In the present-day English countryside comedy Tamara Drewe, directed by Stephen Frears and based on the popular Posy Simmonds graphic novel of the same name, Welsh actor Luke Evans plays Andy Cobb, a rugged, working-class local who works as a gardener and handyman for the Stonefield Farm writers’ retreat. As a boy, he lived in the neighboring Winnards Farm, until his hard-up family sold it to the wealthy Drewe family from London, which includes their daughter, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), who has returned as a beautiful and sexy writer, after having had some plastic surgery help. Although he resents her presence, Andy is still fascinated by his former teenage flame and wonders whether he should try to win her back.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, Luke Evans talked about jumping at the chance to work with Stephen Frears, playing a character that he identified so closely with, and reuniting with Gemma Arterton, whom he had previously met when they both worked on Clash of the Titans. He also spoke of playing Zeus in Immortals, for director Tarsem, sword-fighting as Aramis in The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, possibly playing a psychopath in a horror film and taking on Vivaldi, opposite Jessica Biel and Sir Ben Kingsley (who had not yet been announced as part of the project). Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with Tamara Drewe? Was it just a regular audition for you?
Luke: No, it wasn’t. I actually thought it would be a regular audition. I had done a play, called “Small Change,” at the Donmar Warehouse, the year before this film was being cast. In it, I played a character called Vincent who, to an audience member that would have known of Andy Cobb, would have seen many similarities. And, in that audience was the casting director of Tamara Drewe. (Director) Stephen [Frears] had seen a lot of actors for Andy Cobb and was finding it difficult to find the right sort of person and actor.
So, she thankfully remembered me and called me in and, the following day, after I had a meeting with them, I met Stephen. It was just a meeting. He just wanted to meet me. Stephen very rarely reads actors. He goes on instinct and has always done that, as far as I’m aware. We just sat there in an office on Portobello Road in London, and we just chatted about life and Welsh actors, like Burton and Michael Sheen. We didn’t really talk about the film one bit. We talked about my life, where I came from and who I was, as a human being. And then, in front of me, the casting director came back in and Stephen asked if I could act, and she said, “Yes, he can act. He’s very good.” And then, the meeting was done. I left and then, a couple of days later, I got offered the role. That’s how I got the job. It was very unusual. It was the first time I’d ever not read for a part, at that point. That’s how it worked.
Was there something specific about this project or this character that made you want to do it?
Luke: There were lots of reasons why I wanted to do this film. Obviously, the main and most ultimate reason was working with Stephen Frears. I think any actor, given the opportunity, would jump at the chance to work with him. I hadn’t had the script before the meeting, but when I did get the script and I read the role, I realized he’d given me a chance to play a person I totally understood. It was almost like he knew me and he knew that I could do it, which is such a lovely thing.
He’s so in touch and in tune with human beings and human nature. He got me and he got that I would be able to play this role. I totally understood Andy. I understood how he worked, I understood his physicality and I understood the way he dealt with life. I come from a very working-class background. I come from the countryside. I come from a bunch of horticulture family members. My best friend was a farmer’s boy. There were so many similarities to me and Andy, so it worked out quite well.
How did you get from where you were to being an actor?
Luke: It was something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to sing, as a child. I didn’t care how I was going to do it, but I always sang. When I left school, I got a job in a shoe shop and I used to save 15 quid a week and pay for my own singing and acting lessons. That’s basically how I began. It was just an outlet for me because I always loved to do those things. I never thought once, at 16, that I’d be able to do it as a living.
And then, I auditioned for a scholarship for college. My teacher sent me to London from Cardiff, and I won it, which gave me the opportunity to go and study. I never even thought that would be an option. You have to have a lot of money to go to college. It’s not cheap. And, I won this scholarship and it paid, and that put me on the right road. But, looking back, I don’t think I’d have been able to have done anything else, really because it’s what my passion was for. I didn’t really have a passion for anything else. I felt alive when I read a script and acted out a scene, or sang a song. It was my dream. I’m just very lucky that I’m still doing it and able to earn a living from it.
Did you have a moment when you realized that you actually were doing this as a career?
Luke: It was after college. In college, you don’t know whether you’re going to get a job. The percentage of people that go to drama college in the U.K. is probably just like anywhere in the world. It’s a very hard business to work in. They say that, at any one time, there’s only 5% of actors in the world that are actually working and getting paid, which is a shocking percentage, really. It was when I got my first job and I actually got my first wage, doing what I trained to do. I spent nearly eight years in the theater and made a living out of it and managed to get by. I spent over a year not working, at one point, but I never gave up. I never thought, “I’m going to throw it in.” It was my job. It was my dream. And I knew that, being an actor, you have to take the rough with the smooth and the highs with the lows. That’s how it is.
