Interviews

Interview: Evangeline Lilly on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Source: Silas Lesnick
October 17, 2013

Q: So what have you been doing the last few days on set?
Evangeline Lilly:
Kind of the story of my life on this film is that I'm just not on set most of the time. The last few days, I've been enjoying home and hearth, and I've been at home with my girlfriend, who's visiting from Hawaii. I spend a very little amount of time on set for the amount of time I'm in New Zealand, which is great.

Q: Is your short hair part of the look of the character or is it just something that's easier to wear a wig with?
Lilly:
Neither. I just like short hair on women. I think it's cool and I have wanted to cut my hair for very many years, but being on contract with a television show for six years prevents you from doing that, and then being on contract with a cosmetic endorsement campaign prevents you from doing that again. So for eight years, I've had to have long, flowing locks. I was just so sick and tired of long, flowing locks, so I chopped them.

Q: You're playing a character that's not in the book. Could just talk a bit about your perception of Tauriel?
Lilly:
It would be my pleasure. Because of course, the greatest source of my anxiety on this film is that I'm going to be lynched. I was a die-hard fan of these books before the films ever came out. When I say die-hard, I wasn't the person who could speak Elvish, but I really loved them. I wasn't actually going to see the original films, because I didn't think it was possible that a film could represent the books appropriately. So I was protesting and I wasn't going to see them. Then my family all took a jaunt together, the entire family, to see the movies, and were like, "What, you're just going to stay home?" So I saw the movies and was thoroughly impressed that Peter Jackson managed to make my vision of the book come to life, as well as my sister's and my father's, and my aunt's and my uncle's. Everyone's. It seemed to somehow pan across everyone's vision, even though we all knew we had to have had different visions of the books. So 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." I think that, for this character in particular, she becomes sort of the embodiment and representation of the Wood Elves, which Tolkien talks about at length in all of his books. 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. You have to meet them. So I think that they just recognized that. They could have made it a made-up Elf, but we have Legolas, and nobody needs to have to compete with that. I think doing a female Elf in the Woodland realm was a bit safer, because we haven't met one of those yet. Also, I think this book is really, really alpha. It's very male-driven. It's all male characters in the book. There's not one female character. 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! [Tauriel] is different from all of the Elves you've met before in that she's really young. I keep telling journalists this because I've really focused on that in my performance. 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.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Tauriel's look, and sort of the costumes and stuff?
Lilly:
Yeah, I love my character's look. One of the great pleasures of working in Middle-earth is that you get to be another being. Most of us are not playing human beings. I got sat down when I first arrived, to try on my ears and to decide what my ears would be. I was presented with three beautiful sets of ears and they said, "Well, we've got the small, the medium, and the large. Which one would you like to wear?" Right away, they went, "Probably not the large." And they sort of shuffled them aside, and went, "But we think the small and the medium would look great on you." So we tried them on, and I was like, "Yeah, they're kind of okay. Can I just try the large?" So we tried the large, and I was like, "That's it!" I love them, they're huge! I have these huge, pointed ears. They’re like three times the size of Orlando Bloom's ears. I think he has ear envy. I love my ears. 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 shockingly red. It's sort of auburn red, but it's a red wig. So my hair is kind of big and it's very noticeable. I have what we joke around with on set by calling "IHS," which is my "Iconic Hair Shape." It's this big, beautiful, lustrous curl that runs down my back. I could get away with having really big ears because there was nothing that was going to distract you from the hair. Otherwise, because I'm a warrior -- because I'm not a princess, as with most -- both of the female Elves we've met in Middle-earth up to now, I don't wear all of the glorious gowns that they wear. I don't have all the layers and the chiffon and the silks. I'm in very practical, military clothing. I'm the head of the Elven Guard, so I spend most of my time in the movie slaughtering Orcs and Goblins, which is great fun. Although, hair down to your knees can get a bit troublesome when you're flying around killing Orcs and Goblins. I wear the military garb of the Woodland Elves.

Q: You mentioned flying and jumping, so are you on a lot of wirework?
Lilly:
No, and it just pisses me off. They've had my stunt double to do all the wirework up to now. Every time, I go, "Please, can you just train me on a wire?" Because I've spent six years on a show that we did a lot of stunts on, and I did all my own stunts. Everything. I'm really not used to being treated like "a star." On that show, we were just hired help. We were not treated that way. They're like, "You're precious. We can't bump you or bruise you, because there's only one of you and there's like a thousand stunt doubles." I go, "Well, but I'm Tauriel. Shouldn't I do it? I want to do it." It's this back and forth and we fight about it all the time. Not fight, but I beg for it.

Q: So they never let you do anything on wirework?
Lilly:
I haven't been put on a wire in the stunt hangar, let alone on camera. They won't put me on a wire. Yesterday, I was doing stunt training, and they went, "Well, there's a lot of wirework in this one." I went, "Are you going to put me on a wire?" I get this lip service. They go, "Well, maybe if we..." and then they talk for so long about it. Then at the end of it, I go, "Wait, am I on the wire, or am I not on the wire?" And they just walk away!

