Evangeline Lilly captured the attention of many as Kate Austen on "Lost." She's now closing out her role as warrior elf Tauriel in Peter Jackson's three-part film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and is set to appear as Hope Van Dyne in upcoming Marvel film "Ant-Man." But, despite her interest in playing "kick-ass chicks," Lilly doesn't ever want to compromise her womanhood.
"I don't like the idea of playing a one-dimensional character who is just fearless, strong and killer and has instincts and just thrives in dangerous circumstances –- that's really boring to me and I don't think it represents what most women feel inside," the 35-year-old told HuffPost Entertainment before release of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." "I’m very proud of being a woman, and as a woman, I don’t even like the word feminism because when I hear that word, I associate it with women trying to pretend to be men, and I’m not interested in trying to pretend to be a man. I don’t want to embrace manhood, I want to embrace my womanhood."
Lilly says she plays a passive role with regard to her own career, allowing filmmakers to come to her rather than chase them down for roles.
"I have been a bit of a reluctant actress since the get-go, since the beginning of 'Lost,'" she said. "I’ve been focused during the last five years on my writing career and I’ve just been fortunate and lucky enough to have some pretty great filmmakers come to me and say, 'We’d like you to play this role or that role.'"
And that's not all she had to say about marching to her own drum in Hollywood:
What was the experience like shooting with Peter Jackson and his crew on "The Hobbit"?
It was wonderful. Peter is just a ball of fun. He doesn’t take any of it too seriously, but he works harder than anyone and that combination is ideal for me. There’s nothing better in my mind than working with someone who will be up before you, go to bed after you, will work harder than you, but will also keep spirits high and have a good time and be the nicest guy.
How is it shooting on a set that primarily uses green screen?
Personally, as an actress, I don’t like it. And even as somebody watching the film, it’s not my thing. My favorite parts about “The Battle of Five Armies” were the moments where you could clearly see that we were looking at New Zealand. That it wasn’t done in post, it wasn’t CGI, it was the beautiful, incredible creation of Mother Nature in all of her splendor. Peter Jackson spent so much time with his team scouting out the most incredible landscapes in New Zealand and I lamented the fact that I didn’t get to shoot more in those landscapes. Granted, it’s uncomfortable shooting on location -- you have to deal with weather, you have to deal with all these other elements -- but at the end of the day, [shooting on location] is so spectacular and it makes you feel like you’re in Middle Earth ... I mean, I’m a real Tolkien geek.
It must be amazing as a fan of Tolkien to create this character as a part of your favorite stories.
Oh man, it was total fantasy fulfillment. My favorite set that they created was the wine cellars in the Elven Kingdom and I remembered them so distinctly from the book -- they made a big impact on me as a kid -- and to walk on to set and to literally be standing in the wine cellars and have them not only look as good as I imagined, but better, I mean, it’s hard to describe how fantastic Peter Jackson’s film sets are.
What was the most difficult part about playing an elf?
The most difficult part for me was that I was not playing a human being. And I know it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t learning how to fight, it wasn’t learning Elvish, but it was learning how to be un-human and that’s a very hard thing to unlearn when you’ve been doing it your whole life. To learn to talk like an elf and walk like an elf and eat like an elf and smell like an elf and to shift your eyes around like an elf and to gracefully float down a set of stairs like an elf –- that was the hardest bit for me, especially because I have very bad acting hangovers from “Lost.” I played a fugitive on the run for six years. She was a slumpy, attitudey tomboy and an elf could not be more opposite from that. And typically with me I have an involuntary reaction when a director calls “action!” -- I slouch. Just because I did that for six years! And now when the director called “action,” I had to puff up my shoulders and lift up my chin and pull in my gut and be something completely opposite, so that was the most challenging bit.
Did you ever get any pointers, from say, Liv Tyler or Cate Blanchett?
First of all, I would be way too intimidated to ask them about being an elf because they were spectacular in “Lord of the Rings” and I was so nervous that I was somehow supposed to carry on this legacy that they had started and accomplished. What I intentionally did was to not go back and watch “Rings." I knew if I did, I would just try to copy their performances because I’m so in love with them, I just think they’re perfect. And I knew I was creating an elf that was very different from Galadriel and Arwen –- I was creating an elf who was not only a common elf, where they were royalty or high elves, I was also creating a Silvan elf, who in Tolkien’s words were less wise and more dangerous than the elves you met in “Rings.” And I was also a warrior elf, which made me very different from the ethereal, graceful elves. So I made darn sure I stayed as far away from those two women and their performances as possible and just focus on the task at hand and hope for the best.
