Beloved by worldwide audiences for her performance as the feisty Kate in the acclaimed mystery series Lost, for which she earned a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination, Canada’s Evangeline Lilly now stars as Silvan Elf Tauriel in Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
A favorite of King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Captain of the Woodland Guard, Tauriel is as deadly as she is beautiful. Her job is to follow the orders of the King without question. However, Tauriel has a strong will and unyielding passion for what she believes is right. An expert fighter, she carries signature weapons including twin daggers and a bow and arrow. Like Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel is extremely fast and agile in battle. Although she has lived for many hundreds of years in Middle-earth, she remains one of the youngest of the Elven folk, and has rarely ventured beyond the borders of the great forest.
QUESTION: How did you become involved in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug?
EVANGELINE LILLY: 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.
QUESTION: 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?
LILLY: 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.
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.
QUESTION: Can you tell me about Tauriel? What’s she like, and what did you like about her?
LILLY: 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 (Ian McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). 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].
QUESTION: What was it like for you to join this merry band of actors down in New Zealand?
LILLY: 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.
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.
QUESTION: What has it been like for you to work with Peter Jackson?
LILLY: 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.
A production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, will be released in 3D, 2D, and IMAX theaters in the Philippines by Warner Bros. Pictures on Dec. 11, 2013.