Q: So is your character mostly swordplay, or is it archery, too?
Lilly:
I do archery but, for the most part, I have two daggers. I wield my daggers, and they're effective.

Q: How much training did you have to do for that?
Lilly:
I had to do quite a bit of training and, generally, I find stunts a lot of fun. I don't struggle too much with them, because I'm a really physical person. But once you put an actual skill into it -- Like now I have to be able to spin knives and s--t, while I'm in the middle of a fight -- I find that incredibly difficult. Because it is not instinctive and I always have just led by instinct in anything physical, sort of just got by on the skill. Like when I was a soccer player, I was really gritty and I could take girls twice my size down. That was great. But dribble the ball? Eh. So it's a struggle being an Elf who has really got all this flourish and is extremely elegant.

Q: So you had to learn Elvish for this role?
Lilly:
Yes.

Q: Is there an Elvish equivalent to, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain"?
Lilly:
There is for me, because anything that I've said so far becomes that for me. Because I've just memorized my lines. I haven't sat down and memorized the language of Elvish, and anyone who does that is crazy!

Q: So you and Orlando Bloom can't have banter?
Lilly:
No! We can barely get our lines out. Both of us will get up to the Elvish line and you can see us go [nervous panting sound] And then we'll say it and we'll be like, "Phew!" Then we go on with the English.

Q: How have things changed from the script stage to the actual filming? Is this one of these productions where you're getting pages under your door?
Lilly:
Let me be the first to tell you about this production. Pretty much, there's new pages every day. There's a new schedule every day. For the most part, my biggest scenes have been given to me the night before, often at seven o'clock. I have two pages of RP and Elvish to memorize, and I am just spinning out. 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. But I think the logistics have worked out such that originally, it was Guillermo del Toro who was supposed to be doing this film and then, at the very last minute, it switched back over to Pete and Fran and Philipa's hands. I think at that point, the momentum of the film was already there, and they really wanted them to just start shooting. I don't think they had a lot of lead time. Then the other thing that happens is, 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 wherein 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. They'll watch what I do when I'm on camera, and then they'll go, "Oh, I know!" It triggers ideas in their minds and it solidifies the characters in their minds. 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. They're doing the opposite. They're making the character fit into the mold of what the actor's bringing to that table, which is a great luxury. It just means that we have to work really hard, because we are getting pages at the last minute most of the time.

Q: So do you know if your character was the creation of Guillermo, or was it from Fran and Peter and Philippa?
Lilly:
It was from Fran and Peter and Philippa. As you probably can assume, they've read everything: "The Silmarillion," and all the extra that Tolkien wrote about the world and the land. I think they have just absorbed so much of it and they have taken elements of different female Elven characters throughout Tolkien's work, and they have amalgamated those things into one character, which is Tauriel.

Q: Do you have any scenes with Hugo Weaving's Elrond?
Lilly:
No, none actually. Nor do I have scenes with Cate Blanchett's Galadriel. They are in a completely different storyline than me. You'll find that a lot in the film. As with "Rings," there's a lot of compartmentalization. I work primarily with a group of four Dwarves and three humans. For the most part, I have never and never will do a scene with Bilbo. I've not worked with Martin Freeman. I've hung out with him, but I've not worked with him. And the movie is about him.

Q: Can you tell us who... which ones you have worked with?
Lilly:
Yeah. Primarily, I work Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman -- what a great name. Is that very Irish? He's Kiwi though -- John Callen, Jimmy Nesbitt, Jimmy Nesbitt's daughters -- who are gorgeous and incredibly talented. This is their first job ever and they've totally stepped up to the plate -- and John Bell. Primarily, I work with those guys. And, obviously, also with Orlando Bloom and Lee Pace, who is my king. Lee Pace was actually also my roommate for a little while.

Q: So no scenes with Gandalf at all?
Lilly:
None. Again, I've had him over for dinner, but I've never done a scene with him!

Q: You talked about acting and you have to react to things that aren't actually there. Is there a lot of previsualization that you can look at on a monitor and see what the scene is ultimately going to look like in a rough form?
Lilly:
Not when you first walk into the scene. It depends on the order of things. If you're lucky enough to go last -- do your coverage last -- then yes, you're probably going to have somebody else's coverage to watch, who's acted opposite a green tennis ball or something, and suffered through that.

Q: So you guys shoot those scenes at the exact same time?
Lilly:
Exactly. They go, "Action!" They're coordinating crews and, on two different stages, they're calling out "action!" We're moving at the same time. The cameras move together, so we have to play. We sort of dance without having the dance partner there. We'll do that with scenes that have six, seven, or eight characters. It's crazy because I'm on one stage with the children, and then the Dwarves are all on another stage. We're all moving in a room together and you have to know that there's four people who are moving in that room that you're not allowed to walk right through or it's going to look like ghosts. You have to make sure you move around them and not through them.

Q: Are there marks on the ground that tell you where?
Lilly:
Yeah, there's marks on the ground, and sometimes you might have a stick with a tennis ball or something to indicate [where they should be]. Like, if somebody's stationary, there will be something there to indicate, "Okay, here's that Dwarf. Don't forget they're wide, so don't get too close to the stick." And it's a challenge, man! It's hard.

