Though he spent years treading the boards of the London stage, when the film world came calling for the affections of Welsh thespian Luke Evans, he embraced it … and how.
Evans has done no less than three film or TV projects a year since 2010. From a breakout leading man role in “Tamara Drewe,” to playing the hunkiest of “The Three Musketeers,” the Greek god Zeus in “Immortals,” a disturbingly efficient serial killer in “No One Lives,” and the villain of this past Summer’s “Fast and Furious 6.” He’s also set to take on two more iconic roles next year in “Dracula Untold” and the reboot of “The Crow.”
With “The Hobbit” though, Evans steps into what will probably be his most visible role to date – Bard the Bowman. One of the true iconic characters from the original Tolkien novel, he leads the defense of Laketown when Smaug emerges from the Lonely Mountain to attack it. Though not appearing in the first film, Bard makes his first appearance in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” before becoming one of the biggest characters of the final film of the trilogy.
I’ve been a fan of Evans for some time. Not only is he extremely easy on the eyes, I’m impressed with the range of roles he’s had so far and I’m very keen to see where the future takes him. So it was a special thrill when I finally got to chat with Evans in person on the film’s set in New Zealand last year. One unexpected factoid for fellow fans – the guy has surprisingly large hands (always a good sign).
Evans auditioned for “The Hobbit” back in January 2010 and then didn’t hear anything for well over a year, until one day came that changed his life:
“I didn’t hear a single thing. Not one thing for a whole year and a half. And then I was just about to start a movie called No One Lives in Louisiana, in New Orleans. And three days before I left, before I got on the plane, I had a phone call saying that Peter wanted to meet me and test me for the role of Bard.
And I was like, “What? So it was the biggest, the most scariest decision of my life to have to say, ‘I can’t get to New Zealand to test for Bard. I have to get on a plane to start another job.’ So he very kindly said, ‘Well, if you can’t come to New Zealand, then you can do it in London.’
So I tested in London and then they sent the screen test over to Pete on a Saturday night. I tested on a Saturday afternoon, Saturday night he went to New Zealand, they watched it because they were up, we were asleep, I woke up on Sunday morning with the offer. And then I got on a plane and went and played a psychopath for three months. So it was quite weird, but that’s how it works sometimes.”
One surprise for Evans was that he never had many scenes with any of the other main actors, partly due to the story’s nature and partly due to the scale issues of his human role vs. the various dwarf and hobbit roles. That also means the film felt quite different to shoot than he expected:
“The most surprising thing for me is to be on such a huge movie and not feel like it’s a huge movie most of the time. The Kiwis, in general, have a very cool way of making you feel like you’re part of the team. There’s no hierarchy.
It was a nice surprise to be so far away from home but feel very much like you’re part of a group of people who are very happy to be here and that’s quite nice.
I’ve been here since August last year, and just to think about what we’ve done, just in my experience on this, and these guys were here longer than me, and I was lucky to do the locations and stuff, it’s amazing to think all of those things have just been for one movie. It’s insane. But yeah, it was great.”
Another surprise was all the green screen work he had to do. Despite being in numerous blockbusters before this, he has done far more green screen work here than on anything else to date:
“I was never prepared for the green screen. Not the green screen, I’ve done a lot of green screen, but this scale mocon thing, your slave mocon, when you’re in one room and they are in another room and there’s a camera slaved to another camera. It’s even hard to explain it to anybody. I wasn’t prepared for that, but that was a weird bit.”
The character is one of the few major human characters in the film, that makes him quite different from the dwarves, elves and hobbits:
“He’s dealing with arrogant elves and very bombastic dwarves, but he’s a Human. He’s very Human in his emotions. He’s just very honest, he’s a very sincere human being and he doesn’t really want to fight with anybody, he just wants to get on and rebuild the lives for his children and the people around him.”
In terms of onscreen interaction, most of his scenes were with Gandalf, Thranduil and the dwarves. His first scene on set saw him working opposite Sir Ian McKellen:
“It’s just a weird thing, isn’t it, when you’ve seen it for ten years and all of a sudden you’re actually on set and he’s looking at you with the white eyes and Ian’s sort of– It’s brilliant.”
Evans only has praise for his director Peter Jackson and his work methods:
“He has the knack to make you feel very comfortable, very confident in what you’re doing. But he’s also able to come on set and just completely strip it to pieces and you still feel like you know what you’re doing.
He sort of goes, ‘No, well, think about this and change this and do that,’ and completely changes what you are doing, but you still feel like your input has created the scene, but he can come in and tweak it and change different things, give you different thoughts to think about while doing the scene. He manages to be able to capture in one scene ten times more ideas than I naturally would have just been able to produce on my own.
Pete likes choice, he’s famous for that. And he likes to have lots of options so that when he gets to the cutting room, he doesn’t think, ‘Oh, God, I should have done that.’ And that’s what’s great about him. And it’s also nice for the actor because you know that you can try different things out.
As an actor, it’s lovely to have that sort of input from a director, but feel that you’re still in control of what you’re doing and that you’re not being completely trampled on. Because there’s no getting away from it that Pete knows what he’s doing. And I don’t know how he even keeps sane with the amount of things that he has to process on an hourly basis with these two films.”
One surprise to him is that he gets to keep his Welsh accent for the film, as opposed to the standard RP accent he’s had to do for most of his roles so far:
“I had a phone call with Philippa Boyens [writer] on the phone the night before my audition, and she said, ‘We want you to go in and do it in your Welsh accent.’ And I was like, “Really? I’ve never done a Welsh accent ever in anything.” Even though it’s my accent, most people want to stamp it out. And she said, ‘No, we like it. We really like it. So can you just do the scene in a Welsh accent?’ And they loved it.
So for the first time in my film career I’m speaking in a Welsh accent and what’s interesting about that is that it has a huge effect on the story of Dale. Because I’m an ancestor of Dale, I come from Dale, my ancestors are from Dale. And so they made everybody who has ancestry of Dale Welsh.
So now there’s people in Lake-town who speak with a Welsh accent and you know that they have great-great-great-grandfathers or grandmothers that were actually from Dale. So all my children are Welsh in the film, I’m Welsh, and so Dale will always be Wales to me, which is a really nice thing.”
Evans is acutely aware of the rabid fan base of a film like this, and isn’t exactly sure what reactions to expect when his work hits the screen:
“Most of the time, you do films and they can be big, big films, but you rarely are aware of the fan base that comes with it. And with this film, you can’t get away from it. I’m very aware of theonering.net and just the fascination and the following it’s had for all these years.
It’s just very exciting to think I might have a Lego character and go to ComicCon. I mean, I’ve been to ComicCon, but never with something like this, and I’m really excited about it.
I think it’s a lovely thing when there’s this energy, a good energy about something you’re doing, and we already know there’s huge support for the film and everybody is as excited as we are. We’re desperately waiting to see the film, so I can’t imagine what the fans are like.”