She is the luminous and often tough-talking star of the hit TV series Lost which just returned for its next season. Lily also completed a movie, Afterwards, a film about love and death, that premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
In this exclusive interview with Paul Fischer, the beautiful ex-air hostess talks about the film as well as the impact Lost has had on her life and career.
Question: I remember talking to John Malkovich, who said that doing a film like Afterwards made him think more about one’s mortality the older you get. You’re obviously a lot younger than he is, but does doing a film like that give you any cause to pause about such weighty issues?
Lilly: You know, I think I have spent so much of my life contemplating mortality.
Lilly: Well, I was brought up in the church. I was never 100 percent convinced that what I was being told had to be the absolute truth. I believed that you had to work that out for yourself, so within the context that I was being raised, I was constantly questioning, and wondering, and asking, and searching my own soul. I had a very innate nature towards the spiritual, and the soul. I don’t know why. I don’t know where that comes from. But it’s always been there, and it’s still there. And I’m only 29. But 29 years of searching and wondering. And you eventually come to the place. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen tomorrow. What matters is what you and I are doing right now. And are we happy? And are we having a good time? And if we are, then sod the rest. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Is that why the script spoke to you, because of that?
Lilly: That’s a huge reason why it spoke to me. The character embodied so much of what I believe and also, because the script is speaking into things that are important to me. And there are not a lot of scripts that are brave enough to address the notion of an afterlife, of spirit, of God or death. Or – these are really heavy topics and most people want to be entertained, you know? They want to get caught up in high action, or high drama, or comedy. They don’t want to be challenged. I don’t want to do a film if it doesn’t challenge you.
Question: That’s interesting. Because after they aired the pilot of Lost, you were the kind of breakout person from that. Everyone raved about you, and you really established yourself through that series. Yet you’ve kept a relatively low profile. Why is that?
Lilly: it’s definitely intentional. It’s by choice. To put it simply – you know, a lot of people believe that the benefit of this job is fame and fortune. I believe that you pay for the fortune through the fame. I don’t buy into the notion that being famous is somehow a good thing, or an exciting thing, or a wonderful thing. I think it’s more cumbersome and more of a hindrance to your life than it is the other. But the fortune is fantastic. [LAUGHTER] I’ll take it, and I have no complaints. But it’s not – you know, I didn’t become an actress because I wanted to be famous. I didn’t become an actress because this is the ultimate career goal of my life. I became an actress by accident. I was doing a psychological exercise with myself, challenging myself, by going to auditions. I had no idea that it would connect to a job. I had no intention for it to connect to a job. I was doing it as an exercise. So when I got a job, I, in that moment, had to sit down and go, ” Do I want to be an actor?”
Question: And that job was –
Lilly: Was Lost.
Question: Because you had done nothing prior to – and people were astonished that you’d done nothing. Yet you’ve evolved incredibly through this. I mean, has it been an ongoing process for you?
Lilly: Yes. Hugely. I feel like I’m in boot camp. On Lost – my first year was baptism by fire. I just was thrown in. And I had no idea what I was doing, not just on set, and not just as an actor, but as a public figure. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to cope with it, and what the best ways were to manage it. I’m constantly learning that and therefore, in learning it, I knew I didn’t want to – one of the first things I knew was, I don’t want to have this beast become so big and uncontrollable that I am swallowed up by it.
Question: So, how do you control that?
Lilly: Well, one of the ways is, you don’t do big blockbuster Hollywood hits. [LAUGHTER] Another way is, you avoid press unless it’s really necessary.
Question: It’s rare to find somebody who –
Lilly: Who doesn’t believe it all. [LAUGHTER] Who doesn’t believe it all, I guess.
Question: Do you still have a house in Hawaii?
Lilly: Yes, I do. I have a house – I’m actually in the middle of renovating a house – well, a renovation turned into a tear-down and rebuild. And that’s been a huge project for me, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a sweet little Hawaiian bungalow. And I just bought a house with my parents up in Canada, because my heart is still here. I love this country. This is where I was born and raised and one day, I think I’ll probably come back here.
Question: See, that’s what the fame and fortune can do for you, kind of.
Question: It can help your family.
Lilly: Exactly. But the fortune. The fortune. The fame doesn’t help them. At all. It actually gets in their way. [LAUGHTER] You know, my sisters are really tired of being referred to as Evangeline Lilly’s sisters. They have names. You know, that – that’s – it’s interesting. They’ve seen people seek fame and fortune as if they’re one entity. But they’re very different. And the great thing about the fortunes is the amazing, wonderful things you can do with that. The only good thing I would say about the fame is the amazing doors it opens. I mean, I love to write, for example. I’ve always loved to write. Since I was eight years old.
Question: What kind of stuff?
Lilly: Everything. Poetry, children’s stories, novels, screenplays, short stories. Whatever’s in my brain has to come out.
Question: Have you had anything published, or do you want to have anything published?
