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Interview: Evangeline Lilly for "Desolation of Smaug"

By Garth Franklin Thursday October 17th 2013 12:05PM
Evangeline Lilly for "Desolation of Smaug"

While many of the new faces of "The Hobbit" films will be familiar only to those who know their British television, one new cast member already has a worldwide following thanks to her starring role in the hit TV series "Lost".

Evangeline Lilly, best known for her work as Kate Austen on the now finished mystery drama series, plays the role of Tauriel in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug". Unlike the other characters, Tauriel does not appear in the original Tolkien book.

Instead, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh created the character based on material adapted from the book. I spoke to Lilly on the film's set in New Zealand last year, where she admitted that challenge is her "greatest source of my anxiety on this film" and that she might be "lynched" by fans for it:

"When I got called and was told, 'We'd like you to do The Hobbit', which was my favorite of all of them when I was a kid -- 'And we want you to play a character that's not in the books', I gulped and hesitated, but then I went, 'These guys know this world, and they represent this world so well, that I actually think they've earned the right to have a little play.'"

A Woodland Elf, Tauriel is the head of the Mirkwood Elven guard in the movie. The elves themselves are fairly underserved in the book, and Lilly said the character's appearance is part of Jackson's wish to change that:

"She becomes sort of the embodiment and representation of the Wood Elves, which Tolkien talks about at length in all of his books. And in this book in particular, he just doesn't introduce you to any of them. Well, you can't have a movie with a group of people that are significant players in the story, that push forward the plot, without introducing at least one or two of them."

The character is a bit more action-oriented and emotional than the other, more statesman-like elves we've met so far:

"I'm trying to distinguish her from all of these incredibly sage and wise Elves that have lived for thousands of years. She's only six hundred years old, she's just a baby. So she's a bit more impulsive, and she's a bit more immature. I think she's more easily romanticized by a lot of things."

Aside from Cate Blanchett's Galadriel, Tauriel is the only major female role in the entire trilogy, something Lilly feels is necessary if only to break up this sausage fest:

"I think this book is really, really alpha, it's very male-driven. It's all male characters, and they ended up-- In the book, there's not one female character. And if you watch a film from beginning to end, with no women in it, it's really difficult. I don't know if any of you feel this way, but it's like eventually, you see a woman come on screen and you go, 'Oh, thank God!'

You just sort of need a break from all this testosterone, which happened, I think, in one of my films, The Hurt Locker. I was in it for like five minutes, and people were like, 'You were in that movie!' And I was like, 'Well, kind of.' And they were like, 'No, you were!' 'Cause they needed a woman!"

One fun bit of the process was picking her elven ears. She was offered a variety of sizes but ultimately chose a large pair:

"I have these huge, pointed ears. They’re like three times the size of Orlando Bloom's ears. And I think he has ear envy, I love my ears. And how I can get away with that is I have this wig that's down to my knees. It's a massive head of hair, and it's almost shocking red. It's sort of auburn red, but it's a red wig. And so, my hair is kind of big and it's very noticeable… So I could get away with having really big ears, because there was nothing that was going to distract you from the hair."

The character is outfitted in practical, military clothing which allows her to run around killing Orcs and Goblins. The actress begged to do wirework for her stunt scenes, but wasn't allowed to - something she's actually a bit upset about. She does get to do some archery and did quite a bit of training to learn to fight with two elven daggers her character carries.

Most of her interactions on the film are "with a group of four Dwarves and three humans," and sadly she had no scenes with Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett or Hugo Weaving. Instead, her scenes in the film are mostly with Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, John Callen and Jimmy Nesbitt's characters.

Despite plenty of lead time, new script pages were being delivered on a daily basis, resulting in some major anxiety on the actor's part:

"There's new pages every day. There's a new schedule every day. And for the most part, my biggest scenes, I have been given the night before, often at seven o'clock. And I have two pages of RP and Elvish to memorize, and I am just spinning out. I am completely like-- You start to go, "I'm going to be horrible, and they're going to hate me! I'm supposed to be great, and I'm going to be horrible", because I'm used to a little bit more prep time and lead time than that."

However, she trusted the process and understood why they did it:

"I think Philippa and Fran, who do most of the writing, and then Peter gives it a once-over and gives his notes and they go back to the drawing board-- The three of them have a style of writing which is that they get an idea of what they want in their minds, and then they search for the person.

Once they find the person who's going to play that role, they want that person to have a huge effect and influence on how the role is developed. So they'll watch what I do when I'm on camera, and then they'll go, "Oh, I know..." And then it triggers ideas in their mind and it solidifies the characters in their mind.

Therefore, they write accordingly which, for an actor, is both hugely generous and complimentary. You don't often get that. Often, you have a very distinct thing that they want you to do, and you have to find a way to put yourself into that box or into that mold. And they're doing the opposite, they're making the character fit into the mould of what the actor's bringing to that table, which is a great luxury."

One thing she was glad she didn't have to do in her role was the singing:

"No, I don't get to partake, thank God! You don't want to hear me sing. But I do know that the Dwarves have done some singing. And they actually all did their own singing, and it's amazing."

The Dwarves in fact ended up being good workmates and friends on-set, and she was surprised by how relaxed a film set the production actually was:

"Peter is so easy and relaxed, and really funny. He's surprisingly funny. He has a really good vibe on set. There's no sense at all, at least I don't get the sense at all, that he has an ego about what he's doing, or an arrogance about that being his film set. I think he gets really excited about the characters, and because he's so excited about the characters, it means he's excited about you, which is a really nice thing to walk into.

I arrived a year after the dwarves had been busy at work. And the Dwarves are all new to the set. So I think because they all came into the Rings world brand new there's sort of like, new kids stick together, new kids take care of each other. And I think they all took me under their wing very easily and quickly, and I think they maybe know what it feels like to be the new kid on the block.

I actually have a really strong rapport with most of the dwarves. We're all really good friends, and I think they were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and it was all very easy. Even Orlando, he's the veteran, and he's this huge movie star who made his mark in these movies, who people will remember forever from Lord of The Rings. You never felt like he was like, "Well, you're on my set. You're in my world now." He's really welcoming and sweet, and open and warm.

In the most amazing role reversal, he almost came in and you could tell that because he was coming into this new group-- He used to have his old group with Rings. Maybe he was a bit nervous, like, "Is it going to work, and are we all going to be friends like we had on Rings?" And you could see that he really wanted to connect to people. Out of anybody, maybe you'd expect that he might have been a snob about it all, and he's the opposite. So it has just been great."

While 'Smaug' will be her first appearance on screen, it's the final film of the trilogy, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," where we'll see her really shine. Details of that though will have to wait until next year.

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