In less than a decade, Vancouver-native and actress Evangeline Lilly has turned herself into something of a goddess in the delightfully geeky fanboy community. She was already a Comic-Con staple after her role as Kate Austen in Lost and now she’s about to debut across cinema screens as the ass-kicking elf Tauriel in the latest chapter of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy The Desolation Of Smaug. The character represents the first time that Jackson and his screenwriters have introduced an original character to the beloved universe of JRR Tolkien and thankfully in Evangeline Lilly they had an actress just talented, beautiful, and tough enough to endear herself to the world’s most obsessive fanbase.

Gearing up for the release of Hobbit 2: Electric Boogaloo, TORO recently got chance to chat with Lilly about her role, her personal Tolkien fandom, and how she copes with being a female icon for lonely nerds everywhere.

Did you have any personal connection to The Hobbit novel or Lord Of The Rings films before signing on to the franchise?

Well it was my favourite book as a little girl and the elves were always my favourite characters. I would fantasize at night about being an elf and living in the forest because I was a very woodsy girl. You know, one of the things that I regret about the film is that as a fan of the books, there are certain things that you want to see. I wanted to see the elves draw the dwarves off their path with their parties. Because as I kid I wanted to be an elf and have drunken parties in the woods at night. That sounds great! (Laughs)

You did grow up in B.C.

Right and I did exactly that. (Laughs) Then, of course, when Peter released the first trilogy, I was the reluctant purist. I said, “I’m not going to see those films. They will be an abomination of Tolkien’s work!” But my family made a Christmas outing out of the first film. So I reluctantly went along and I was blown away by how Peter took everyone’s interpretation of what these books looked like and sounded like and brought it to life on the screen. Ever since then, I passed the torch onto Peter. Film is an adaptation. It’s never a verbatim recounting of a book. And as far as adaptations go, I think that was the one of the most successful. I don’t just mean in terms of box office sales. I mean that artistically, it’s one of the most successful adaptations I’ve ever seen.

Do you think if Tauriel had been in the books that would have put more pressure on you when creating the character on screen?

Oh yeah. I kept saying, “Thank God I’m not playing Bilbo because that’s so much pressure.” Everyone has an idea in their head of what Bilbo should be. Personally, I think that Martin Freeman was perfectly cast and has absolutely exceeded anyone’s expectations. So I was grateful I didn’t have that pressure. It was very liberating to have the freedom to just create. But there was also the responsibility that if I dropped the ball, I would be the Jar Jar Binks of these films.

What was it that made you overcome that trepidation and say “yes?”

Well, [Hobbit screenwriters] Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens had a lot of fantastic reasons why she should be in the film. I won’t bore you with all of those because we’ll be here all day. But one of them is that when you introduce a new group of characters on screen, if you don’t introduce a specific new character, no one in the audience will care about the whole group. The elves are a dispensable group in the book, so it’s only the people that you’re individually introduced in that group who you’ll care about in the movie.  Peter Jackson just said in a press conference that there is a three-minute window in a battle scene to show the audience a character that they recognize or they will stop caring. The elves in the book are just a group of characters with a king and you need more than that in a movie. That’s one of the important reasons. And then making her female, well, nine hours of cinema entertainment without a female character essentially tells female viewers, “you are irrelevant and have no place in storytelling.” It has a very damaging effect on the female psyche and we deal with that all the time. Women are always overlooked in the media. We’re still entrenched in the old patriarchy of storytelling. We have to break out of that. Tolkien was writing this book in the 1930s. It’s understandable that he didn’t include women. It’s not understandable to exclude women in a story today and I’m willing to take the heat if that means that little girls are going to come away from the movie believing they can make an impact.  

When you got the role, was it more difficult to learn Elvish or archery?

(Laughs) Well, I preferred learning Elvish. I think it’s a very sensual and beautiful language. I could speak Elvish all day. Archery I kind of knew already. I used to teach archery at kid’s camp. I wasn’t any good at it, but I knew how to do it. So that was easier I suppose.

How does Peter’s directing style differ from other directors who you’ve worked with like Kathryn Bigelow?

For me, one of the important things is to have liberty and a light atmosphere. I don’t revere my craft. I don’t think it’s anything special. So if anyone else expects me to be that way, I get really spun out and I don’t know what to do. But Peter is totally irreverent about the whole process. He’s always taking the piss out of people, screwing around, and being silly. For me, that took all the pressure off. Sometimes Peter and I would be goofing around right until the moment he called “action: and then I would just turn it on. That’s how I like to work. I don’t think everyone likes to work that way, but that’s distinctly a Peter Jackson thing. I haven’t met too many other directors at his level in the industry who don’t take themselves seriously. He’s a comedian, honestly. He’d always have food on his shirt and messy hair. I was just like, “Oh Peter” and grooming him with my mothering instincts.

Did Orlando Bloom give you any advice coming in as the veteran of elf?

He didn’t give me any specific advice like, “Look, I’ve been here before, let me tell you how it’s done.” Thank God! He’s a nice, humble guy. But as we went on, if I needed advice, he was always there to help. Like, when I was doing elf-y things, I’d sometimes think, “I look like asshole. This can’t be right!” It feels stupid because they don’t move like human beings and that feels unnatural. So he was very helpful in saying, “Don’t worry. It’ll look fine.”  Plus Peter works in a very chaotic way. He always has it straight in his head, but it feels like madness on the set. So there would be moments where I’d turn to Orlando and say, “Is he always like this? Is he ok?” and he would tell me, “Don’t worry, it was like this on Rings. It’ll be great.”

How have you found dealing with the fan community so far both with film and also your TV work on shows like Lost?

The fan community have come to be very near and dear to me. Six years with the same fanbase is a long time to start to understand them. The thing about the geek fan world is that they are extremely loyal and very good to the people that they care about. For a long time I was terrified of my fans because they are very intense and they care a lot about what you’re doing. I never took what I was doing very seriously, so it was all very unbalanced. But over the years, as time has gone by and things calmed down a little bit, I’ve found that they are very good to.

What was your biggest surprise when you finally saw your work in The Hobbit on screen?

I’d say the biggest surprise came in watching the action scenes. I know she’s an action-centric character in a lot of battles. But when you’re filming, the amount of work that goes into one fight scene makes it feel like the entire movie would be made up of those scenes. Then you see the final movie and there’s these tiny moments that took so long to perfect and you go, “What?! That was 12 hours in a 20-pound wig and that’s it?!” It’s always a bit unnerving when you realize how much effort goes into a few seconds of cinema entertainment. I’m curious now about the Battle Of The Five Armies, because I literally spent myself on that. I spent a week filming that battle and on the last two hours of my last day, I was pushing vomit down. Every minute I was on the verge of vomiting because I pushed myself to my absolute physical limit. But I think when I finally see it, it’ll be 30 seconds. But that’s something you just have to get used to. That is the nature of our business.  

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