Evangeline Lilly knew there would be a few obstacles to overcome when she joined Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (in theatres now). The Lost star is an old hand at action-packed drama, but she’d just given birth to her first child a mere three months prior to the start of shooting. Weighing even heavier on the 34-year-old was the anticipated backlash from the loyal Lord of the Rings fanbase, given that her character, elf-warrior Tauriel, was not originally in Tolkien’s book. Growing up a devotee of the fantasy novels, Lilly had her own apprehensions about playing Tauriel, yet she pushed them aside, knowing that she was going to play a key part as the film’s most important female character. With the film already sitting at more than $500-million in box office, listen in on Lilly’s adventures in male-dominated Hobbit-land and the Middle Earth fashion item she just had to steal.
What do you think Tauriel brings to the films?
She brings what I would call the primarily female element of compassion to a book that is predominately male. As a woman, being in a man’s world for nine hours is pretty hard-hitting; there’s a lot of ego, violence, greed and selfish aims. To have a woman come in and be compassionate, and vulnerable, and fight for the weak, and the young, I think it’s a little bit of a breath of fresh air.
What was your connection to the work—were you a fan of the book?
It was my favourite book as a little girl and the Silvan Elves were my favourite characters. I would fantasize at night, laying awake in bed about being a Silvan Elf living in the forest; I was really a woodsy little girl. As a kid, I was like, “I want to be a Silvan Elf and have drunken parties in the forest all night. That sounds great!”
You did grow up in BC, right?
I did, exactly. [Laughs] Then of course when Peter came out with the first trilogy, I was the reluctant purist saying, “I’m not going to see those films. It’d be an abomination of the books!” Then my family made a Christmas family outing out of the first film and I reluctantly went along. I was bowled over by the fact that somehow Peter had taken everybody’s vision of what these books looked like, felt like, and sounded like, and brought it to life on the screen. Ever since then, I’ve passed the torch onto him. Film is an adaption, it’s never a verbatim recounting of a book, and as far as adaptations go, that was one of the most successful I have ever seen.
Growing up as fan and having your own trepidations about the part, what made you finally say that finally made you say, “Yes,” to the character?
Nine hours of cinema entertainment without one female character essentially is subconsciously telling the female audience, “You’re irrelevant. You’re not important to storytelling. You don’t have a place in heroic moments in history.” It has a very damaging effect on the female psyche, and we deal with that all the time in media. There are all these very powerful statistics about if there’s a woman in a film, she will only speak to men or only speak about men if she’s talking to another woman. There are all these strange things that have become mainstays of our storytelling only because we’re still entrenched in the old patriarchy that we were raised in and that we’ve come from and we have to break out of that. Tolkien was writing this book in the 1930s, it’s understandable that he didn’t include women [but] it is not understandable to exclude women from a story that you’re telling today. I think that I’m willing to take the heat if it means that little girls will come away from it believing they can have an impact and that they’re an important person.
If Tauriel was in the books, would it have changed your experience in preparing for the role? Do you think because there was no character in the books that you had more liberties or do you think there was more pressure put on you to sort convince people you belong to this world?
Both. I kept continually saying, “Thank God I’m not playing Bilbo. That is so much pressure!” Everyone had a very specific idea in their heads of what Bilbo was supposed to look like. Personally, I think Martin Freeman was perfectly cast, and absolutely exceeded expectations. I was grateful I didn’t have that pressure. It was very fun to have the liberty to just create and that’s what we got to do, create based on the master’s work. But there was also the responsibility that if I dropped the ball, I would be the Jar Jar Binks of these films.
Was it more difficult to learn Elvish or archery?
Well, I preferred learning Elvish. I love Elvish. I think it’s elegant, and sensual, and beautiful; I could speak Elvish all day! Archery, I kind of knew already. I used to teach archery to little kids at camp. I wasn’t any good at it, but I knew how to do it.
What was your biggest surprise seeing the finished product?
You guys might be shocked to hear this, but I was surprised how little action Tauriel saw. I know she’s a severely action-oriented character and she’s in a lot of battles, but when you’re doing it, the amount of work that goes into one fight scene, it feels like you’ll just be fighting from the beginning of the film to the end of the film. Then there are these tiny moments, and you’re like, “What? That was 12 hours in a 20 pound wig!” It’s always a bit unnerving when you realize just how much goes into two seconds of cinema entertainment. It’s shocking. I’m curious now about the battle of the five armies because I literally spent myself on that. I did a week filming that battle alone and by the end of the week, the last two hours of filming on my last day, I was pushing vomit down. I thought every minute I was on the verge of vomiting; I had physically pushed myself to the end of my limit. After watching this film, it might just be like 30 seconds, after a week of just giving myself completely.
Did you keep any props from the set?
They were generous to give me a set of my knives, and a real set. I had never used a real set, of course because I would have really hurt people. They also gave me a pair of my leather pants that I wear; they were really cool and I really wanted a pair to wear in my civilian life. The prosthetics that we wear are all one-time use, so I snuck away with an old pair of my ears after they were unusable. I just admitted this at a press conference the other with Peter Jackson sitting beside me, and I don’t think he appreciated it…but I stole a prop, a really important one and in the middle of filming because I knew it was the only way I would get away with it. We were in the middle of a scene, and I can’t give away too much, but I actually had Kili’s Moon Rune in my hand. Then when they called, “Cut,” and the prop master came to take it away from me to reset the scene, I was like, “I must have dropped it. I don’t know where it went.” It was in my pocket, which is really not right but I just wanted it so badly.