The first film is The Hurt Locker, a violent drama about a bomb squad in Iraq directed by Kathryn Bigelow that was snapped up by Summit Entertainment during the fest. Lilly took the cameo part because of her instant rapport with the famous director. Lilly is taking on her first starring role in the indie thriller Afterwards, which also premiered at TIFF. Adapted for the screen by director Gilles Bourdos and Michel Spinosa from the novel by Guillaume Musso, Afterwards is the story of a couple, Nathan and Claire, who lost one of their children to sudden death syndrome. Claire (Lilly) lives alone with their remaining child and is estranged from Nathan (played by French breakout actor Romain Duris, star of The Beat That Skipped My Heart and Dans Paris), who's a high-powered lawyer in New York City. Things take a turn for the strange when he meets Dr. Kay (John Malkovich), a mysterious man who claims he is a "messenger" who can predict when people are going to die. According to Dr. Kay, Nathan's life was spared as a child because he still has much unfinished work to do.
From a quiet room overlooking a sun-dappled garden in Toronto, a radiant Evangeline Lilly talks exclusively with Premiere about why she chose to avoid many of the opportunities afforded her by the success of Lost, how she has struggled to shed the persona of her character Kate, and why she considers herself an oddball.
This is your first Toronto Film Festival. As a Canadian, what does that mean to you to come back here to premiere your first feature film?
This is going to sound really cheesy but I genuinely mean it, to come back as an artist as opposed to a star is what is so exciting. I wouldn't want to be coming back in any sort of bling-bling Hollywood way. But to be coming back to the Toronto Film Festival, which is so renowned for being one of the only festivals left that still represents good art in film in North America, and to be coming back with an international film... that is very poignant and very meaningful, that I believe is a slice of art. I don't see it at all as purely entertainment. I think it is a difficult film and dark and heavy, and you really have to be there and be present to really understand and absorb the film. So it is exciting to me to come back in that way. That is the best homecoming.
Why this particular film? You must have many options given the success of Lost.
I have been very fortunate. Lost has opened doors, [but] they are just not all doors that I want to go through.
So you have turned down a lot of other possibilities?
Yeah. I have been reading scripts for the last four years, and there is just not a lot out there that gets me excited. When I watch films — I watch so few films, [but] that is only because I watch films, I think, for a very different reason than a lot of other people watch them. I don't watch them to be numbed or to be entertained. I watch them to be challenging. And if a film doesn't challenge me, I am not interested in watching it. And there are obviously exceptions to every rule. There are PMS nights when I just desperately want to dive in ice cream and benumb my brain. So, I wanted to be a part of films that were challenging, and there are not a lot of films out there that are challenging. I think there a lot of really good films out there that are extraordinarily entertaining or beautiful or poignant, but there are not a lot of challenging films out there. For me, I define that notion of challenging as [whether or not] there's a message behind the film that needs to be conveyed. And this film I think has a very strong message. And actually I also did a small cameo in another film here at the Festival called The Hurt Locker that is also very challenging. It is very, very heavy.
Did you make any adjustments in your preparation for this kind of role as opposed to preparing for Lost?
Yes, the approach and the preparation were the biggest difference because the actual filming of it wasn't too terribly different. They are both guerilla style. I have an independent film with no money, and I was on a TV show that is on a very tight schedule and budget. So, both genres have been shot very quickly and aggressively but the preparation was very different. First of all for Lost, when I came to that role, I had never had any acting experience and therefore I had no idea what it meant to prepare for a role. [laughs]. Since then, in beginning each season, I have a system that I go through to prepare, but that system is actually watching the previous seasons and just really acquainting myself with her again, whereas for the film I had to create her. And for the first time, I knew what that actually meant and what that would entail and how to prepare. And therefore, I spent a lot of time [exchanging] late night emails with the director about why I couldn't sleep because she was running through my mind, about feelings she was feeling, or ideas that she was contemplating. I would [run] them by him, and he would throw back his ideas to me, and I went through a long period... I would say between three and four months of really trying to embody her. And that was difficult because I was filming Lost at the same time. We were doing the finale, and I would go home at night and I would have to shed Kate and put on Claire and sort of play around with that. It was a lot of work, but it was fun.