I had a huge amount of patience and I kept my dream alive and did other jobs. I did so many other jobs. And, sure enough, I got another job. And then, everything changed when I got that play that they saw me in and cast me for Tamara Drewe. After I did that play, I did another one at the Donmar, called “Piaf.” And then, I went to L.A. By that point, I’d signed with a manager and an agent, and I came out here and did the rounds for the first time, and didn’t really have anything to talk about except theater, which isn’t the best thing, when you’re in a city that revolves around movies.
And then, I was lucky enough to get a role in Clash of the Titans and Robin Hood and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. I got them all in four days of each other and I couldn’t believe what was happening. That was last March, and now I’m on my ninth movie. The roles have gotten bigger and now I’m doing press on movies, which is even stranger. Time goes so fast, and you can do so many films. In theater, you sometimes can only do one or two jobs a year because they’re long periods. In film, you can shoot so many. It’s quite interesting.
Had you been familiar with this graphic novel at all, or was it something you read once you were cast?
Luke: I wasn’t aware of it at all, actually. But, as soon as I got the job, I went to the producer’s office one day and I saw the book, and I picked it up and was fascinated. It’s quite unusual to have that, unless you’re doing a Marvel film, where the comics are very, very famous. It was a very nice thing to be able to see your character beautifully drawn by Posy Simmonds and see the whole storyboard. The graphic novel tells this whole story with beautiful, elaborate pictures. It was quite unique.
What was it like to work with Gemma Arterton and develop that relationship between your characters?
Luke: It was wonderful. I met Gemma on the set of Clash of the Titans, even though we didn’t share any scenes together. She has such a lovely manner and a great warmth about her. We both got the parts in Tamara Drewe while we were shooting Clash of the Titans, so we were able to have a conversation about it before we went our separate ways. I just knew that I was going to have fun with her, and we did. It was just lovely, so much so that we’re very good friends now and we speak on a regular basis, and we hang out when we’re in London together and we’re not doing other things. It’s really lovely.
Having the experience that you’ve had, doing big-budget films, smaller indies and theater, is that something you want to keep doing throughout your career?
Luke: Absolutely. I think it keeps your mind active. It’s good to be able to jump around. Each form of this acting thing that we do is different. TV, film and theater are different disciplines, as are independent films, opposed to studio films. There are differences in the size and the genre, or a period drama as opposed to a contemporary drama, or the types of characters. That’s the challenge, and it’s so nice. I just feel very lucky that I get these opportunities to go from playing a handyman in Tamara Drewe, and then going to play Zeus in Immortals, and now playing Aramis in The Three Musketeers. It’s just a dream, and I relish every moment of it.
What can you say about Immortals and the experience of making that film?
Luke: Well, I play Zeus, who is the King of the Gods. Basically, he is the law-giver and the authoritarian God who sets the laws of how much the Gods intervene with the human battle that’s going on in the story of Immortals. He’s a father figure. I have two children in the film, both of whom are 10 years younger than me, but are still too old to be my children. It was a very interesting dynamic that I had to get my head around, being their father and being this strong, authoritative figure, even though I was actually not an old man with a big beard, like everybody sees Zeus. He plays a very important role in the film. There’s an ending that Zeus doesn’t want to happen, which he’s forced into doing. I can’t tell you any more because it would ruin the film.
How was it to work with Tarsem, and how will this compare to his previous work?
Luke: He is a very visual director. First, Tarsem is a unique human being. I had so much fun working with him, talking to him and watching him. Each of those things were very special because this man is so enthusiastic about his work and he had it all figured out. It was a massive film. It was huge. We took all the lots at the studios in Montreal and he would literally travel from one studio to the next, shoot something, and then go to the next studio. He didn’t stop, and his enthusiasm never dropped. Basically, it traveled through the whole cast. We all felt we had to match his enthusiasm and his integrity and devotion to what we were doing. His work is visually breathtaking, with the detail of what he sets up in a scene, with the actors, the set and the locations, and he’s now brought that into what is an amazing genre of Greek mythology. There are no limits of what you can do.
He created this world with amazing an amazing CGI department and artists, and he created these amazing sets that we worked on, that were so expansive. And, we were able to see on screen how these worlds looked, even if we were working on green screen, which we did quite often. We could see everything. Nothing was going to be done in post. It had all been developed. The graphics team even left just after we started shooting because their work had been done. The whole world that Tarsem was shooting us on was already done. I think he was quoted as saying that this is going to be a cross between Fight Club and a Caravaggio painting, and I believe that’s exactly what it will look like. There was a big battle scene which ends with a lot of death, and it took your breath away because of the coloring, the way it had been set up and the set that it was on. It just looked unbelievable. And, he won’t stop until it’s perfect. He is a perfectionist. So, I think we’re in for an absolute treat. It will be a very, very different take on what we’ve already seen of Greek mythology.
