WE’LL GET TO THE HOBBIT in a minute. And Vlad the Impaler. And the rumours that Universal Studios is planning to tackle Marvel’s record-breaking superhero franchise with a new series of big-budget fantasy films, potentially with Luke Evans in one of the leading roles. But first I’m going to let Evans sit back and enjoy the view.
We’re sitting on the terrace at Ozone, the bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong that has sweeping views across the city from its lofty perch on the 118th floor. The sun is shining, Victoria Harbour is glistening beneath us and Evans seems, as far as I can tell, very happy indeed. And he has plenty of reason to be.
It’s been a long road to success for the 35-year-old actor, who performed for nine years on stage in London in musicals such as Rent, Taboo and Miss Saigon before Hollywood came knocking. The first movie director to call upon Evans’ talent and Celtic good looks was Louis Leterrier, who enlisted him to play the Greek god Apollo in his 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans. Although Evans only played a supporting role, the very fact that he was part of the blockbuster’s star-studded cast gave him his break into the film industry.
That same year Evans got his first leading-man part as a rugged, lovelorn farmhand in Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe, which earned him the attention of the critics and a rather devoted fan base. From there he quickly went on to star in The Three Musketeers, Immortals and several smaller, independent films before scoring the biggest role of his career so far: that of the dragon-slaying Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit trilogy. Bard doesn’t appear until the second of the three films, but Evans’ performance as the widowed father of three young children received rave reviews and secured his position as one of Hollywood’s rising stars.
In between jetting back and forth to New Zealand while shooting The Hobbit, Evans also found time to appear as a villainous British soldier in Fast & Furious 6 and play the title character in Dracula Untold. Next up is a leading role in the film adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel High-Rise, which is rumoured to be in the running for a premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Off screen, Evans seems to lead a relatively quiet life. He grew up in a small town in the Welsh Valleys called Aberbargoed before moving to London at the age of 17, which is where he’s still based today. His film career has led to longstanding relationships with several fashion and watch brands, including Bulgari, which has brought him to Hong Kong for a string of events. But Evans is not the kind of actor who’s regularly spotted falling out of nightclubs in LA or partying on yachts in the Mediterranean.
Throughout our conversation, Evans is thoughtful, friendly and as charming as you’d hope he’d be. His personal life is generally off limits to the press, though he did give a few revealing interviews early on in his career while he was still on stage in London. But seeing as everyone seems to want a piece of this rising star, perhaps it’s understandable that he wants to keep details of his life private for as long as possible.
YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER ON STAGE IN LONDON. WAS IT ALWAYS THE DREAM TO MOVE ON TO FILMS?
No. It’s very hard to break out of musical theatre. There’s a slight stigma attached to musical-theatre actors because a lot of people think that they can’t do it, that they can’t act without the music, and it’s not true. So I’d sort of assumed that that was going to be my career really, on the stage. I think to most people, being in movies is such a dreamy idea and it always was going to just be a dream for me. I really didn’t think it would be anything but that.
YOUR FIRST FILM ROLE WAS IN CLASH OF THE TITANS. DID THAT FEEL LIKE BEING THROWN IN AT THE DEEP END?
Yeah, completely. I was ready for it, though. I thought, well, it’s acting, at the end of the day. I was just learning as I was going along: watching, observing, staying quiet. Watching how Liam Neeson did it and how Ralph Fiennes did it and all these other brilliant actors I was working with in Clash of the Titans. When you don’t know the set-up you just stay a little quieter and pick it up.
WOULD YOU EVEN BE TEMPTED TO RETURN TO THEATRE?
Yeah, I could do. I’ve thought about it. It’s about finding a window in my year because theatre takes up much more time than film does: there’s the prep, there’s the rehearsals, there’s all of those things. I did nine years of theatre and so I think it’s also about finding the right role. I was in New York recently and I was talking to a lot of theatre directors about maybe doing something, maybe in New York.
SO YOU HAD NINE YEARS IN THEATRE BEFORE YOU MOVED INTO FILM. ARE YOU HAPPY YOU HAD THAT TIME TO MATURE? SOME STARS ARE NOW PLUCKED OFF STAGE IN THEIR EARLY 20s …
Lucky them, that’s all I can say! Long may it last. That just wasn’t my journey. I’m glad in a way that I was 29, 30 before I started doing films because I appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living. But if you’re 23 and you get to be in Hollywood movies, then … incredible, amazing, how lucky! At 23 I was on a tour of Miss Saigon around the UK. And at 24 I was unemployed for a year, so it was a very different world.
I THINK MOST PEOPLE PROBABLY NOW KNOW YOU BEST FOR THE HOBBIT. HOW DID THAT ROLE COME ABOUT?
Probably the longest audition process ever, because I auditioned when it was still Guillermo del Toro directing and I didn’t hear a single thing for a whole year. I just auditioned once and I never had any feedback – nothing at all. So I assumed that somebody else was playing the role.
Then through that year obviously I’d done lots of work, so my profile had gone up a little bit and I think that they went back over the tapes. And Peter [Jackson] was directing the film at that point, and between him, Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens], I jumped out and they called and asked me if I would fly to New Zealand and screen test for the character.
That was on a Friday, and on the Sunday morning I was flying to New Orleans to shoot a thriller, so I couldn’t [go to New Zealand]. I had to say no. I had to say no to what was potentially going to be the biggest game-changing role, so I was so scared. But they very kindly said, “OK, we’ll let you go on tape in London and we’ll go from there.” So that Saturday afternoon I went into an audition, did the character and I woke up on Sunday morning to the offer.
ON TOP OF BARD THE BOWMAN YOU’VE PLAYED ANOTHER WELL-KNOWN CHARACTER: DRACULA. WHAT DREW YOU TO DRACULA UNTOLD?