Lilly: I’ve never tried, but I think I will try. And that’s where I was going to. It will be so much easier for me now. Whereas before, I would have had to fight so hard just to even get an agent to pay attention to me, let alone have them want to represent my work. Now, you know, I have an agent at CAA, one of the best agencies in the world, saying, ” I’ll represent your writing.” Just by virtue of who I am. So there’s a balance in abusing that and using that. And that is where the fame actually can be a beautiful, amazing benefit. Is it does open doors.
Question: Why did you decide you wanted to be a flight attendant?
Lilly: [LAUGHTER] Because I wanted to travel and see the world, and I didn’t have money. I had no money. I was living on tea and peanut butter when I was a university student. I just wanted to travel so desperately, that I would have done anything. So I went and I did the flight attendant training, which is grueling and hectic.
Question: Which airline?
Lilly: Royal. Do you remember Royal Airlines? They were a charter airline out of Montreal. And I did the job for one month. One month, and I quit. I hated it so much. It wasn’t worth it. I didn’t really get to see anywhere, because – you know, I would go to Germany, and I’d be flying out the next morning. Well, what’s the point of that?
Question: And now, with this fortune that you have –
Lilly: Now I can see the world.
Question: Traveling – how much of it have you seen?
Lilly: A lot. A lot. I mean, just alone this summer, I went to seven different countries on two different sides of the Atlantic, in two different hemispheres, in two months.
Question: So, where did you go ?
EVANGELINE LILLY: I went to South America, to Argentina and Peru. And I went to Europe, which I’ve been to a few times now through the show, but it was my first time being there just for me. Just to play and have fun and see things. I went to Machu Pichu in Peru, which was so amazing, of course. I’ve been to South Africa and Rwanda, and I’ve been to – my next stop, because I’ve been to a bunch of different places – I’ve been to Japan, and all sorts of places – I want to go to Russia. That’s on my hit list. I’ve got to go see Russia. And I’d like to go to southeast Asia. And then once I’ve covered those two, I feel like I’ve almost covered the gamut. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Was it refreshing to take on a character like Claire, that is vastly different from Kate in Lost?
Lilly: So healthy. It was so healthy. It’s very hard to continue to play – I have a hard time disassociating myself from Kate sometimes. It’s just becomes so intrinsic. It becomes like putting on your clothes in the morning. I put her on, and I don’t even think about it any more. That actually, you forget sometimes to take her off. To stop doing that. And that system can be very wearing, because to live two different people all of the time is very difficult. So I think it just breathed new life into the notion of who I am, as a person, who Evangeline Lilly is, instead of allowing myself to mistakenly pigeonhole myself as the tomboy, aggressive, strong woman. Claire I think very feminine, she’s very gentle and there’s a softness about her that Kate doesn’t seem to have; it was good timing. Because I’m 29. I did it when I was 28. I’m heading towards 30. You can’t be a tomboy for the rest of your life. You know, you kind of grow out of that at some point.
Question: You poor old thing. Thirty.
Lilly: I’m getting to be an old hag. I’ve got to grow up. [LAUGHTER]
Question: How much of Lost do you know about? I mean, in terms of the arc of everything that’s going to be going on?
Lilly: I know nothing. We get scripts usually the day before we start working.
Question: Have they said, ” Well, by the end of the show, this is basically what we think is going to happen?”
Lilly: No way. First of all, then they wouldn’t have leverage over us any more. Because right now, they could just say, ” We might kill you. You’re outta line, or you ask for too much money, we could kill you.” [LAUGHTER] So they need that leverage. Secondly, they need the creative freedom to be able to move with the show. And I think the show has a life of its own. They take into account fanfare and fan ideas, and – and they take into account actual relationships. Like, our show is very much life imitating art, and art imitating life, in that if they see a relationship, a friendship blooming on set, they’ll probably bring those two characters closer.
Lilly: Yeah. They do that. They play with it. They’re very organic in their writing style, which is really amazing.
Question: What about if you hate somebody on the show?
Lilly: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Well, if you hate somebody on the show, it depends on who you are. Maybe they’ll just die. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Are you looking forward to seeing the end of the show? I mean, I know it’s been very good to you. But it must also have its drawbacks.
Lilly: I think that it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes I’m on set, and I look around me at the family that I have there now, and I am moved to tears thinking about leaving. Thinking about not coming every day to be with these people, and have them affect my life. Our crew are amazing. They’re all like my big brothers. And it’s wearing, as well. You know, you don’t have a lot of choice or freedom. We are literally sequestered to the island. To get off the island of Hawaii, to come here to do this, was a huge battle.
Lilly: Yeah. It’s very hard. They don’t – because the production schedule is so hectic, they don’t want you off-island, in case they should need you. So for – you know, originally, it was nine months of the year. And now, thankfully, it’s down to seven, which makes it a little bit more flexible. But for seven months in the year, I have not really any choice as to where I live and what I do, and what parts I take. Because I’m doing Kate. I’m Kate, I don’t have a choice. So that gets wearing. And after a while, you start to feel like you want to have your life back.
