A quick glance at Evangeline Lilly’s IMDb page reveals a filmography that’s surprisingly short on quantity. But look at what is there: a groundbreaking and beloved TV series (Lost), a Best Picture winner (The Hurt Locker), and, oh, a tiny two-movie project known as The Hobbit.
Last year, Lilly starred in the robot-boxing family film Real Steel, which earned nearly $300 million worldwide and received an Oscar nomination yesterday for its motion-capture visual effects. She played Bailey, the former girlfriend of Charlie (Hugh Jackman) who now owns the boxing gym he frequently visits.
EW recently checked in with Lilly to chat about Real Steel, which debuted on Blu-ray and DVD this week. Click through to read the interview, in which Lilly discusses why she signed up for the role, what it was like working aside animatronic machines, and her upcoming role as a kickass warrior elf in The Hobbit.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about Real Steel that attracted you to the project?
EVANGELINE LILLY: When I first read the script, I read it because after I saw the gorgeous Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain, I said, “I would love the opportunity to work with Hugh Jackman.” His performance in that film was flawless. So I got the script for Real Steel. I started reading and saw that it was about robot boxing, and I was immediately turned off. It’s not my thing. But I continued on, and by the time I got to the end of the script, I had chicken skin and tears in my eyes. I thought, “Man, we don’t make movies like this anymore.” It’s just innocent and unjaded and uncynical. It reminded me of the movies I would watch when I was a kid, like E.T. and Rocky.
Another thing, which I probably shouldn’t admit, is that after working six years in a row on Lost, I was not looking for a major commitment. Real Steel was this lovely little piece where I held a cup of coffee and talked to Hugh Jackman for three weeks. And that sounded kind of nice.
It is a movie that sneaks up on you — you go into it thinking it might be like Transformers, and it ends up being something else entirely.
I think, unfortunately, the marketing of the film did it a disservice because it was kind of marketed like Transformers, and it’s really not that movie. Even though it did quite well at the box office, I think it would have done even better if it had been marketed for what it is. Every family I talked to — and adults who don’t have kids and aren’t necessarily interested in big explosions and action films — was so pleasantly surprised by this film.
I know the robots were a combination of CGI and animatronics. But, for instance, the scene where you guys receive Noisy Boy — how much of that was a real animatronic robot that you were acting next to?
Almost all of it. The only part of that scene that was not the real robot was when the robot steps out of the box and Max (Dakota Goyo) falls to the ground. That was actually a stunt man who was on hydraulic stilts and had one of those [motion-capture] suits on. But other than that, it was Noisy Boy. I actually went into Noisy Boy’s head and flipped that little switch you see [to change its voice-commands from Japanese to English]. It really has a profound effect on a performance when a director is kind enough to make sure the actors have something real to play opposite. It’s very difficult to play opposite nothing. I did it for like six years — I ran from an invisible smoke monster for most of my twenties.
The smoke monster wasn’t real?!
[laughs] There was nothing! There wasn’t even a ball on a stick.
When you had to switch Noisy Boy’s language, what options were available? Was it just Japanese and English, and that’s it?
There were four language choices, and I have to tell you, that’s the only part of the film that I went, “Well, that’s a little bit simple.” [laughs] You’d think I’d go inside and there would be this immense network of wires and computer chips and panels. But, no, I turned a little dial, and I turned it like two spots. I think French or Italian might have been one of them. And because of the amount of times Brazil was reference in the film, I would guess the other language had to be Portuguese.
Where was the final fight (between Atom and Zeus) filmed?
Everything that I filmed was right in Detroit proper. It was one of their stadiums — I don’t even know what sport. All I remember is I had just realized I was pregnant, so that was the main thing on my mind during those scenes. When I was leaping and running into Hugh Jackman’s arms at the end of the film, I felt like I was tearing my stomach in half. I had a baby growing in there, but I didn’t want to tell anybody!
Well, and I imagine Hugh can squeeze pretty tight…
And he’s a tall guy, so to jump up into his arms, you’ve got to jump pretty far and high. You basically got to pull yourself up. [laughs]
Real Steel 2 is reportedly in development. Have you heard much about that?
I’ve heard whispers, but I don’t have any confirmation one way or another if it’s happening. All I know is that if it does happen, then it probably won’t happen immediately. I think Hugh and [director] Shawn Levy have other commitments. Shawn did tell me that if there is a sequel, my character, Bailey, will be featured a lot more than she was in the first film. To most actors, that would be music to their ears, but I enjoy doing small, little roles with great actors who get to carry the film.
Speaking of small and little, I’d be remiss not to bring up The Hobbit. You’re playing a new character named Tauriel, who’s a Mirkwood elf, and that would lead me to believe that she is a warrior of some kind. Did you have to learn archery and swordplay?
Yes, she is a warrior. She’s actually the head of the Elven guard. She’s the big shot in the army. So she knows how to wield any weapon, but the primary weapons that she uses are a bow and arrow and two daggers. And she’s lethal and deadly. You definitely wouldn’t want to be caught in a dark alley next to Tauriel.
So then Tauriel must be involved with the dwarves being captured…
I think basically what you’re asking is if she’s in the film very much. She’s not in the first film very much. She comes into the first film near the end, and has a very small part to play. Her role in the second film is much more involved. Although, I have to say, when I first read the scripts and took the job, she had a lot less going on in the second film. I think the role is becoming a bit more demanding than I had expected it to be. There’s a lot more for me to do now, which is a lot of fun, but it’s a little more pressure.
Does she play a large part in the Battle of Five Armies?
Oh, I don’t know. We haven’t shot that yet. I still have to go back for five more months of filming.
How many months have you been there already?
On and off for the past six months. It’s a two-year shoot in total for both films, and my contract had me blocked off for about a year. I come in and out of New Zealand throughout that year.
How has the experience of shooting in New Zealand compared to the multiple years you spent in Hawaii on Lost?
In some ways, it feels really familiar. I’m from Canada, and New Zealand feels like you took all the best bits of Canada and squished them onto a tiny island like Hawaii. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the South Island. I seem to be landing really great locations on a lot of my work. I hope that continues, knock on wood.