazing Legolas with whom she grew up with and the new injection of a female character will also serve as fodder for a love triangle including a dwarf.

This has sparked debate over director Peter Jackson's authority to create another character and has led to much criticism over the pandering to a female audience.

This doesn't phase the Canadian actress, however, as the role lured her out of retirement and had her jetting off to New Zealand with a newborn in tow. For Lily, playing an Elf is a dream come true as she helped mould the character alongside Jackson and the writers, making it her own.

How did you become involved in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug?  Had you read the book?  

I kind of got drawn into the project. I was laid up in bed, having just had my first child - I mean literally just - and I got a call saying, ‘Peter Jackson would like you to play an Elf in his upcoming Hobbit films. Would you mind getting on a call with his writing team and discussing the possibility?’ And I was like, ‘Holy crap!’  

I thought I had retired at that point from acting, and I was moving into a stage of life with motherhood, and attempting a writing career. My focus was totally shifted away from acting. The Hobbit had been my favorite book as a young teen. Peter Jackson’s realization of The Lord of the Rings films had been some of my favorite movies ever. And I was a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of the work of Tolkien. So, I was like, ‘Aw, man, I have to take this call. I can’t say no to that, I can’t. No matter how much I want to move on, I have to take that call.’  

I also knew from different people in the industry who had worked with them that Peter and his team were incredibly good people.  They’re just wonderful to work for.  So I took the call, and they told me they wanted me to play a Wood-elf.  The Wood-elves were my favorite characters.  I used to fantasize as a little girl about being a Wood-elf.  I couldn’t say no.  

I had been asked when I was working on Lost throughout the years, 'What is your dream role?’  I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t really have one.’  But you don’t know you have these things until they get proposed to you.  And then it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, this is a dream role.’  I didn’t realize it, but this is a total dream role for me.  So when my baby was only three months old, I flew up to New Zealand and started stunt training.

Lily at the LA premiere:
Evangeline Lily
(Photo: AP)

You flew to New Zealand with baby in tow?

[Laughs]  Yeah, and nursing in between.  I mean, literally, I had a costume that strapped up like that old medieval look, with ties at the front.  And then, once you got that layer off, it’s strapped at the back.  And then you got that layer off, and then it zipped at the front.  Then you got that layer off and there was this bodysuit.  I had to nurse every three hours, so I would be working, then I’d run to my trailer, and there’d be two wardrobe people ripping layers off of me.  And I would nurse, and then we’d put them all back on, and I’d run back to set. It was very difficult.  

It was not great timing, but in a way, it was perfect timing because I had mommy brain still, and because my focus was so much on my baby, I was so relaxed about the whole thing.  I mean, being a part of this franchise could be very nerve-wracking.  It’s a lot of pressure and it’s a big deal, but I was so focused elsewhere that I was very relaxed about the whole thing, and had a great time.  I just didn’t think about it that much.  And, as a result, I think I ended up giving a better performance because I was just so relaxed.  It was great.  [Laughs]

Your character, Tauriel, is a new character who is not explicitly described in the book.  Did you see that as an opportunity to contribute to the character?  And what were the discussions like with you and the writers?

Yeah.  I was really fortunate in that because my character was brand new, so there was all this room to play.  There was all this room for the writers to open up the floor to me and say, ‘What do you envision, and how do you see her, and what would you want to contribute.’  I’ve never worked in a situation where writers are so collaborative with the actor.  

I can’t tell you how intimate that process was.  To be invited to Philippa Boyens’s home and sit down with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and go over pages of script that are not finalized, and contribute.  And say, ‘Well, I think this, and I think that.  And what about this?  No, yes?’  It’s kind of nerve-wracking the first time you say to Academy Award-winning writers, ‘I don’t think so.’  [laughs]  I’m like, ‘How dare I; it’s so inappropriate!’ - but that’s how humble they are, and how open and collaborative, that they would invite that.  

Tauriel and Legolas:
Tauriel and Legolas
(Photo: Warner Bros./AP)

So I really think that I was able to infuse a lot of my own thoughts and feelings about Tauriel into the character, which, of course, is a double-edged sword.  Because if the world knows that, they’re going to be particularly angry with me if they don’t like her.  But I’m very willing and ready to deal with the masses coming with torches to burn me at the stake.  [Laughs]  So it’s fine.  I think it’s kind of fun.

Can you tell me about Tauriel?  What’s she like, and what did you like about her?

Those are two great complimentary questions. For lack of a better way of putting it, she is an empowered female figure because she is head of the Elven Guard, so she’s in a leadership position. She is a ruthless, precise, talented fighter. She mows down Orcs like they are blades of grass.  

But what I like about her is that that is not what makes her a strong woman in my mind, or a strong female character - because she’s not a woman; she’s an Elf.  [Laughs]  It’s the reason why she fights - she fights for truth and justice.  And when I see films where women go out and kick butt, their aggression looks like a woman trying to mimic a man.  I think that’s counterproductive to female empowerment because I don’t think women should aspire to be like men.  I think women should aspire to be the most incredible, powerful version of themselves, which means in my mind, they hold onto their feminine virtues of compassion, grace, love, and beauty, and things that shine out from the inside. 

