Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly might still be best known for her role as scream enthusiast and smoke monster avoider Kate Austen in the hit show Lost, but her career has pretty much gone from strength to strength. Following a 2007 Golden Globe nomination for the show she had a supporting role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning war drama The Hurt Locker before landing roles in mega franchises The Hobbit and the Marvel Cinematic Universe where she plays Tauriel and Hope van Dyne / The Wasp respectively. Her most recent film, South of Heaven is an altogether smaller scale affair, part neo-western, part love story which sees her on screen opposite Ted Lasso himself Jason Sudeikis. FilmHounds caught up with her to discuss the film.
This seems like a change of pace for you, the last few things audiences have seen you in have had superheroes, elves, robots punching each other in the face. Is it refreshing to jump into something a bit more grounded and human?
So refreshing, it was just what the doctor ordered. I needed it so badly. I think that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to play Annie. I wanted to be able to walk into a scene and instead of having to amp myself up, and getting all intense and doing press-ups to get my sweat on, and all this stuff you have to do to create one of these crazy CGI scenes. Just like take a big deep breath, calm my soul and put a smile on my face and go say some words with a really good person opposite me. That was a treat. It was like – this isn’t work. I would do this for free.
Your character Annie is suffering from the later stages of terminal lung cancer, what sort of research do you do for that or do you let the words speak for themselves?
I guess it would depend on the project, because every project’s different. This one wasn’t hyper realistic. We wanted to create a space that was suspended in time, and a little bit of a suspension of reality. There were different visual cues we used. You could tell that Aharon [Keshales, the director] wasn’t aiming for The Squid and the Whale. It was more in the ballpark of Wes Anderson, or a Roy Anderson film, or the Russo brothers. It’s a stylised film.
So, I said to Aharon – you have to guide me. Do you want to see her cancer, do you want to hear her cancer? Do you want me hacking shit up out of my lungs, with black circles around my eyes and pale skin? What is the version of Annie? What is the representation of a woman facing death that you want to see on screen?
And the thing that Aharon wanted to do, which I thought was really beautiful, was to stylistically at the centre of the film – who is dying – to represented life. To represent sunlight. To represent all that is good, and whole, and okay in the world. So, while he wanted you to feel her vulnerability he didn’t want her to look sick and dying. So we know she is in our minds, and we can’t quite resolve that with what we know of her situation. It opens you up to a place where anything can happen, and then you open up to possibility. What Annie represents is the possibility that even as you’re facing death you can be full of life.
I think it speaks to a lot of people’s experiences of people at the end of their life. They’re not as miserable as film’s make out. They generally have a good sense of humour about it. It can be off putting.
I agree. You know, first hand experience with cancer patients. There was also a beautiful blogger I was following while researching this film who was battling lung cancer. She was in late stages while doing these blogs. And she was the most macabre, self-deprecating, hilarious ball of joy and life, but she’d have these times where she showed that anger, darkness, and all that wrapped into one. I followed her, and read her blogs, because I felt that was the closest I was going to come to a real life Annie.
There’s a scene in the film, not to give anything away, where someone meets a grisly end via a knife and some cake. Do you find that intense drama often lends itself to humour?
I think it should. That’s my favourite type of drama. I love macabre humour, I love dark humour, that’s why I wanted to do this film. Aharon had done this film back in Israel called Big Bad Wolves, it’s a masterclass in macabre humour. It’s harrowing.
The topic he’s dealing with is a pedophillic mass murderer is on the loose. I was like, hell no I’m not watching this. This is way outside of my comfort zone, I can’t stomach that kind of stuff. But, I was like I’ll watch it until I can’t stomach it because I need to see what this guy does, and I kept watching and kept watching and I never hit that limit of “I can’t watch this” because he has such a way of knowing when to make things funny, when to make things serious, and when to make things that are gory so beautiful visually. I think the way he showed that side of humanity is – he’s a bit of a genius in that way. I think he does it really well in this film as well.
Everything that is gory is beautiful, and everything that is dark is light. Let them eat cake!
Maybe not that cake. I thought it looked nice until someone had an unfortunate encounter with it.
We did so many takes of that scene and the whole time I was thinking – that cake looks so good, I want a bite. In the end we had two extras, and I had them bring me some.
At one point your character discusses what song she wants played at her funeral, The Beach Boys comes up, have you ever thought which song you’d choose?
For a funeral?! God no. I’ve never thought about it. Frankly, I can’t wrap my head around being dead. I’m young still. It feels like it’s a really long way away, I’ll start thinking about that in the eighties, maybe in the sixties I’ll start to get really sick, and think about it more. But, what I love is that when she does think about it, that she has such a macabre sense of humour. It’s such a realistic scene.
I feel when I watch such heavy drama and people don’t crack jokes in the most serious moments of their lives I feel like – who doesn’t? Who doesn’t crack jokes? Who doesn’t fuck around?
Funerals are very funny, more so than weddings, I think.
Are you a fan of The Royale Family?
I’m British, of course I am!
That funeral scene is a realistic funeral scene! That’s real. Death gets to be beautiful, it’s not awful, it’s a part of life. It’s a beautiful part of life. We all have to deal with it, and the only way we can make peace with it, is through humour. We have to be able to laugh at that.
During the lockdowns when things were closed, people revisited a lot of TV series. Were you tempted to revisit Lost?
I’ve been tempted, but I haven’t given in to temptation. You know what I have been watching as we speak, and it’s insane because it’s right in my era so I have no excuse of not watching it on the first go around. But, for the first time ever I’m watching Friends. For the first time ever. From the first episode to the last.
You’ve never watched Friends?
No. I’ve seen a couple of episodes, maybe three or four episodes but not all of them in order.
That’s quite shameful.
It’s shocking, isn’t it?
Especially since you work with Paul Rudd. Does he know? He’s going to be very upset.
How mad were people that he wasn’t at the reunion thing? People were furious.
Anytime Paul Rudd can be in something, Paul Rudd should be in something.
I was right there with everyone, and I’ve not seen it. Why wasn’t Paul there?
Speaking of Paul Rudd, it’s Wasp-mode for you next, have you watched the Disney+ series’, do you know what’s going on in the universe?
I’m trying to keep up. There is a lot of content. I’ve seen Loki. I’ve seen WandaVision. I have not seen… a lot.
Loki ties into yours, so that’s preparation for a role.
I actually watched Loki while making Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. On my days off I binged it with my family.
Did you get Michael Douglas to watch it? I saw he had no idea what was going on when he made the second film.
Oh, no. Him and Michelle [Pfeiffer] have no idea. They’re like “there’s a blue guy?” He’s such a baller, that guy. He’s like “tell me where to stand”. He’s amazing. But, I think we really made the best one, my gut says we did. But, I’ve only seen fifty percent of the film, the other half get’s done in post. It was the most challenging, but I think it’s going to be the best one.
South Of Heaven is available now.