‘Hobbit’ star Luke Evans talks ‘Smaug': ‘It’s better than the first one’

Dec. 12, 2013 | 11:51 a.m.
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Martin Freeman as Bilbo, from left, Jed Brophy as Nori and Richard Armitage as Thorin in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

apphoto film review the hobbit the desolation of smaug Hobbit star Luke Evans talks Smaug: Its better than the first one

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (James Fisher / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin, left, and Dean O'Gorman as Fili in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Graham McTavish as Dwalin, left, Ken Stott as Balin, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Richard Armitage as Thorin and William Kircher as Bifur in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman, left, and John Callen in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Azog, portrayed by Manu Bennett through motion-capture technology, in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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William Kircher as Bifur, left, John Callen as Oin, Richard Armitage as Thorin and Ken Stott as Balin in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, left, and Ryan Gage as Alfrid in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid, Mary Nesbitt as Tilda and John Bell as Bain in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Azog, portrayed by Manu Bennett through motion-capture technology, in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Lee Pace as Thranduil in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Orlando Bloom as Legolas in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

poster Hobbit star Luke Evans talks Smaug: Its better than the first one

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

Welsh actor Luke Evans has a penchant for larger-than-life characters. He has played Apollo in “Clash of the Titans” and Zeus in “Immortals,” and in the upcoming “Dracula Untold,” he’s taking on the role of Vlad Tepes, the historical warrior who inspired Bram Stoker’s mythic vampire. For his role in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second installment in filmmaker Peter Jackson’s latest trilogy based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, Evans is portraying the first human to enter the saga, the brave Bard the Bowman.

Hero Complex caught up with the actor in Beverly Hills last week to chat about the character and his experiences filming with Jackson in New Zealand, as well as what’s ahead for Evans, who’s preparing to star in a new telling of “The Crow,” which he’s set to begin shooting next year.

Be warned, a few mild spoilers are ahead.

Hero Complex: It must be gratifying to see people receive the new film so warmly.

Luke Evans: It’s better than the first one. Am I allowed to say that? [laughs] Personally just talking about my character, I liked how he’s slowly unfolding, allowing the audience to get to know him a bit more. You realize there’s a back story to his ancestry… When you first meet him, you think he could be a bit of a villain. Slowly you realize this man, he just wants to look after his children, and he’s willing to take on a dragon, which is a beautiful thing. He’s an amazing character.

HC: Is it true that you arrived in New Zealand for the film shoot without having read a script?

LE: Yeah, I had to trust the word of Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson that I wasn’t just in one scene… I knew what the role consisted of, and I knew the structure of his journey and how big he was going to be in the film as opposed to the book. The rest was left to trust and faith and belief in Peter and his idea for the role. I soon as I got off the plane, the script was there, and I got to read it and wiped my brow at the end and was very pleased and relieved.

HC: How do you prepare for a role like this, especially when you’re not entirely sure what you’ll be doing?

LE: I had a lot of time before we started shooting the film when I got to New Zealand, so that basically was my real preparation when I got there. There’s a lot to Bard. Physically, he’s a strong man, but he’s a bargeman, and his clothing really does play a role in who he is as a human being. He never changes his clothes because he doesn’t have any other clothes, really… I have to say, when we started putting the items on, it did start to help me feel much more in the character. Then you have lots of discussions with the writers and Peter about how he should come across. We know where he goes in the film, we know what he ends up doing in the film, but he’s not that person when you meet him, and there has to be a clear distinction between the two. And also, he’s a human, and he’s the only lead human in the whole story. I had that responsibility as well, to make him, you know, relatable to the audience. If there’s anybody in this film the audience should relate to, it should be Bard because he’s the one that’s dealing with the human emotions, and he’s got children, he’s a widower, he’s looking out for them the whole time. He’s trying to save them from heartache and pain and just death — whatever it is that’s coming down that mountain. There’s lots of interesting stuff to play on. It was interesting to bullet point these parts of his story and not jump too far ahead, which is very hard because you’re always shooting out of sequence as well, which is exhausting.

HC: Do you remember your first day of filming?

LE: It was on the rooftops of Lake-town … being chased down by Smaug. It was insane. It was what you call being dropped in at the deep end. I think Peter was testing the water with me, and I was trying to prove to him how far I could go, and so between the two of us, he pushed me to my limit that first week. I was covered in cuts and scars from the crashes that I was having to make on the rooftops. It was insane, but it was brilliant. We set the bar very high that day, and that’s basically where it stayed for the rest of the movie.

HC: You’ve done a lot of these special effects films. How did this experience compare?

