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.
You mentioned flying and jumping, so are you on a lot of wire work?
No. And it just pisses me off. They get my stunt double to do all the wire work up to now. And 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 and I did all my own stunts, everything. And 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.” And I go, “But I’m Tauriel. Shouldn’t I do it? I want to do it.” So it’s this back and forth and we fight about it all the time. Not fight, but I beg for it.
So they never let you do anything on wire work? Not even one thing?
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?” And I get this lip service, they go, “Well, maybe if we…” And 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!
Does your character mostly do swordplay or is it archery, too?
I do archery, but for the most part, I have two daggers, and I wield my daggers, and they’re effective.
How much training did you have to do for that?
I had to do quite a bit of training, and generally, I find stunts a lot of fun and I don’t struggle too much with them, ’cause 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 shit while I’m in the middle of a fight and I find that incredibly difficult. It is not instinctive and I always have just led by instinct in anything physical. And I 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 and 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.
You had to learn Elvish for this role?
Is there an Elvish equivalent to, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains”?
There is for me, because anything that I’ve said so far becomes that for me. ‘Cause I’ve just memorized my lines. I haven’t sat down and memorized the language of Elvish, and anyone who does that is crazy!
You and Orlando Bloom don’t indulge in Elvish off-screen banter?
No! We can barely get our lines out. Both of us will get up to the Elvish line, and you can see us go And then we’ll say it, and then we’ll be like, “Phew!” And then we go [back to] English.
How have things adjusted during the filming process? Is this one of these productions where you’re getting new script pages under your door?
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. And for the most part, my biggest scenes, I have been given the night before, often at seven o’clock. And 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.” 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 Phi’s hands. And 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. And then the other thing that happens is, I think Philippa and Fran 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 which is that they get an idea of what they want in their minds and then they search for the person. And 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. So they’ll watch what I do when I’m on camera and then they’ll go, “Oh, I know…” And then it triggers ideas in their mind and it solidifies the character in their mind. And 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.
Do you know if your character was created by Guillermo or was it from Fran, Peter and Philippa?
It was from Fran, Peter and Philippa. As you probably can assume, they’ve read everything: The Silmarillion, and all the extra [stuff] that Tolkien wrote about the world and the land. I think they have just absorbed so much of it that 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.
Do you have any scenes with Hugo Weaving’s Elrond?
No, none actually. Nor do I have scenes with Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel. They are in a completely different storyline than me. And, [as with “Lord of the Rings”], you’ll find that a lot there’s a lot of compartmentalization in the film. Like I work primarily with a group of four Dwarves and three humans. 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.
Can you tell us who you’ve gotten to work with?
So it’s 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 Orlando Bloom. And Lee Pace, who is my king. And Lee Pace was actually also my roommate for a little while.
No scenes with Gandalf at all?
None. Again, I’ve had him over for dinner, but I’ve never done a scene with him!
You talked about acting, and you have to react to things that aren’t actually there. Is there a lot of pre-visualization that you can look at on a monitor and see what the scene is ultimately going to look like in a rough form?
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.
[At this point, the conversation changes to Jackson’s new technique of having different actors shoot their scenes on different stages to allow for the “true” height of dwarves, hobbits and human beings in the Tolkien universe.]
You guys shoot those scenes at the exact same time?
Exactly. 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. We sort of dance without having the dance partner there. And we’ll do that with scenes that have six-seven-eight characters. It’s crazy. ‘Cause I’m on one stage with the children and then the dwarves are all on another stage and 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.
Are there marks on the ground that tell you where to go?
Yeah, there’s marks on the ground and sometimes you might have a stick with a tennis ball or something to indicate [something is there]. Like if somebody’s stationary there will be something there to indicate, “Okay, here’s that dwarf. And don’t forget they’re wide, so don’t get too close to the stick.” It’s a challenge, man! It’s hard.
Do you have an earpiece or something for audio?
Yeah. We’re all wearing earpieces.
How do you tell which one gets the green screen stage and which one gets the separate stage?
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. And 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. So there’s fourteen dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo. And 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! And he’s on this set going and there’s nothing around him and he’s talking to like seventeen [different characters] And it looks like he’s lost his mind. Then he sits around a table and 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. And he’s got to keep it all straight in his head and there’s no one there! It’s amazing.
Do you end up doing action scenes that way, too?
Generally, [yes], the action scenes get shot separate. Because action scenes for the most part play with scales. 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. And 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. So 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. And he’s there, and I clock him, but we don’t actually have to fight together.
Have you seen any of the footage in 48 frames per second? Have you gotten a chance to check that out?
I think that I probably saw what was raw footage of that when I first arrived. I got this screening where they were showing us what they’ve done up to now. ‘Cause it’s such a long shoot, they’re trying to keep morale up. You can’t just keep shooting indefinitely without seeing something. You start to lose enthusiasm, I think. And there was something strange about what I was watching, ’cause I actually remember having a small panic attack, thinking, “Oh, my God, this isn’t working. Something’s not working.” ‘Cause it was really weird, it looked weird. And then I talked to people who have actually been doing their ADR, their additional dialogue recording, so 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. And everyone’s saying, “It looks amazing.” But without the finishing touches, just that raw footage at forty-eight frames– I think ’cause 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.
Much of the cast and crew have worked with Peter before. Did it take you long to feel part of the family, being one of the new cast members coming in?
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 the strangers, you have an immediate rapport, there’s just an understanding that we’re all good people, let’s be nice to each other. And 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. And the Dwarves are all new to the set. So I think because they all came into the Rings world brand new there’s sort of a “new kids stick together, new kids take care of each other” mentality. I think they all took me under their wing very easily and quickly and 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. You could tell that because he was coming into this new group — he used to have his old group with “Rings” — maybe he was a bit nervous. Like, “Is it going to work? Are we all going to be friends like we had on Rings?” And 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.
So it’s pronounced “Smoog”?
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 ‘Smaug’, because that would be English. It’s “Sma-oog”. All right, that’s my Elvish lesson for the day, thank you!
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” opens nationwide and in IMAX on Dec. 13.