Question: Well, what do you want to also do with your life, once it’s over?
Lilly: I would like to be a mother at some point.
Question: Do you have a prophetic father yet, or are they auditions?
Lilly: [LAUGHTER] We’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll keep an open mind.
Question: It must be hard meeting somebody, though, given all of what you’re doing, and all of that. Keeping relationships in focus. Especially if you’re shooting in such an isolated part of the country.
Lilly: It is. It is. And I think the focus is what’s key, because it’s a very – it draws your focus, this industry. There are so many things to say, ” We need your attention. We need your attention. We need your attention.” And that’s one of the reasons why – also, why I don’t do a lot of press, because it takes a lot of your energy and time. I believe that you really, really can get swallowed up into forgetting that you need to take time for you, and you need to take time for your loved ones, and the people who are important in your life. And that happened to me – I would say, midway through Season Three, I reached a point where I was – I had no time for anything any more. I didn’t have time for my friends or family or loved ones. And I had to make a correction. And one of those corrections was, no press. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t have time. I’m not going to put my energy there.
Question: What do you hope to do during your next hiatus? When is your next hiatus?
Lilly: Yes. And that’s the problem. You really can’t plan until you know what’s happening.
Question: Is there going to be an actor’s strike. I really can’t imagine it.
Lilly: I don’t think they will. But I’m no authority. I’m stuck on an island. I have no idea what’s happening in LA.
Question: That’s always your excuse now, isn’t it?
Lilly: It is.
Question: You’ll have to lose that eventually.
Lilly: I know. Eventually I have to actually come up with real reasons why I don’t know these things. Actually, I’m lazy, and I don’t keep up in it. But I’ve been working on a little indie script that I have contemplated making. And if I did make it, I would direct it. And if I did direct it, there is an opportunity maybe to do it next summer.
Question: And you’d be in it as well?
Lilly: No. I wouldn’t. I would try not to be.
Question: Have you tried raising the money yet?
Lilly: I tried once, in Canada, and it all came to pass and everything was ready to go. And then I was brought my development concept from the people who were funding it – and it just was such a far cry from what I wanted to do with the film, that I – we just backed away and said no. You know, it’s just – when you act seven months out of the year – most actors act six weeks out of the year, eight weeks out of the year. When you act seven months out of the year, you have to find another outlet during the hiatus. You have to try your hand at different things.
Question: The directing is not just a hiatus kind of challenge.
Lilly: Oh, God, no. Yeah. And that’s why I say it’s presumptuous to even suggest it, because probably I would never be able to do anything like that until the show’s over. I just know that there is a – you know, a funding possibility out there right now.
Question: What kind of genre is it?
Lilly: Well, what I was aiming for was relatively genre-less, because I hate boxes. But I suppose it’s a slice of life genre. It’s very simple, and it’s about a young woman who lives in the moment, and does it to a fault. Does it to the degree that she doesn’t understand or consider consequence. And it’s just – it’s very simple and very beautiful, and it’s – for me, a total passion project. Just a piece of art. It’s not something that I would ever expect or want to go into the mainstream media. It would just be – originally I was going to do it for the Internet. You know, the Internet film world is huge right now. It’s exploding. And it’s easy, because you just let people make of it what you will. You don’t have to make $20 million back at the box office.
Question: Or go to Sundance and try to sell it at Sundance.
Lilly: Right. Exactly.
Question: I take it you don’t know what you’ll do during your hiatus.
Lilly: I have no idea, basically, all of that is to say, I don’t know. I never do – I never know what I’m going to do on my hiatus this early in the game. Usually it’s like, a month before hiatus, two weeks before hiatus. Finally I go, ” Oh, that’s what’s going to happen.” Because I finally have dates, and I finally know whether I can do anything.
Question: Will fans have something to look forward to during this next season?
Lilly: II think the exciting thing is that the show’s taken a complete twist. I’m not on the island any more. And that, for me, was hugely refreshing, just to change it up so much on our show. We don’t get bored like most serial actors do. So that’s going to be fun, I think, for an audience to be able to watch Kate, instead of being the tomboy climbing trees and shooting guns in a jungle, she’s now a mother who’s semi-responsible for an alcoholic. And she’s become this caretaker. And that’s such a shift for her. Every character seems to be making a – sort of an about-face turn in who they are. That’s, I think, fun for an audience to watch.
Question: Cool. And the stuff you’re going to get published, or you’re going to try and –
Question: Is going to be in sort of short-story?
Lilly: Well, I’m working on a novel right now. I’ll probably publish it under an alias.
Question: No! That defeats the purpose of the whole fame and fortune thing, doesn’t it?
Lilly: Well, that’s the thing. Do I want to abuse it, or do I want to use it? And that’s a tough line to draw.
Question: I think you should use it, really.
Lilly: What I’m afraid of is, I don’t want people to just either like it by virtue of who I am, or hate it by virtue of who I am. I want people to gauge it by the work and that’s tough, to figure out what to do about that.