WELLINGTON, NZ - In May of 2012, Evangeline Lilly greeted a crew of American journalists on the set of "The Hobbit." Actually, in theory it was the set of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." After our visit that changed and it's still not clear what movie features the scene we saw Lilly appear in, but her Middle Earth debut was subsequently pushed to a new "second" film, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." That meant the world would have to wait another year to meet Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh's original character, played by Lilly, Tauriel.
My colleague, Chris Eggersten, actually journeyed to Wellington for a visit specifically for "Smaug" a few months later. You can chronicle his experience with Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and more starting here. Now, that "Smaug" is free for discussion the previous conversation with Lilly can see the light of day. And, like most of the cast we met over those beautiful days who'd been working in Wellington for a very long time, she was very glad to see us.
For Lilly, who is best known for her role on the iconic TV series "Lost," her inclusion in "LOTR" cinematic universe is a huge coup to her career. Her character Tauriel is a Woodland Elf who battles alongside Legolas (Orlando Bloom) in this expanded version of "The Hobbit," but she wasn't allowed to reveal too much about her character's story arc or how she interacts with Gandalf and Bilbo's merry band of dwarves. Her enthusiasm, however, was contagious and you'll enjoy her unfiltered answers about favoring large elf ears, Jackson's two-stage green screen process and her daily battle to do more stunts.
So what have you been doing the last few days on set? What's the adventure been?
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 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.
Is your short hair part of the look of the character? Or is it just something that's easier to wear a wig with?
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. And I was just so sick and tired of long, flowing locks, so I chopped them.
You're playing a character that's not in the book, so I'm curious if you could just talk a bit about your perception of her and her character.
It would be my pleasure. Because of course, that is 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. And when I say die-hard, I wasn't the person who could speak Elvish, but I really loved them. And 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. And 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." And 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. 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. You have to meet them. So I think that they just recognized that. And they could have made it a male Elf, but we have Legolas, and nobody needs to have to compete with that. So I think doing a female Elf in the Woodland realm was a bit safer, because we haven't met one of those yet. And also, 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!
What else can you tell us about her?
My character is different from all of the Elves you've met before, in that she's really young. And 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.
Can you describe her costume and appearance?
Yeah, I love my character's look. One of the great pleasures of working in Middle Earth is 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 -- to decide what my ears would be. And 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?" And 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. 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. And I have what we joke around with on set, we call it my 'IHS', which is my Iconic Hair Shape, and it's this big, beautiful, lustrous curl that runs down my back. So, I [can] get away with having really big ears, because there was nothing that was going to distract you from the hair. And because I'm a warrior -- I'm not a princess, as with most-- Well, both of the female Elves we've met in Middle Earth up to now [wear glorious gowns that I don't get to 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. So yeah, I wear the military garb of the Woodland Elves.