If you’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, you know there is no female elf named Tauriel. However, with so many different characters and races talked about in the books and The Silmarillion, screenwriters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens have, according to Evangeline Lilly, “taken elements of different female Elven characters throughout Tolkien’s work, and they have amalgamated those things into one character, which is Tauriel.” During a group interview on the set of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug she went on to say, “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.”
In addition to talking about why they added her character, Lilly talked about her hesitation about taking on the role, her training, wanting to do her own stunts, her large ears and wig, learning Elvish, the last minute script changes, filming the action scenes, the new technology being used, the proper way to pronounce Smaug, and so much more. Hit the jump for what she had to say.
EVANGELINE LILLY: 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?
LILLY: 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.
LILLY: 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!
Is your character much different from the other Elves in the story?
LILLY: 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.
LILLY: 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. So I have these– I got sat down when I first arrived, to try on my ears, to decide what my years 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 could get away with having really big ears, because there was nothing that was going to distract you from the hair. And then otherwise, because I’m a warrior, because I’m not a princess, as with most– Well, both of the female Elves we’ve met in Middle Earth up to now, I don’t wear all of the glorious gowns that they 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 wirework?
LILLY: No. And it just pisses me off. Because my character is, so they get my stunt double to do all the wirework 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 in, 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, “Well, 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 wirework? Not even one thing?
LILLY: 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!
So is your character mostly swordplay, or is it archery, too?
LILLY: 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?
LILLY: 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. Because it is not instinctive, and I always have just led by instinct in anything physical, and 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.
So is there an Elvish equivalent to, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains”?
LILLY: No, there’s no– 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!
So you and Orlando Bloom can’t have banter?
LILLY: No! We can barely get our lines out. Both of us will get up to the Elvish line, and you can see us go (makes nervous panting sound) And then we’ll say it, and then we’ll be like, “Phew!” And then we go on with the English.
I’m curious, often when you get the script, it looks a certain way. Then you get on set, things change. How have things adjusted during the filming process? Is this one of these productions where you’re getting pages under your door? Or it’s been pretty much…
LILLY: Have you asked this question before?
I’ve asked it on many different productions, but not this one.
LILLY: 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. I am completely like– 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”, because 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, and I don’t think they had a lot of lead time.
And then the other thing that happens is, I think Philippa and Fran, who 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 characters 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. And 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.
So do you know if your character was the creation of Guillermo, or was it from Fran and Peter and Philippa?
LILLY: It was from Fran and Peter and Philippa. As you probably can assume, they’ve read everything: The Silmarillion, and all the extra that Tolkien wrote about the world and the land. And 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?
LILLY: No, none actually. Nor do I have scenes with Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel. They are in a completely different storyline than me. And you’ll find that a lot in the film, as with Rings, there’s a lot of compartmentalization. Like I work primarily with a group of four Dwarves and three humans. And for the most part– 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– which ones you have worked with?
LILLY: Yeah. Primarily, I work with– Do you want the character name or the actor’s name?
The actor’s name.
LILLY: Yeah, that would be helpful, ’cause I don’t know if I have all the character’s names down pat. She’s way too snobby to talk to most of them. 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.