LE: I guess the length of it is the most obvious difference between the other big movies I’ve done and “The Hobbit.” You really settle into Wellington life. Because it’s such a huge story and spread over three movies, the process is a little bit more relaxed. You’re not in every day — sometimes you are in every day for a few weeks — but then you have a week off, maybe. I quite enjoyed that. Pete likes coverage as well. He likes to do a lot of takes. I’d never worked like that before to that extent, so that was an interesting discipline to learn — whatever you do in the first take, just be prepared to maybe have to do the same thing in take 30 or 35. That’s an interesting challenge, physically, with energy levels and emotion, having to re-create that emotion. But it was a really interesting challenge, and he’s a really interesting director to work with because he knows the story inside and out, and he has very clear ideas of what he wants your character to do. Luckily for me, they were more often than not the same ideas as myself, so there were never any clashes of communication. It was always very clear.

PHOTOS: Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom at ‘Smaug’ premiere

HC: Did you still feel that you had room to have your own creative space?

LE:  Very much so. What was really lovely was putting my accent to the character. That was a really lovely thing that I now know has been immortalized on film, Bard will always be a Welshman. That was nice because it also meant that the dialogue needed to be tweaked because it just didn’t sound right in my Welsh accent. They didn’t know that, but I knew that. So I would say, “I really don’t think he’d say it like this. Do you mind if I changed it?” Pete often was just fine about it. And physical stuff as well. Pete was always up for ideas, and if we were doing physical stuff, which I do a hell of a lot of, if I could make it more complicated or more crazy, Pete would absolutely go with it, every single time. There’s a stunt in the second movie I remember very clearly. I sort of volunteered some information, “What if I do this?” And he said, “Well, if you think you can do that…” It was jumping on this cart and surfing down a hill. I was like, “I can do it.” He likes to push you, you know, which I like. He just wants to see if you can do it, basically.

HC: Tolkien’s work is so beloved by so many. What did it mean to you to enter the world of this franchise?

LE:  You know that this story has been around for a very long time. It’s touched a lot of people. Many generations have read the book, and you’re joining it. But [you’re] also joining this amazing thing that’s happening in New Zealand in Wellington that Peter has created, this little industry. It’s not a little industry, it’s a huge industry, and it affects the whole cinema world, what goes on there. Some of the biggest movies in the world are made and produced and post-produced in that little town. It’s a city, but it feels like a town. All of those things were what was on my mind when I was on that very long flight over to New Zealand, slight trepidation, obviously, because you’re joining a company that’s already up and running. All in all, it was just a very exciting thing to be originating a literary character from such a famous book. That’s a lovely gift for an actor to have, and I loved every minute of it.

HC: Is it helpful to have detailed sets on a movie of this size? Something tangible to work from amid all the green screen?

LE: Massively helpful. I don’t mind green screen. I’ve gotten quite good at just disappearing into my own imagination and blocking everybody out. It doesn’t bother me at all. I do it all the time in my normal life now so doing it on set isn’t that bad, especially because on set I know what I’m thinking about, I know what I’ve created in my mind. An actor has to have that string to their bow nowadays if you do a certain sort of film. Even on small little films, the CG’s being painted in constantly. I just did a TV job for the BBC, “The Great Train Robbery.” … There’s this one scene, I couldn’t believe it. This whole train station, it didn’t exist, and it’s all there, trains, steam. It’s brilliant. It’s used all the time. What it does do is give you a very vivid imagination, which is a good tool to have as an actor.

Actor Luke Evans arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Jordan Strauss / Associated Press)

Actor Luke Evans arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” (Jordan Strauss / Associated Press)

HC: After all these effects-intensive projects, are you ready to do a play?

LE: I just came from New York, and I saw Ian McKellen in his two plays, and I saw Orlando [Bloom] in his play, and all were just spectacular. I did theater for 10 years, and it did make me pine slightly for the stage. It’s not that I’m not looking; it’s about doing the right project and then fitting it into the schedule, which at the minute is so crazy. But it definitely is something I’m going to do sooner rather than later. It will be nice to tread the boards and do the whole story, in order, without anybody going “Cut.”

HC: What’s next for you?

LE: I finish this press tour; I’m actually finishing it in South Wales. I’m doing a screening for my Welsh family and friends, and I’m doing a day’s worth of press, which I’ve never done, ever, for the Welsh press. That’s where I’m finishing, which will be lovely because I’ll be able to spend a couple of Christmas days with my family and friends and say goodbye to them. And then I’m off on holiday to a beautiful beach location. I’m going to sit on a beach for two weeks, read my scripts, play beautiful music, drink lots of cocktails, eat great food and then come back, and that’s when I start prepping for “The Crow.”

HC: Where will you be shooting “The Crow”?

LE: It could be Eastern Europe. It could be the U.S. It could be anywhere. We’re just finding out the best locations for the film because it’s very specific, “The Crow.” The backdrop of “The Crow” was almost as important as the story, a bit like New Zealand plays such a strong role in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” I think the backdrop of where “The Crow” is based is almost a character in the film.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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