Q: Do you have an earpiece or something for audio?
Lilly:
Yeah. We're all wearing earpieces.

Q: How do you tell which one gets the green screen stage and which one gets the other one?
Lilly:
It depends on what stage has been built. If the stage has been built for the big scale, then I'll be on the set and they'll be on the green screen. If the stage has been built for the small scale, I'll be on the green screen and they'll be on the set. Everyone, of course, remembers the opening moment from "The Hobbit," where Bilbo meets all the Dwarves at Bag End. They all come knocking on his door. Slave mo-cap. So there's fourteen dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo. This is chaos. It's mayhem. They’re throwing plates. They're throwing cutlery. They're doing all this stuff and poor Ian McKellen -- How old is he now? He's like eighty! -- He's on this set going [groans] and there's nothing around him and he's talking to like seventeen [imaginary Dwarves]. It looks like he's lost his mind. Then he sits around a table like this and they end up sitting around a table eating together. There's different colored spots on the tennis balls, so that it helps him remember which one's Oin, which one's Gloin, which one's Fili, which one's Kili, which one's Bombur, which one's Bofur. He's got to keep it all straight in his head and there's no one there! It's amazing.

Q: Do you end up doing action scenes that way, too?
Lilly:
Generally, the action scenes get shot separately. Because action scenes, for the most part, play either with scales or with our doubles. We have small people who play the scale double for the Dwarves. They'll fight for the Dwarves and then my stunt double will fight for me for the wide shots. Then, once we get in close for coverage, you don't see anyone else anyway, so there might be a stunt double in the background of my shot that's just a blur, but it's me doing it. We don't really have to do that for the action scenes, but the scene I'm talking about where he's grabbing for my knives is the scene where I've just finished slaughtering, like, five different spiders. He's there and I clock him, but we don't actually have to fight together.

Q: Have you seen any of the footage in 48 frames per second, the way that Peter's shooting it? Have you gotten a chance to check that out?
Lilly:
I think that I probably saw what was raw footage of that when I first arrived, because I got this screening where they were showing us what they've done up to now. It's such a long shoot and they're trying to keep morale up because you can't just keep shooting indefinitely without seeing something. You start to lose enthusiasm, I think. There was something strange about what I was watching because I actually remember having a small panic attack, thinking, "Oh, my God, this isn't working. Something's not working." Because it was really weird. It looked weird. Then I talked to people who have actually been doing their ADR, their additional dialogue recording. That means they're seeing a much more polished piece, where they've put all the CGI in. They've finished everything and now we just talk over that. Everyone's saying, "It looks amazing," but without the finishing touches, just that raw footage at 48 frames [looks off]. I think that, because we're not used to seeing it that way, it was very jarring for me. I didn't like it, but I think that that's because it needs all the finessing that he puts into his films. Post-production is pretty much as important and as long as our actual production time.

Q: There's a lot of singing in the book. Does that carry on to the movie, and do you get to partake?
Lilly:
No, I don't get to partake. Thank God! You don't want to hear me sing. I do know that the Dwarves have done some singing. They actually all did their own singing and it's amazing. There's a scene in Bag End where the Dwarves sing this haunting song and it's all the actors. Nobody's been dubbed over and it's beautiful. It gives you shivers.

Q: What was your reaction to finally getting to see a finished trailer?
Lilly: I just wanted more. I just felt like, "Argh! That's just a tease!" I think we get a bit spoiled with trailers nowadays because you can watch the trailer three times and you've seen the movie. Nowadays. they don't really keep anything hidden. I love that they did keep a lot hidden, because I don't like that about trailers. But I think because of that I was like, "But I want to see it all! I want to see everything!" Just that little bit was not enough to get a gauge on the film at all, I don't think.

Q: Did it take you long to feel part of the family, being one of the new cast members coming in?
Lilly:
No, definitely not. The Kiwi crew are really, really easy, and there's just an immediate rapport. As a Canadian, I felt like that was something that carried over for me, and I thought was really nice. One of the things that I miss about Canada is that, even with strangers, you have an immediate rapport. There's just an understanding that we're all good people. Let's be nice to each other. Kiwis have that. I find the Kiwis have that. And then 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. Then I arrived a year after the Dwarves had been busy at work. The Dwarves are all new to the set. I think that, because they all came into the "Rings" world brand new, there's sort of a sense of new kids sticking together. New kids taking care of each other. I think they all took me under their wing very easily and quickly. 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. 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" -- that maybe he was a bit nervous. Like, "Is it going to work? Are we all going to be friends like we had on 'Rings'?" 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.

Q: So it's pronounced "Sm-ow-g"?
Lilly:
In Elvish, you pronounce every letter. You never draw letters together. You pronounce every letter. So, if there was two 'N's, you would have to pronounce both of the 'N's, even if they're right together. So that's why it's not 'Smog,' because that would be English. It's "Sm-ow-g". All right, that's my Elvish lesson for the day, thank you! Thanks, guys.

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