By Todd Gilchrist | The Playlist December 12, 2013 at 11:02AM
Since playing Kate for six seasons on “Lost,” Evangeline Lilly has become a virtual standard-bearer for midriff-exposing tomboys. But that’s also the reason you haven’t seen her in as many roles since: she has a few stipulations that characters must meet in order for her to consider playing them, including no tank tops, and perhaps even more crucially, no love triangles. But as a massive fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, Lilly thrilled at the chance to join the cast of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of “The Hobbit”—even if the character was completely original, and as she soon discovered, finds herself in a love triangle.
Feeling a bit under the weather during the Los Angeles press day for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Lilly spoke to The Playlist via telephone as she scurried from one promotional event to the next. In addition to talking about her fan trepidations about having a new character added to Tolkien’s sacrosanct source material, Lilly discussed the challenges in bringing Tauriel to life, and finally, reflected on the opportunities, and deal-breakers, that guide her choices as an actress these days.
You’ve talked a lot about being a fan of Tolkien’s work. Specifically as a fan, what would you have hated most about someone creating a new character for “The Hobbit” before you learned what they were planning with Tauriel?
As a fan, the thing that would have annoyed me most is if they would have done a pat, gratuitous romance and that was all there was to the character. That would have annoyed the hell out of me. So once they kind of described the character and explained her purpose, explained her role and explained her abilities and what a force of nature she would be, I was like, "Oh, okay, that’s in keeping with Tolkien." I mean, Tolkien wasn’t much a romantic; he loved creating heroes, and he also loved creating a dichotomy between good and evil, and that is exactly what Tauriel does.
When you took on the character, what was the thing you knew was most important to satisfy you as a fan, personally, regardless of other fans’ reactions?
I think the thing that I knew I had to...make the character distinct from the elves we’ve seen before, but in keeping with the elves that we saw in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Because the elves in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy not only embodied in my mind exactly what Tolkien described in his book—I thought they gave them a flawless perfection of elfhood—but also that has come to be accepted as the standard for a Tolkien elf. I think the fans fell in love with Galadriel and Arwen and they wouldn’t have wanted something that was too much of a departure from those two performances. So without copying those performances and going back to reference them—I had them in mind—I made sure Tauriel was in keeping with those two performances.
When you’re going back to do reshoots, how much ownership of this character can you take to create a cohesive portrayal of Tauriel, and how much do you just have to rely on Peter to do that once you’re done playing the role?
You know, it was a real combination of both. I was fortunate in that I was the only actor on set who nobody would have had a preconceived notion about what she was about and who she was. So I got to be an active participant with Peter, Fran [Walsh] and Phil[ippa Boyens] in creating the character, and that was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. But at the end of the day, I’m still just an actor, and actors actually have very little control over the finished product, including themselves. There’s so much that goes on with editing, there’s so much that goes on with take choice, there’s so much that goes on with camera angles—not just editing a scene out, but sometimes scenes are made like patchwork quilts. They’ll take a piece of your performance from over here, and a piece from over there, and put them together. So ultimately it was in Peter’s hands, and that was a real reassurance to me, and one of the reasons I took the job. Because I knew I would trust him absolutely to make me look good.
What has been the most surprising thing to you in watching the character?
This is going to sound so crazy to you because nobody sees it the way I see it, but I was actually surprised at how little action Tauriel saw (laughs). Because the amount of stunts and the amount of fights I actually did on set, what showed up in the film paled in comparison to what I put down. So that was sort of a surprise. But I was also surprised because I really wanted Tauriel to exude a certain kind of fresh innocence that you don’t see in Arwen or Galadriel, because they were much older, wiser elves. I wanted to somehow get it through to the audience through the performance that she was young and full of life, and I was surprised at how strongly that came through. I was pleased, but I was surprised, I just didn’t think when I watched back the takes, I didn’t think I was really getting that message across. And then I watched the film, and I was like, "Oh, there’s a certain kind of happy light to her," which I’m so pleased, and I think that’s partly my performance and partly what Pete did with the performance and how he makes these beautiful little effects in post that sort of help enhance the performance.