So when I think about Tauriel, I’m always hesitant to play a role where a woman goes around killing things because I don’t like that message.  But in the The Hobbit films, almost every single male character in that movie is motivated by selfish desires.  Tauriel is one of the very few characters in the films who is motivated by justice and truth.  That’s what she’s fighting for; that’s her drive - her compassion for the weak, and the suffering; and her desire to fight for justice and truth.  That’s what I like the most about her.  

When I look at the other characters that share that with her, two that come to mind are Gandalf and Galadriel.  And I think, ‘I’m in great company.’  Those are like two of my favorite characters in the Trilogy, and I’m proud to be in that camp, the not selfish camp.  [Laughs] 

Evangeline Lily as Tauriel
(Photo: Warner Bros./AP)

What does Tauriel make of these Dwarves when she encounters them?  And how does that compare with how Legolas and Thranduil see them, or their plight?

Well, all of the Wood-elves, the Silvan Elves, hate Dwarves.  They have an animosity.  There’s an old rivalry there.  There’s old very bad blood there from the history between Thorin’s people and Thranduil’s people when Thranduil’s people left Thorin’s people out to dry when the Dragon first attacked their home.  And so there’s real strong animosity between those two groups.  

But what is lovely is that Tauriel starts to see - I want to say the humanity in Dwarves because I’m a human being and so I think in those terms - but I guess by saying that, what I’m saying is she starts to see that they’re not so different.  There are universal commonalities between beings who have self-consciousness and that presence of mind that we consider to be that human trait of having a soul, or a consciousness, or intelligence.  She also recognizes that through seeing the Dwarves’ zest for life and their careless abandon, she sees reflected back some of the flaws in her own people’s ways - the way they are so guarded, and so structured and disciplined.  

I think she sees life and beauty in the Dwarves’ exuberance and their wild ways.  So she ends up feeling a lot more compassion for them than the male Elf characters do, which I love.  Because I do think of compassion as being an emotion that I associate with femininity, even though there are incredible, beautiful, compassionate men in the world.  Maternal instincts drive our compassion often.  So she changes her mind about the Dwarves.

What was it like for you to join this merry band of actors down in New Zealand?  

It was wonderful.  I like to think of us as the Commonwealth Company because we primarily all came from Commonwealth countries.  It was England, and Ireland, and Scotland, and Australia, and New Zealand, and Canada.  I was the only Canadian represented.  We’ve been on American films so everyone drinks coffee and Coke; everyone on this one drank tea.  We had this commonality in our cultural backgrounds that made it a very quick, easy entry into the group.  I came in a year after they’d been already filming together for a long time, so I was the new kid on the block.  And it would have been very easy for me to feel ostracized or on the outside, but never for a minute did I feel that way. 

Lily at the Berlin premiere:
Evangeline Lily
(Photo: AP)

I think to a certain extent those boys were like, ‘Oh, my God, a woman, thank God.’  So, in a way, I probably had a leg in because they were grateful to have a female on set who was smiling, and giggling, and doing the things that girls do.  So it was wonderful.  

I primarily worked with the Elves and the humans.  I actually didn’t work a lot with the Dwarves.  And I was very lucky in that I got paired off and in scenes with Bard’s children, and I love working with children.  It’s my favorite.  I just think it’s so much fun.  It reminds me all the time that, ‘Oh, what I do for a living is I play house.’  That’s what I do, and it’s fun, and it’s sweet, and it’s easy and simple, because they don’t think about it, they don’t complicate it.  And that was one of the highlights of filming for me. 

What has it been like for you to work with Peter Jackson?  

Peter is my favorite kind of director because he doesn’t take anything he does seriously.  He has a background in genre horror films that he made in his backyard, and he got his start in film.  And he still treats it that way, thank God, because he hasn’t become some kind of film mogul who thinks that the sun and the moon rise from him.  He always wants to laugh.  He always wants to goof around.  And he is very humble and very sweet.

For some reason, I’m very easily intimidated when I’m on a film set.  Surprisingly, it’s a characteristic of my own that I don’t understand.  I think it’s because I have to be so vulnerable.  In life, I’m not easily intimidated at all.  But the minute I’m on a film set, if a director is very, very serious, or heavy-handed, or nit-picking every little thing about my performance, I feel it happen inside of me where I get actor’s block.  It’s the same kind of thing as a writer’s block, where I just shut down inside.  I’m searching for that natural ease and it’s just gone, and I can’t find it, and it’s a horrible feeling - I never had that with Peter.  

He was always helpful, and easy, and lovely.  And he has the best earlobes in the industry; I could rub them all day.  I love him.  And it was just a pleasure.  It was a treat.

Lily and Orlando Bloom at the Berlin premiere:
Evangeline Lily and Orlando Bloom
(Photo: AP)

Are you working on anything else while you make these films?

Yeah.  I wrote a book this year, called The Squickerwonkers, and it is sort of the pinnacle of my existence right now because I’ve wanted to be a writer for a very long time, and I’m finally pursuing that dream.  This is my first children’s storybook, the beginning of hopefully a series.

Read more on:    evangeline lilly  |  movies  |  the hobbit

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