Gilles Bourdos, the director, has said that he thought you embodied the humanity of Claire completely but that you needed to tone down an "American approach" to acting and embody a more "European style."
Absolutely! [laughs]. We would go back and forth with that. In the emailing and the preparation, we were both so much on the same page that we went into [it] thinking that this is going to be a no-brainer. But what actually what ended up happening while we were on set was: first of all, the first step in his coaching of me or his directing of me was he had to help me shed Kate. Because it was very hard for me. Once they had said "Action!" it was like that word to me was associated with [Kate]. You call "Action!" and I become Kate. And I had to learn. Basically, the process he let me go through was [saying], "You can do one or two takes as Kate. Just get it out of your system. And then I am going to come in go, 'Now you have to [be] Claire.'" And I would shift. It was this weird game that we would play with one another.
So it was more like slow gradation into the character as opposed to switching on and off.
Yes, yes. And then after that there was the whole North American-European thing. One of the examples of that was I was doing one of the telephone conversations in the film. I do two of them in the film. When I am on the phone, I actively listen. I am that person who, when somebody is saying something and if I agree, I would be nodding or thinking. And [Gilles] would continually say to me, "Just listen." And I kept saying, "I wouldn't do that." And he said, "Well, American girls are different than European girls. European ladies are much more understanding and would talk to you." And I would think, "Are you talking down to me? Am I overacting?" [laughs] But I had to just go with it because he knows the tone he is setting in the film, and you have to trust them.
What was it like working with Romain, and had you seen The Beat That My Heart Skipped before you started on this project?
So you had a sense of the actor before he arrived.
I did. And I actually only watched it because I knew I was going to be working with him, and I hadn't seen it before that. I did, and yet I saw no sense of the person. And I am bizarre, I think, in that way, and I don't know if this is normal or not but I know my feeling towards acting is I have to find somewhere in you if you are my co-star where I will be vulnerable and I will be intimate. And if I don't find that in you as a person, I will be hindered as soon as the cameras are rolling. I won't find it as a character. So I am always intrigued to get to know who the person is I am working with. I think a lot of people have the method approach to acting, which is they erase the person. They don't exist. There are only the characters. For me, it is very different. I have to find an access through the real person in order to be with the character.
I wanted to talk a little about the message of the film. Did you struggle with some of the philosophical tenants of it? Dr. Kay says, for example, "Things can exist even if you don't believe in them." And there's the notion of making a choice to help others once you know of their impending death. These could be seen as oddball concepts. Did you struggle with them?
No. It was nice because I am an oddball. [laughs]. So it was nice to finally be a part of something where I felt like I fit. I have very "out there" ideas about life and spirit and energy and living and where we should be directing our energy. When I read this script, it was the first script that I have ever accepted in all of those years of reading scripts while doing the show and taking meetings, where I felt I had finally read a script that I just loved. Oh my God! I believe in what this is saying. And I believe in this character, and I feel that I am in line with this film at a deeper level, and that is not easy to find because I am odd. I have I would say that I have non-conventional ideas.
I thought that the burden of being the messenger bringing the notion of death to somebody else is more taxing on the human spirit to convey than perhaps it is for the recipient. What are your thoughts on this idea?
I agree. I think any interaction where somebody is telling you what is to come, what will be instead of what is, is taxing on the human spirit. I really feel that I was able to embody my character because she believed what I believed which is, "This moment is all that really matters." What happened yesterday, it doesn't matter. It happened yesterday, and I felt it, and I went through it as real. I don't negate that, but it doesn't matter in this moment, and what will happen tomorrow really doesn't matter either — because if you and I are interacting and we are exchanging joy or we are exchanging sorrow or we are exchanging anything, all of that just disappears. It doesn't matter. This moment doesn't have to be affected by any of that. And I really believe that. And I really love that that is the message that my character brought to the film, while these two men were battling out whether it was right or wrong to do it or whether or not the past is important or the future is important. And all of those things that they were in angst over, she was just accepting this. This was all that she saw. And she was completely outside of that struggle because she was just here in this moment. Today.
