Pity poor Luke Evans at the premiere of Clash of The Titans (2010). As Apollo, half brother of Perseus, Evans had scored himself a major part in a huge Hollywood blockbuster. Ten years treading the boards in the West End building up a reputation as a charismatic leading man with rich Welsh baritone were about to pay off.
Imagine the crushing disappointment on the night to find out that all his scenes, bar one had been cut – several scenes of Evans dressed like a Quality Street toffee are available to watch on YouTube. To make matters worse, he had to stay and watch the rest of the film, a tortuous prospect for anyone.
For a while that seemed to be the story of Luke Evans’s life: close but no cigar. He scored parts in big movies with high expectations that went nowhere (Immortals) and franchises that foundered on the first attempt (Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers).
Blessed with the physique of a prop forward and a dancer’s grace, vulpine good looks and a jaw sharp enough to grate cheese, he has an old school movie star magnetism that for a while, few directors seemed able to properly harness.
However, his persistence is now paying off. Evans’s star has been is the ascendant since he made his pilgrimage to Middle Earth to appear in The Hobbit and now, with several billion-dollar-grossing hits to his name, he is about to play the title character (or one of them) in Professor Marston & The Wonder Women.
Evans has won Stateside raves for his performance as William Marston a Harvard professor and psychiatrist who invented the polygraph test and whose work and unconventional relationships with two strong women helped him create the comic book character Wonder Woman.
By way of a tip of the hat, here’s a look at some of Luke Evans’s screen highlights since the stars started aligning for him.
No One Lives (2012)
Perhaps he was tired of being typecast as the handsome but bland romantic lead, ‘go-to period-action guy’ as he himself put it. As a corrective, he couldn’t have performed a more severe volte-face than appearing in this little-seen, but memorably violent revenge thriller from Ryuhei Kitamura.
He plays a dark, brooding boyfriend known only as Driver, who is kidnapped by a gang of hick robbers looking to make a buck. After his girlfriend is killed, the thieves realise too late that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when Evans hunts down and dispatches them in wildly inventive, stomach-churning ways – at one point smuggling himself into their lair by hiding inside the body of one of his victims. Nice.
Furious 6 (2013)
The Fast & Furious franchise had been building up an impressive head of steam since the first movie in 2001, but this was the one that went Supernova and took the Furious movies into billion-dollar territory. Evans came aboard as Owen Shaw, an ex-SAS mercenary whose various hi-tech heists bring him into conflict with Vin Diesel’s crew of petrol-heads.
Evans does well to stand out from such a packed crowd of characters; his cool calmness makes him something of an oasis for the ears amidst all the shouting and gratuitously loud gear-changes. Not that he’s averse to carnage, though he remains admirably serene even when he’s driving a tank down a freeway and blowing up a bridge.
Dracula Untold (2014)
Evans said that “I present myself as a very strong man who can love as much as he can kill. He can care for his children and he can also turn around and fight 15 men.” Such yin/yang potential made him perfect for this, his first lead in a Hollywood blockbuster and as Vlad Tepes, Evans sensitively captures the inner angst of a good man cursed by hubris in pursuit of a righteous cause.
Alas, the film was just one more of Universal’s extraordinarily inept attempts to kick-start its own horror back catalogue for the 21st Century, a quest that finally ran out of steam after last year’s The Mummy, which was even worse. Dracula Untold frankly didn’t deserve its leading actor.
The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies (2014)
Evans’s disappointment at the limp performance of Dracula Untold was probably short-lived. By now he had made his first appearance in The Hobbit, playing Bard The Bowman, a bargeman who helps Bilbo and his friends into Esgaroth in the second film, The Desolation of Smaug.
It was in the final instalment though, that Evans had his greatest moment, using the last ever black arrow to dispatch the malevolent dragon, Smaug – with his son Bain gamely letting his Dad use his shoulder to steady his aim.
Having become something of a blockbuster mainstay, Evans returned to the UK to star in Ben Wheatley’s fabulously deranged adaptation of JG Ballard’s vicious satire. As Richard Wilder, an unsuccessful documentary maker, Evans is basically a clenched fist of outrage and fury, whose anger sparks a revolution within an allegorical tower-block.
In one memorable scene, he leads his fellow lower-deck residents into the swimming pool area, crashing a party of the upper-floor toffs and diving into the pool in his vest and boxer shorts. For managing to pull all this off while wearing Tom Selleck’s moustache from 1983, Evans was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the British Independent Films Awards.
Beauty & The Beast (2017)
Evans had originally signed up to star in Wheatley’s follow-up to High-Rise, Free Fire but reluctantly turned it down. Having cornered the market in psychopaths, vampires and dragonslayers, “I really wanted to sing and do something happy.” In Gaston, Belle’s ludicrously self-obsessed suitor who uses antlers in all of his decorating, Evans found the ultimate role to suit his many varied talents. It was a star-making turn.
As well suited as Emma Watson and Dan Stevens were as the leads, it was the puffed-up Gaston who strutted away with the film. His double-act with LeFou (Josh Gad) was a beautifully choreographed joy, and Evans finally got to show off his singing chops, honed all those years ago on the West End. It’s likely he’ll spend the next ten years putting up with complete strangers calling after him, “No one’s slick as Gaston / No one’s quick as Gaston / No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston’s!” I’m sure he’ll think it a price worth paying.