Evangeline Lilly on The Hobbit and Real Steel

“I’m very concerned that I’ll be the black mark on The Hobbit!” jokes Lost’s Lilly to SFX’s Tara Bennett

After toiling for six seasons as feisty Kate Austen on Lost, actress Evangeline Lilly ended the first mainstream, long-running acting gig she’d ever had and asked herself the familiar question, “What next?” Always candid about looking for a life outside of acting, Lilly has spent the last year and a half writing, reconnecting with her life and giving birth to her first child. However acting is still beckoning Lilly and she’s taken some choice roles in projects she couldn’t pass up. First up, she co-stars with Hugh Jackman in Real Steel opening in October. And right now, she’s living in New Zealand for the duration of Peter Jackson’s dual Hobbit shoots, playing a newly-created character not from the books – Tauriel the Elf.

SFX got an exclusive chat with Lilly about life after Lost, working with Peter Jackson and bringing The Hobbit to screen.

You’ve been off the media radar for the last year but you’re about to go back into the fray with Real Steel being released. Are you trepidatious or excited?

“Right now I’m sort of holding my breath the same way before Lost went on the air because there’s been this beautiful calm after the storm. I don’t get harassed anymore and generally speaking I can kind of get away with not too much trouble from the paparazzi; a little but not on a large scale. I sort of felt like this is what I was working towards and why I say I’m not going to act anymore – I want this! I want this peace, this normalcy, to visit my family and go for walks on the beach. I’m hoping it lasts because I’m not sure what will happen when Real Steel comes out and The Hobbit comes out. I’m not sure if I’ve just totally f**ked myself.” [Laughs]

Real Steel came around right after the end of Lost. Since you wanted an acting break, what about the film or the character was enticing enough for you to jump into it?

“After Lost and having a character that was so complex, layered, nuanced and constantly running in fear, crying in sorrow or screaming in terror, when I got the script of Real Steel – and was reading Bailey Tallet – one of my prerequisites was that she be someone I could relax into and just do it. I didn’t have to put my heart and soul and guts into it. Bailey is sort of the anchor from which a lot of the story pivots around.”

The grind of one-hour TV is what wipes out most people, so going into a film right after Lost, was the experience very different?

“With Real Steel, I was so focused on what I was doing outside work and being so excited to be finished with Lost. I was spending a lot of time in Africa and my focus wasn’t so much on Bailey’s back-story or learning about boxing as much as it was my work outside of the film. I was sort of like a day player in that I came in and gave everything I had every day I was there and committed on set. When I was home, I focused on the other things in my life.”

Now you’re in New Zealand filming The Hobbit with Peter Jackson. It’s a long commitment which would make some actors balk. Was that a concern?

I will be in and out of New Zealand for the course of a year. It worked out well. For a lot of actors, being that tied down would be problematic for their careers because they wouldn’t have the freedom to take any other part in the meantime. For me it’s perfect because I want to have time to spend with my family and relax and focus on my writing. This role gives me a framework within which to do that because I’m not working all the time but I’m working enough. When you’re not working at all, you get lost in space and time and don’t accomplish anything. It’s a flexible work environment and I don’t have to be estranged from my family.”

When you played Kate you were always doing physical scenes and stunts. How are you prepping for The Hobbit?

“With every film, you have to educate yourself on the material and it’s often things you don’t know a lot about. Right now I’m studying Elvish and having conversations with people about learning how to be an archer, a swordsperson and how to fight like an elf instead of a gritty convict.” [Laughs]

Did you have any reservations about joining The Hobbit cast?

“With The Hobbit, it was a no-brainer because I have been a fan of those books since I was 13-years-old.”

Being a fan of the books, what did you make of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy and all the changes he mad to the story?

“When the original came out in theatres, I swore up and down that I would not see them because I thought it was sacrilege that anyone would adapt Tolkien’s work. I didn’t think anyone would justify films by making them as good as they should be. Then my entire family when I was visiting went to see the movie and so I relented and went. We were all fans of the books and we were all blown away! It was a little piece of magic what Peter Jackson accomplished because it was truly a homage to the books rather than an offense.”

Tauriel is a new character in the mythology so as a book purist yourself that must be frightening to ponder how fans will react to your part?

“Yeah! I am very concerned to this day that people will watch the film and I’ll be the black mark on the film. I know how adamant the purists are and I’m one of them! That said, upon reading The Hobbit again, as an adult, I can see why additional characters were needed to round out the story as an adaptation – especially female characters! The Hobbit didn’t include female characters at all and was a very linear story, a book for children, really. What Peter, Fran (Walsh) and Philippa (Boyens) have done is all in perfect keeping with Tolkien’s world, while adding a third dimension to an otherwise very two-dimensional story.”

Real Steel opens in the UK on 14 October 2011.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens 14 December 2012.