Although Kate is now bringing up a child on Lost now, this was the first time you have played a mother, and you have the added burden of a cot death. Was that difficult to get into that headspace?
You know the film doesn't actually show what we filmed. We filmed the entire morning of the child's birth.
Really? So why was that cut?
Because it was too dark, it was so awful. It was so heavy, it was so ugly that Gilles felt that it just brought the film into a place that he just didn't want to go. And I think it was a good choice when I watch the film, because the film is not meant to depress people. I think it actually is meant to be uplifting in the final analysis. When we filmed it, the place I went to as a mother and feeling that and going through that, I had decided in advance — and I didn't know why — that my character was a vegetarian, but she didn't use to be, [and] that she was since her child's death. And I have no idea why I had made that decision. It was just strange and arbitrary, and I went with it. So for the film, I did not eat any meat, and I am a meat eater. And we got to the day of doing that scene, and I was so shocked when I took that on, the way I felt when I was looking around me [how] every single tiny little itsy-bitsy living thing was so precious. If somebody had stood on an ant in front of me, I would have lost my mind. I just couldn't cope with the idea of someone taking life. And I realized all of a sudden why she had become a vegetarian. These things just come into you. And I realized it in that moment and I spent the whole day in the most awful place. It was so, so wearing. It was my third to last day and I was grateful because I thought after today, I just don't know what else I have to give. It was done. It was horrible.
How did you get involved in The Hurt Locker project?
That was one that came to me through Kathryn [Bigelow]. She approached me and offered me this small cameo. And as excited as I was and flattered as I was that Kathryn had offered me the role, again, I am very cautious about what roles I involve myself in and what film projects I involve myself in — as you can tell since I have done just two in five years. But I got on the phone with her, and I spoke to her for about three hours about politics, about Iraq, about her film and what messages she was trying to convey. And I said, "This is a very sensitive topic. Being a Canadian, I probably come at it from a very different angle than many Americans do, and I just need to know where you are coming at it from before I can become involved. Even though my character has a very small part, it is still me in a project. It is still me bringing myself to a project." And we spoke for so long, and we got along like a house on fire. And I thought, "I wish I had a larger role on the project so I could work with her more." As it turns out, it was two days of work, and that was it. It was come and gone. I was really excited to be a part of that after that conversation. I just knew what she was saying.
It seems like a shift for Kathryn Bigelow because she is predominantly known for these large action blockbusters, so to see her go small scale and independent is a different approach for her.
Yeah. And we spoke for quite a long time about that — about where film is going, about where there is actually room to make the art that we want to make. We have both become slightly jaded about the mainstream of Hollywood and what is possible within that mainstream now that the industry is shrinking. With the Internet, the industry is shrinking. Less and less films are being made, and therefore they need more sure things and sure things don't usually take risks. And what is art without risk? I know that is intentionally why she went independent. She knew she wanted to take risks. She wanted to make variable, daring moves in this film that were not in line with her previous projects, that were not necessarily appealing to the blockbuster audience. She needed that freedom, and the only way to have that freedom is to step outside the studios.
So what is going to happen on Lost? Any trade secrets?
[laughs] They don't tell me anything. Nothing. They really don't. I get my script usually the night before I start work. It is really difficult. You find yourself having [2:00 AM] email conversations with writers, going, "Okay. I work at 5. Come on! We have got to get this settled." [laughs]
And now you find yourself handling a baby and an alcoholic at the same time on Lost.
Yeah. She has completely flipped on her head. She used to be the person everyone else had to take care of, and now she is taking care of everyone else. It is good though. It is fun to see that arc.
source : premiere.com