Luke Evans interview: Hobbit, green screen acting and 48fps

The Desolation Of Smaug introduces Luke Evans' character, Bard the Bowman. We find out his thoughts on The Hobbit, acting, 48fps and more...

Since the start of his big-screen career three or four years ago, Welsh actor Luke Evans has played a variety of characters, often united by their colourful period costumes. He tore through ancient Greece in a shining suit of armour as Apollo in Clash Of The Titans. He wore a jaunty hat and a dapper velvet jacket as Aramis in The Three Musketeers. He donned a fetching gold cloak and precious little else in Tarsem Singh’s madly embellished Immortals.

His odyssey through the costumes of Hollywood myth and fantasy continues with The Desolation Of Smaug, where he takes on the role of Bard the Bowman. His garb may be more sensible and less revealing than some of his earlier parts, but Bard is nevertheless a key player in The Hobbit story, and he’s sure to come into his own in next year’s There And Back Again.

Interestingly, there wasn’t a velvet jacket, leather tunic or shining suit of armour in sight when he sat with us for a round-table interview earlier this month. Instead, he’d swaddled himself in a chunky and very luxurious-looking cardigan – a sensible outfit given the biting Berlin weather outside.

With The Desolation Of Smaug out now, here’s Evans’ take on playing Bard, acting alone in a high-tech motion-capture studio, and what he thinks of Peter Jackson’s new-fangled 48 frames-per-second filming.

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[Luke Evans sits down with a loud “Urggh” of fatigue]


Ahh, it’s okay, you know. Just ask nice questions and I’ll, you know, be fine. [Laughs] You’ll get really good answers if you ask good questions.

I take it this is much tougher than Middle-earth, then?

Much tougher, yeah, yeah. Give me an Orc any day! [Laughs]

People were already lining up yesterday to see you and the other stars at the premiere. Have you thought about how fans might react to the film?

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Um, no. It’s a funny thing. Some people do get nervous. I mean, maybe Pete [Jackson] is more nervous, I don’t know. At this point, you’ve done all the work, you’ve done everything you can do. Now there’s nothing else, so there’s almost a detachment at this point in the film’s life, where you just go, “Okay”.

 It’s like sending your kid off to school for the first time. You’ve done everything you can, you’ve put all your energy and passion into it, and then you wave them off as the credits go up. You hope they enjoy it, and hope they go and see it again. I think that might be the best metaphor I’ve ever come up with in my whole life. [Laughs]

But you know what I mean? It’s that detachment. I mean, I enjoyed it. And I’ve become very good at detaching myself, so I can actually watch myself and appreciate the whole thing, and it really is a rewarding film, on all levels. There’s much more going on in this film. Lots of sub-stories, also, which keep you interested.

And there’s no lull. I think we’ve managed to take out any instance of pausing and resting. There’s no rest periods in this film at all, which I think is important. 

What did you think of Evangeline Lilly’s character [Tauriel], and also her performance?

I think they’ve all done really well with their roles. And Evangeline’s role isn’t even in the book, so I think that was a really big thing for her. I know she’s a huge Tolkien fan, and when you speak to her, she’ll say the same thing. It’s interesting; her character fits in extremely well into the story without spoiling it. She’s such a great actress, and brings a lot to the story. It’s nice to have a glamorous woman on set, in amongst all these burly, ugly Dwarves. [Laughs]

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And this was an opportunity to use your own accent.

Which was really special. That was something that happened really early on, before I even got the role.

It’s rare.

It’s very rare. I’ve done 20 films, and I’ve never been asked to do my Welsh accent. I did use my own accent in a play once. It’s a very freeing, liberating experience. Actors are often asked to adopt a different accent, and sometimes a different voice, so when that’s taken away and you don’t have to think about it, that’s a lovely thing. I didn’t have to worry about where my intonation was, I just knew that whatever came out of my mouth was right, instead of having to think about it. I’ve put Wales on the Middle-earth map!

Did you hope you’d end up as a Dwarf when you went up for the film, or did you know you’d end up as a human?

No, I knew who I was going to be playing. Bard the Bowman – I knew he was going to be a human. I hadn’t thought about the fact that he’s the only human who plays a principle role, so that bit I hadn’t thought about. But it’s a real gift. He goes on such an extraordinary journey, which has only just begun. He doesn’t realise that he’s capable of quite extraordinary things. But he’s one of these people who doesn’t want to be a hero, he doesn’t want people to look up to him. He wants to just get on with his life and look after his children.

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Which is interesting. It’s a really interesting role to play. 

What made you want to become an actor?

I’ve always wanted to perform. Even as a child, I always wanted to sing and act. I always re-enacted scenes from films or TV programmes or musicals. It never really diminished – it was always clear that that was what I wanted to do. But I never thought I’d be able to do it for a living, but I won a scholarship, got to London, and it’s been crazy.

This past five years have been the most eventful of my whole career. The speed at which it’s happened, and the amount of work I’ve crammed into five years, it did feel a bit like I was catching up. Because I was, in a way – I was 30 years old and a lot of my contemporaries had been doing it for a lot longer than myself. So it was an interesting journey, and it’s been really exciting, and I’ve done things that I thought I’d never be able to do – a bit like Bard the Bowman.

What is it like as an actor to be among all these special effects and costumes, which look great in the finished film, but when you’re there doing it, might feel a bit silly?

