Part one of this spotlight on Evangeline Lilly and her character Tauriel was published yesterday. Click here to read it.
In the first part of this story, Evangeline Lilly discussed her childhood love for “The Hobbit,” and her decision-making process that led her to move her family to New Zealand and work with director Peter Jackson as a character not found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s 75-year-old classic. She plays an elf in the forest kingdom of Thranduil where his son Legolas also lives.
How does an actor differentiate her character in a set of films stuffed full with grand, immortal elves?
“Somebody asked me, ‘Did you study a lot of the other elves? The performances of the elves from Rings to do this role?’ I said distinctly ‘no.’ I intentionally didn’t re-watch the movies because I was afraid of trying to copy someone’s performance and I wanted it to be original.”
“All the other elves you’ve ever seen in these movies are at least twice my age, at least twice Tauriel’s age, so they are very wise and they’re very well established in their power and their understanding of the world. I’ve intentionally tried to demonstrate that she’s not there yet. She’s young, she’s only 600 years old and in elven terms, that is so young. She’s just a baby.”
Lilly is even playing some layers of the role in a way she wants those diehard fans to understand.
“I like the idea of playing with a young elf, how would they behave? How would they be different from the aged elves? And I hope that it doesn’t come across as wrong, you know what I mean? I hope it doesn’t come across to people who really know the world as she’s not quite got it down. Because that’s my goal, to not quite have it.
“She wants to be as wise, she wants to be as much of a presence as all of her elders but she’s not. She’s a kid and there’s a part of her that is always a little too excited about things or maybe a little too engaged in the world, the way kids can get. And I think that was something I wanted to tell the really diehard fans.
“I want them to know that she is young so that when they look at the performance and they look at the character they understand the context.”
When a viewer sits down in theaters in December and watches the lethal Tauriel come to life, some may think Hollywood (or Wellywood) technicians manufactured the finished elf on screen. Bloom’s Legolas, with his signature style-point kills in the LOTR trilogy, likely also suffers the assumptions of the viewer that tend to write things off as CGI these days.
But from the on-set vantage, it took some pretty high-level training, athleticism and execution from Lilly and her team. And, admittedly, as a viewer and an interviewer, at some point I became compromised. It became pretty impossible not to root for Lilly to win over audiences despite my efforts to remain neutral.
Somewhere in the process of studying the work on these pieces of film, and then interviewing Lilly formally combined with chatter in subsequent on-set encounters, I lost my objectivity. I liked talking with her. I admired her and liked her and her baby and Norman. Watching the stunt team, including coaches and coordinators, work with actors and Jackson to give everything cohesion, and appreciating the energy and focus exhibited by everybody, definitely including Lilly, I was ruined as an objective observer.
I really like Evangeline Lilly, the person.
Thing is, you would too. You would.
I don’t mean the “worship the beautiful movie star” way either, I mean in the way that you respect any person who works hard, seeks excellence and has values that I identify with and stays grounded in reality.
Partly because of Lilly, one action sequence I enjoyed during filming is something I am looking forward to on screen. But who knows if the sequence will even make the cut? I don’t, but one flash of it definitely appears in the latest trailer. I feel as if I have it all memorized from every angle so it will be a fascinating experience to see how Jackson and Weta Digital deliver the final version. With a few more interviews I would have a chapter in a book on that sequence alone. But Tauriel isn’t all action.
She has an emotional center and honor that are hinted at in the film’s latest trailers. Despite as much experience playing an action-oriented, strong woman as any actor you care to name, this role was different.
(Just in case you haven’t had a chance to view it, the official movie trailer is below. We also have a frame-by-frame analysis with staff comments for those interested in such things.)
“For me, it’s really challenging. It’s way harder. Way, way harder to play a fictional being as opposed to just a fictional character because I act in a very instinctive manner. I’ve banked on that and hoped that it’s going to pan out. Sometimes it does and sometimes it lets me down. With this film, I can’t do that. It’s all training. I have to be conscious of every little tiny little thing I do — every motion, every flick of the wrist, every turn of the head; every word that comes out of my mouth is unnatural.”
She especially credits two on-set experts (as did virtually every actor I spoke with) for helping her tackle those challenges.
One is Leith McPherson.
“She’s my dialect coach and she’s incredible, incredible! She has such an ear and it’s so tuned to the very, very delicate nuances of human speech that she’s been able to teach me both elvish and RP which is a neutral English accent, a non-regional English accent, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Is it enjoyable to learn and speak Elvish and act in a foreign tongue?
“I love it! Elvish is such a fun language because it’s got a real cadence to it. It’s almost sing-song and I come from North America (Canada) where speech is very . . . I almost think it’s brutal. There is no delicacy to it and you go somewhere like England or even India and you listen to the speech and there is this beautiful cadence to it, there is a rhythm and there is a feeling.
“I think elvish has that and then a lot of the sounds are on the tip of your tongue. You play with the tip of your tongue a lot and so it’s a very delicate sound, it’s a very delicate language. I enjoy it, I enjoy it immensely.”
The other mentioned expert is Terry Notary, the film’s movement coach. His name was on every tongue.
“He is amazing. He is an amazing observer of human behavior because he’s watched human behavior for long enough and in such detail, he’s able to translate that into these otherworldly behaviors and create these very specific dynamics that give you a physical impression of a different being, so he works with me constantly.
“He works with me on my everything from the simplest things like how to sit down, to the very complicated things like how to wield a dagger and he’s got a very distinct impression of what those should all look like and thank God for it, because I don’t. I don’t have that vision. I’m not very good at creating. I’m better at mimicking.
“I’m a naturally physical person and physical things don’t intimidate me. I feel very excited to tackle that challenge but this film requires such a distinct skill set, you have to be skilled, not just physical. So you can’t just rely on your grit and your strength, which is what I usually rely on. I have to have finesse and I have to have very specific talents.
“I have to incorporate the movement of an elf into everything I’m doing and it is a lot to think about at one moment. Every strike has seven different instructions behind it. It’s not just ‘slice his head off’. If it was just ‘slice his head off’, I’d feel really confident, I could do that. Its slice his head off in this way and this way, this way, this way and don’t forget to do this at the end and it’s a lot to think about. So my instinct again is going to actually get in my way because I have to stop and I have to be very specific about what I’m doing and think about it.”
So this fantasy acting, is it perhaps overlooked as serious acting?
“I think it’s an overlooked genre, possibly because in its history, it started out as such a grassroots level that sometimes there was a lot of ‘smacting’ happening more than acting, but I think it has evolved and I think you actually get some really impressive performances out of people in fantasy and I think maybe the poster child for that is Andy Serkis. How that man doesn’t have an Oscar under his belt is beyond me!
“It doesn’t make any sense and I think it’s a bias of the industry, that prejudice, and I think that, without wanting to shoot myself in the foot, I think it’s a snobbery. There is a certain type of film that is recognized by the awards people. You can get a synopsis or watch a trailer and you know it will be up for an award. And its not going to be a fantasy film, I’ll tell you that.”
Larry D. Curtis is part of the Senior Staff at the all-volunteer TheOneRing.net where he serves as a writer, editor, photographer, consultant and helps with social media and live events. His TORn pen name is MrCere. He is a freelance writer and creative, always looking for new endeavors. He is a filmmaker, a student and a fan of fans.
Email his at: MrCere@TheOneRing.net
Evangeline Lilly gets personal with TORn about Tauriel and ‘The Hobbit’
Bringing Lake-town to Life for ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’
Set visit exclusive — Extras: Living large in the background of ‘The Hobbit’
Note: Special thanks to @Saoirse_Lochlan from Twitter who helped transcribe for this report.