What has the experience of The Three Musketeers been like, and how is this version of the story different from previous versions?
Luke: Well, it’s essentially the same story. It is The Three Musketeers, and it’s a fantastic story, which is why it deserves to be adapted again. Paul W.S. Anderson has an amazing ability to use the PACE 3D technology from Avatar, which he’s worked with on other films, like Resident Evil: Afterlife. He’s using all he’s learned and he’s putting it into what you wouldn’t necessarily expect 3D to be used on. And, we’re shooting on locations that have never been put on film before. They discovered these palaces and castles, and these royal residences that are so ornate and ancient, all over Bavaria, and we’ve shot on all of them. It’s breathtaking. You walk onto these locations and they’re in the middle of nowhere.
We’re living in tiny little bed & breakfasts and traveling around like a big circus. You couldn’t wish to have a backdrop that is so authentic. Even though it’s not Paris, the age and the look of all these places, to the naked eye, are breathtaking. And when you see them in 3D, because with PACE it’s immediately in 3D and you can put your glasses on in the playback tent where we have big flat screen TVs, you get to see the detail of these places. These places are real. They’re hundreds of years old, and we’re working on them and bringing them to life with this incredible cast. We’re just having a brilliant time. They’ve cast us and we really have become our roles. It’s very funny. We’ve all become very similar to who we are in the film. It’s very interesting. We’re having a really good time. I’m looking forward to getting back there because it’s weird leaving it and being in a t-shirt in sunny L.A., when I should actually be swashbuckling it up in Bavaria.
As an actor, what is it like to shoot in 3D? Does it change your process at all?
Luke: No, not at all. I’m completely unaware of it, to be honest. The cameras are twice the size. There are two cameras, so they’re much bigger, but it doesn’t matter, as an actor in a scene. You just do the scene and they’ll do their thing. It’s much more of a technical difference, really. But, what is nice is to be able to see it in 3D, especially because we’re doing so much stunt work and a lot of fighting. I’m doing a lot of my own stuff. I’m doing most of my own fighting with the swords and you realize that in 3D you can’t fake it. You can’t swipe a sword three feet away from somebody’s face. It has to be inches from their face because in 3D you can see it. So, we’ve had to really master the art of this fencing technique, which is an art form. It’s been a real challenge, but I love it. I’ve really, thoroughly enjoyed it. And my opinion on 3D, working on Immortals and working on The Three Musketeers, has really jumped to a new level of respect because it really has earned its place. This form of 3D has very much earned its place in cinema today.
How much preparation and rehearsals have you done for all the fight scenes you’ve been doing?
Luke: I left Newcastle to do an independent called Flutter, flew to Montreal and did physical training for seven weeks for Immortals, and lost 30 pounds of my body weight. I lost five inches off my waist and literally changed my physique because we were not in very many clothes. We played the Gods, so Tarsem wanted us to have our perfect physical, peak look. That was a challenge in that film because we had these big fight sequences, and we fought Titans and all these monsters, so there was a lot to be done.
On The Three Musketeers, it’s the same thing. We had three weeks training for the sword fighting, with a European gold medalist fencer who taught us the technique. It was serious stuff. And then, we had Nick Powell, this incredible stunt coordinator, who has managed to make each fighting style for each of the three Musketeers to look absolutely unique to who they are, as their character. I am very catlike and very agile in my fighting, and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) is very brash and very bull-in-a-china-shop, and Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) is very masterful and graceful. I’m going back and having to learn my next flight. We shot a fight, which took nearly two weeks to shoot, right from the beginning of the film. It’s quite nice to start with a really big, dramatic fight, but we were glad when it was done because it was huge. It was fantastic, but we’re on to the next one now because we’re only half-way through shooting. There’s so much to be done.
Do you enjoy that sort of physicality, as an actor? Is that something you’re looking to do more of, or do you want to do a smaller film next?
Luke: Yeah, I absolutely love it. I’m mixing it up. I’m hoping to do a horror film, where I play a psychopath, after this. And then, after that, I’m playing Vivaldi, the composer, in Vivaldi opposite Jessica Biel and Ben Kingsley. Then, I’m doing another independent, so I’m mixing them all up. It is very exciting, when you have the time and the money, and they really invest the time for you to really learn to master something which you’ve never been able to or wanted to master before. I do love action films and I hope I’m going to do many more and learn lots of new crafts ‘cause that’s the joy of movies.
For Vivaldi, I’m learning to play a violin, and I had never picked up a violin in my life. That’s a big challenge. It’s one of the hardest instruments to play. That’s what I see as one of the advantages of this business. You get to do things you’d never do, in a normal lifestyle.