Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories are amongst some of the most passionate in the world. There is an amazing number of people out there who can speak Elvish fluently, have replicas of Glamdring mounted on their walls, and carry around copies of The Hobbit like a bible. So when it was revealed that Peter Jackson would be introducing a newly invented character in his adaptation of Tolkien’s seminal novel there were many who instantly became nervous. And among that group was Evangeline Lilly, the actress who would go on to play that character.
When a small group of other film journalists and myself traveled to New Zealand last year to visit the set of The Hobbit we had the wonderful chance to sit down Lilly for an extended interview to talk about Tauriel, the new Woodland Elf warrior character being introduced to Tolkien’s world. Read on to find out how she first came to get the part, what she sees as her place in Middle-earth, why her character’s ears are so enormous, and much, much more!
So what have you been doing the last few days on set? What's the adventure been?
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?
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 could just talk a bit about your perception of Tauriel and her character?
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 Mirkwood 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. 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!...
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.