Weirdly, like the first couple of times, it’s completely alien. You feel quite self-conscious, because you’re surrounded by people in green outfits. It’s very, very odd. But Pete comes on and doesn’t see any of that. He just ignores that there’s a creature that isn’t really there, and that you’re on a cart or whatever. He just says immediately, “Okay, we’ve got this here and this here. And up there there’s going to be a big mountain. You’ll need to look up there.”

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He just points to everything. You realise that he doesn’t see the weirdness in it all, so you think after a while, “It’s not that weird at all”. So very quickly, it becomes normal – even though it isn’t normal at all.

The most weird thing is having lunch, in a canteen that could serve 900 people, and there’d be these big tables – bigger than this – and around one there’d be all the actors who play Dwarves, and on another table, all the scale doubles, who are very small people sitting around that, and Elves around another table, and Orcs around another. Literally, like different species – nobody mixed. That was probably the most bizarre experience of the whole trip. [Laughs]

How did you get on with the green screen process?

Listen, if you ask an actor what he’d prefer to act on, he’d probably say a tangible, real set, or even better, a real location out on a mountainside or by a river. It’s just easier because you don’t have to imagine anything. But with green screen, you have to know everything; you have to know certain dimensions and boundaries, otherwise you can immediately tell someone’s on a green screen set if they haven’t thought out the size of the table, for example, or the heights of the Dwarves.

So you know the scene where I bring the weapons to the table in my house? I was alone on a green screen. There was not one thing that wasn’t green except me. And the Dwarves – the actors, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage and the like – were on a set, my set, but a third larger. And they worked on that, so when they sat at the dinner table, they were really small.

Then there was a camera that was filming them, which was the master, then another camera filming me in the other studio, which was the slave. I had an earpiece in, and all of the Dwarves around the table were photographs on sticks with lights over their heads. They were all at different heights, like the actors. And then the light would go on and I’d hear them speaking in a different studio, and the cameras would merge the two scenes together immediately, and Pete would see the screen with me larger and them smaller. The Dwarves would have to look at a cross on a stick to represent me. 

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Isn’t that like theatre, in a way, that style of acting? Where it’s all in your head?

No not really, because in theatre you still have sets. I mean obviously, there’s a fourth wall there, which isn’t there, so yes, definitely – obviously, you don’t look at the audience, even though they’re there, and you have to accommodate their vision, often, when you’re on stage. You have to stagger yourself. You do things that you wouldn’t naturally do in the real world. So there is that awareness about the superficial stuff that you wouldn’t think of normally.

But it’s very unique. It’s extraordinary. And when you’re  doing it, it’s quite disheartening – it’s very lonely, because I’d spend all day alone with a camera operated by a computer. [Laughs] Sometimes all I’d have is a voice in my ear. So it’s very strange.

Then you see it on the screen, and you immediately forget that you’re not in that room with those people, because we’re looking at each other. I’m looking at Gloin when he talks, and I’m thinking, that’s magic. How did they do it? That’s something they designed in New Zealand. It’s come a long way from Gandalf being close to the camera lens and Bilbo being far away, and it looking like they’re close together, but actually there’s about 20 foot between them. We don’t do that anymore. It’s called Slave Motion Control. And that’s what it is: a little insight into probably one of the most complex, technical pieces of trickery in the movie, without a doubt.

Would it be a different kind of acting if you were standing in front of them?

No, because Peter wants it to be as authentic and real as possible, so in the morning, we all rehearsed on the big set. We went through it many times; we went through the staging of the scene, and so we knew who was talking, how they were responding, and then we stuck to that. So it wasn’t like I was completely in the dark. I knew how they were responding, so it wasn’t too difficult.

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It was just remembering, really, and having to re-do the reactions without them being there, and remembering what level of emotion they were giving, and all that kind of stuff. So that was quite difficult. But I think we managed it; I think Pete captured it well.

In the last movie, there was a lot of discussion about this new 48 frames-per-second technique. Is that something you’ve thought about yourself during the production?

I didn’t think about it once – not once. The technique – watching The Hobbit, for everybody, it was the first time they’d seen it. And I think it was very weird. I think people were, like, “Woah. This is like HD television or something”. It was weird and it was hard for people to process. But with this film, maybe because we’ve seen it once and our eyes and our brains have become used to it, within seconds, I’d forgotten about it.

I don’t know whether that’s because there’s a different world we’re entering, or whether it’s because they’ve changed something, or what, but it had no impact on me this time. Whereas the first time, I was like, [Sharp intake of breath] “God, it’s all very vivid.” This one didn’t have that feel. I’m hoping this means that we as a cinema-going public are a bit more adaptable, and it’s just getting used to it.

I always tell that story: the Lumiere brothers first shot a small film and showed it in a cinema in France, and it was of a train coming down the track towards the people, and they all ran out of the cinema. They ran. But then they watched it again, and they didn’t run out of the cinema. They get used to things. We’ve had 24 frames for a hundred years, so it takes time to get used to things. But it’s great to be part of something so innovative, and so forward-thinking.

And Peter’s brave enough to do it, and I think this film, more so than the first Hobbit, proves that this is an absolutely valid way to make movies.

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Luke Evans, thank you very much.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is out now in the UK. Our review is here.

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