Tell me about being a woman in Hollywood. Is it hard to find those roles that will help you learn and grow as an actress or do you think there are more roles for women now?
To be honest with you, and I mean this in all humility, I don’t know because I actually don’t seek out roles and I haven’t for a very long time ... I’ve just been fortunate and lucky enough to have some pretty great filmmakers come to me and say, “We’d like you to play this role or that role.” And that’s not to say there haven't been roles I’ve said no to. There have definitely been roles that I read and I think, “Well, that just isn’t exciting, I don’t want to do that.” But it does mean that I am most certainly not an authority on the topic because I don’t go out and read every script out there for a woman of my age, I don’t meet with all the filmmakers, I’m not pounding the pavement or pursuing it in a way that would give me the authority to talk about what’s out there or what’s available. Although I do love the question.
Peter Jackson came to you for the role of Tauriel?
Mmmhmm. In fact, the way I understand it is they kind of tailor-made the role for me. I mean, amazing, ridiculous, like talk about dream come true to have a great director like Peter Jackson have you in mind when he’s creating a part. And a part as cool as Tauriel. In 2004 or 2005, I met him at the Golden Globes and "The Return of the King” had won copious amounts of awards at both the Oscars and the Globes and he said to me then, “If I had met you before I made ‘Rings,’ I would have made you an elf.” And it broke my heart! I was like, “But they’re over! That means I’ll never be an elf!” It was kind of crushing and also a massive compliment at the same time. Then, in the crazy twist of fate, 10 years later, he called me up and said, “Would you like to play a warrior elf in ‘The Hobbit?’”
And your “Lost” co-star Dominic Monaghan was in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as Merry, of course.
That’s how I met Peter in the first place!
So you were in that “Lord of the Rings” friendship circle for a little while, that’s pretty cool.
It’s a pretty beautiful circle.
Next up you’ll be starring in “Ant-Man.” Tell me about working on a Marvel film.
I keep describing it by saying it sort of feels like you’re working on an independent film with an unlimited amount of money, which is an actor’s dream. I presumed, when I went into the gig, that I would be sort of a pawn, a cog in the wheel -- I would just be a soldier getting my orders and doing what I had to do because Marvel is such a well established brand that they don’t actually have to pander to actors' creative whims. They can do whatever they want, at this point, they’re kind of kings of the superhero universe. So for me, I was extremely surprised when I started working and they not only accepted me, but invited my input into the character. They really allowed me to have a hand in shaping Hope Van Dyne. Peter had sort of spoiled me with my experience on “The Hobbit” with that kind of level of collaboration, and then Marvel came along and did it again and gave me that kind of creative leverage and freedom. So I can’t speak more highly of my experience with Marvel.
You’ve been playing a lot of kick-ass women, which you’re very good at!
It’s funny, because there’s a lot of fear in Hollywood about ever being typecast, and I kind of feel like, "Man, if you’re going to be typecast, what better to be typecast as a kick-ass chick?" I try to put my stamp on these strong female characters, which is the idea that they’re strong because of their compassion, they’re strong because of their vulnerability, they’re strong because of their emotion and they’re strong in spite of their fear. And that’s why I do get involved very heavily in the creative process because I think it’s a dangerous trap that sometimes male writers can find themselves getting into where they’re trying to create a strong woman, but they actually don’t know what female strength looks like. They don’t know what it means and so they create strength that looks manly. And I think it’s really important that young women and women of all ages see female characters that represent true femininity and that that isn’t weak, but that’s strong.
And you are also a writer. You have a children’s book out now. Do you ever plan on writing a screenplay with one of these strong female characters?
I actually have a screenplay that I wrote about five or six years ago that I’m currently in the process of adapting. Weirdly enough, this is going to sound totally ass backwards, but I’m in the process of adapting it into a graphic novel series and a novel series. It’s got a female protagonist who is very complicated and wounded and brave and she does find herself in some pretty amazing circumstances and she does kick some butt, but she’s not in any way one-dimensional. I’m so excited to tackle this writing project. It’s one I’m set to do in 2015 and hopefully 2016 if Marvel will give me that time. You never know when you sign on with Marvel what they’re going to give to you ...
You can be in 15 movies in the next 15 years …
I know, right? [Laughs] Somebody said to me, “Okay, wait a minute. You were on ‘Lost’ for six years, you signed up for ‘The Hobbit’ for three films, and you signed on to a Marvel project which means you could be in unlimited amounts of films and your children’s storybook is an 18-part series? Honey, you have over-commitment issues!”
This interview has been edited and condensed.