It was a very different take on the story. It was the origins story of the most famous vampire, and you start with the character before he becomes the vampire. I was intrigued and when I read the script I could visualise moments that I thought, OK, I could do that; I could bring some humanity to this character.
And the chance to take the leading role in a studio film – for the first time I was given the opportunity to prove to myself, to the studio and to the audience that I could carry a movie. It was a big deal. It was a huge moment for me. Probably bigger than The Hobbit because it was all about my character and I was the title role. I had a lot to prove and I jumped at the chance, but it was scary. It was scary when it came out – I was worried that it wasn’t going to work and that people weren’t going to like it. But it did really well, so I’m super happy.
AND THE ENDING IS VERY OPEN. UNIVERSAL STUDIOS IS REPORTEDLY PLANNING WHAT’S BEING CALLED A “SHARED MONSTER UNIVERSE”, A SERIES SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF MARVEL’S SUPERHERO FILMS. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN SAY ABOUT THAT?
No. You know as much as I do. Actually, I know a little bit more but I’m sworn to secrecy. It’s a very big idea and the plan is very exciting. Universal has all these incredible characters that they’ve owned since the beginning of cinema history. The plan is big and the plan is in motion. It’ll be fun and if they do it I’d be super happy to play Vlad, or whatever we want to call him at that point, because he’s immortal and he can turn up anywhere. The potential is huge.
YOU’RE ALSO STARRING IN THE UPCOMING HIGH-RISE. WHAT’S YOUR ROLE IN THAT FILM?
I play Richard Wilder. He’s a big, larger-than-life character who’s a war documentarian who’s out of work. He’s a bit of a player. He’s described as the agitator by JG Ballard. He’s mad but he also has pure, sane moments in the film where you see the world through his eyes and all of a sudden you realise that he’s not as crazy as everybody makes out.
It was a very fun role and [director] Ben Wheatley is a genius, a real genius. He just allowed me to just go for it and the role allowed me to do that and sometimes he pushed me even further than I thought I could go. It’ll be a very fun film for me to watch – maybe not for everybody else! Because it’s quite a dark storyline, the book is really fucking dark.
ON A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT NOTE: YOU’RE QUITE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Am I? I have my moments.
I THINK THE FACT YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA IS PRETTY INTERESTING, AS LOTS OF ACTORS AND ACTRESSES REALLY STAY AWAY NOW. WHY DO YOU USE IT?
I guess it’s Stephen Fry’s fault, actually. He’s just an amazing human being and I love chatting to him about anything, but he’s very active on social media. He uses it as a way to speak from him – no one can misquote him if it comes from him, and the way he does that is through social media.
You can use it as a tool. It’s not about showing off and saying, “Look at me, I’m in Hong Kong.” For me it was about connecting with my fans in a very personal way. If I want to, I can talk to somebody on the other side of the planet by responding to a Twitter message. I don’t very often, that’s not what I do. But sometimes if somebody does something amazing, then I’ll say, “Great!” This woman has just had a tattoo of me.
I WAS JUST ABOUT TO ASK!
Did you see it? I retweeted it. I probably shouldn’t have because I don’t have tattoos and I don’t recommend anybody have tattoos, but it is an uncanny resemblance of my face. I was impressed, shocked, alarmed and honoured, all in one go. It’s a very strange thing. I’d rather people didn’t do it. I almost feel a sense of responsibility for it. I feel a little bit like it’s my fault, but it’s their choice, it’s their skin, it’s their canvas, they can do what they like.
YOU OFTEN SHARE ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGNS ON TWITTER. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT’S PARTICULARLY CLOSE TO YOUR HEART?
Yeah, because I was bullied very badly as a kid. I’m an only child brought up in the valleys of South Wales, I was a Jehovah’s Witness – they’re very peaceful people, there’s no aggression, no violence, you’re taught to love one another. So I was the perfect target for the bullies in school. It was very difficult; very, very hard. But I was a fighter. I wanted to have a dream and a life and I didn’t let them spoil that. But I know that bullying – especially in those formative years, teenage years and childhood – can really mess you up as an adult.
I was asked to become a Prince’s Trust ambassador, for Prince Charles’ Trust, which is an amazing charity that helps young people who may not have had the best start in life and gives them advice and training and opportunities. When they asked me if I’d become [an ambassador] I said, “Absolutely, I’d love to, but I would like to really target things that matter to me.” And I thought, you know what, bullying is something that I’ve personally experienced. It could have gone two ways for me: I could have become a recluse, I could have committed suicide. Bullying can affect children and teenagers so much – and I’ve come through the other side. I thought: I’ve got a story to tell and hopefully I can inspire or just give a little confidence to somebody.
YOU GAVE A FEW FAIRLY REVEALING INTERVIEWS EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER. DO YOU THINK HOLLYWOOD IS OPENING UP TO ALL DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE?
Without dwelling on it too long, the world is changing – it’s constantly changing. We’re so lucky because our business can incorporate everybody. It’s a very diverse medium in which we work, and everybody can be part of it. I don’t understand how the machine of Hollywood works; I don’t think anybody does. It’s not one person, it’s a whole corporation, a big business that’s been going for a very long time. I’m just happy to be part of it and living my dream. I’m not compromising for anything or anyone. I’m doing what I want and having the best time. My experience in this business has been very, very positive.
PHOTOGRAPHY RICHARD RAMOS
PRODUCTION FRANCISCO ANTON-SERRANO
STYLING DENISE HO
MAKE-UP MEGUMI SEKINE
HAIR DICKEY BLUE
PHOTO ASSTANTS CURTISS LI AND GORDON LO
LOCATION THE RITZ-CARLTON, HONG KONG