Evangeline-Lilly-in-The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-SmaugEvangeline Lilly is a new addition to Middle Earth in more ways than one. Not only is the forthcoming second feature The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, her first entry into the franchise, but her character Tauriel is a completely made-up character, and not one who had existed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original novel. Speaking to the Canadian actress on our trip to Berlin, Lilly explains that she enjoyed exploring this world with no prior preconceptions, admitting that she pitied Martin Freeman for having the challenge of portraying one of the most renowned characters in modern literature.

“I used to pity poor Martin Freeman so much because as a huge fan of the books, I had a very distinct idea of what Bilbo was supposed to be, everything about Bilbo was defined in my mind and it was up to Martin to live up to everybody’s image of him,” she said. “I didn’t have that pressure and I was very grateful for that. I don’t consider myself a very good impersonator or adaptor, I think I’m stronger when it comes to creation, so I was fortunate to have a pure creation to work with.”

Another new addition to the cast is that of Welsh actor Luke Evans who plays the role of Bard, and he explains to us quite how astounded he was when he first arrived in New Zealand to embark on this adventure, though praised Jackson’s directing in spite of the grandiose surroundings. “It’s like going to Disneyland,” he commented. “I’ve worked on big sets before and the actor can sometimes be lost because there is so much to see and deal with. Peter is very good at not doing that, and I felt very spoilt working with him. I was worried with all this going on I’d have to really help myself through the scenes, but he never ever let the actors do that. He’d set everything and be dealing with lights or whatever, then he’d go straight to you. He has an amazing ability to compartmentalise all of those things, stay incredibly calm, and then be incredibly personal about your performance.”

Middle Earth is evidently a place Evans felt somewhat at home at, and though he plays a rare breed – a human – in the film, it is in fact the hobbits he feels he shares the most in common. “I’d probably be a Hobbit,” he said. “I just love the Shire, it’s such a beautiful place, a grassy, leafy place where everybody eats constantly, they have three breakfasts and they drink and some some sort of weedy thing which makes them all very happy. They enjoy their lives and don’t want to go too far, and the cosiness of Bag End seems quite appealing. Probably because I travel so much and live out of a suitcase. I miss the Shire.”

Lilly too misses her time in Middle Earth, admitting that it was a place she felt she could escape to as a youngster. Which is probably a bit more normal than her other childhood fantasy… “Middle Earth was one of my favourite places to escape to., but I had this strange childhood fantasy too. Obviously I had a demented upbringing, because I used to imagine being a martyr and being burned alive. I was raised in a religious home, we went to church every Sunday and prayed before meals, it wasn’t super religious, but I think in my mind that was my idea of heroism, that was how you be a hero, to stand strong in the face of persecution. It’s terrible,” she laughed.

Meanwhile, Richard Armitage – who takes on the role of the leader of The Company of Dwares, Thorin, has some of his own memories that he’d probably quite like to forget. “I think Peter must have lay in bed one night and thought, how can I torture those people just one more time? I know, I’ll stuff them into a barrel and pour dead fish on them and then leave them there for a while we adjust the lights. I could hear him chuckling.”

However that isn’t to say Armitage doesn’t look back fondly over his time on set, as he tells us of his sadness when the shoot finally came to an end. “We were all emotional on the last day,” he continued. “Many of us were sick and most of us were exhausted, but it was a really emotional moment when Pete called cut for the last time. They had a wrap party, and a true wrap party. It was at wrap, in the sound stage, and they gave us some beautiful artwork and showed the blooper reel and all the outtakes. It was a great day, but very, very sad.

“I changed as an actor, I changed as a person. I saw the other side of the planet and went to places I couldn’t even have dreamed of going to and met some incredible people who I’ll be friends for life with.” Evans also told us that the one thing that he will take away from his experience is friendships – as it seems that the close unity amongst the protagonists and evident chemistry amongst the cast on screen, is authentically portrayed. “What I’ve kept from this is friendships. Some of my really good friends now are people I met on that movie. I saw more of them in one year than I did of my grandparents in five. They became much more than just work colleagues.”

When asked who Evans befriended most in particular, he gave an answer we probably could have guessed in an instant – picking Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf the Grey) out for individual praise. “Ian is like having the best granddad on the planet. He’d hate me for saying that, but he is as old as my granddad. He is the youngest thinking granddad you’d ever meet though and he’s fascinating to be around and he’s a wonderfully generous man and I loved being around him, listening to his stories and advice.”

Gandalf may not play quite an integral a role in this second instalment, but his presence is always known, and his beard looks as impressive as ever. Armitage’s Thorin has some arresting facial hair of his own, and admits that it had its other uses… “I loved having a beard. You could store pencils in it,” he said. “When I had the beard I was more recognisable, but it’s one of the things I love about taking on the role, was the full transformation. Now, in terms of getting more work, I’ve got to convince people I’m not hairy and five foot two.”

Having a beard was evidently something that impressed co-star Lilly however, who tells us that she likes her men burly, while remaining adamant that she had a wonderful time on set in spite of the joke anecdotes which may suggest otherwise. “I’m a good Canadian girl and we like our lumberjacks, so I like them burly and rough and manly. The Elves are a bit androgynous for my taste,” she declared. “I’ve heard that Martin Freeman is making up all kinds of wonderful stories about how they were horrible to me and made my life miserable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, they were very kind, charming, chivalrous, flirtatious even. Which I just ate up.”

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is released on December 13, and you can read our review here, and check out our other interviews here.