IN CONVERSATION WITH LUKE EVANS
interview by JANA LETONJA
Welsh actor Luke Evans has made a powerful impression in Hollywood solidifying his status as a leading man across all genres. Luke will star in Apple’s action-thriller drama series ‘Echo 3′, set to premiere this Fall and plays The Coachman in Robert Zemeckis’’ live-action retelling of ‘Pinocchio’, which premiered on Disney+ worldwide on 8 September.
Luke, prior to your film career, you successfully carved out an enviable stage career starring in West End plays and musicals, where your powerful, trained voice and engaging stage presence made you the perfect choice for leading roles. How do you look back on this stage of your career? Which musical or play stands out the most to you?
I mean, I had a career in the theater. I wouldn’t say I was at the top of my game, I think I was on the way there. Theater, musical theater is a very difficult business and only a few people really rise to the top of the list. And I certainly wasn’t at the top of the list by a long shot. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t capable of being a leading man on stage, but it was very difficult to get to that place. I knew that I was also an actor and I knew that I could act without the music. I didn’t have to be in a musical, although I did enjoy it very much. There was a long way to go, but I had realized being on the West End stage and doing what I was doing, I was struggling a little bit.
It was at a point when I was about 25 or 26, where I made a decision that if I wasn’t able to feel financially secure in this industry, then I was gonna leave the industry and I was just gonna do something else by the age of 30. The theater business is very enjoyable, but it’s not an easy business. Every time you finish a job, you’re back to square one and you have to audition and hope for the best. After that musical finishes, you’re back to square one again. It felt like a never ending circle of repeating and it’s exhausting. But, it’s also very rewarding when you’re in a musical. I think one of the most rewarding musicals I did was ‘Miss Saigon’. It’s a beautiful story, beautiful music and very powerful. I played the lead Chris in that and that was very fun.
Would you say that this never ending circle was what made you pursue acting?
I always wanted to do other things. Other than musicals, I wanted to do plays, I wanted to do television, but it wasn’t easy for me to transition into those things. It was a play at a small theater in the West End called ‘Donmar Warehouse’ that was about two Welsh boys. I heard about them auditioning for this and I just thought this is my moment to do something else. So I sent a card to the casting director and they saw me. And then three weeks later I got the role, which is a straight play with no music, no singing, no dancing, just a very simple play. And it was that play that changed my whole trajectory. From that play, I got an agent in America, I got a manager, I changed agencies in London. And within a year, I was in my first movie.
Do you ever miss being on stage?
I do. It’s a very immediate feeling being on stage. It’s the word live theater. It’s live, but it’s also alive. You feel alive when you’re on stage, that every single breath you take is being watched by another human being in the audience, watching you. And if you tell the story right, you can make those people in the audience in the dark feel something. You make them cry, you make them laugh. You make them sit on the edge of their seats. You make them reflect on their own lives. You make them think about things they may never have thought about before. And that is a job that I have, and I love it because it is a gift to be able to allow people to escape for a few hours, to contemplate life through a story or to see a story that moves them emotionally. It is extraordinary, it’s a wonderful business for that simple fact alone. I’m very proud of the fact that I am an actor and I get to do these things.
You just wrapped production on Apple’s action-thriller drama series ‘Echo 3’, which will premiere this Fall. This 10-part series takes place in South America and follows a brilliant young scientist, who goes missing along the Colombia-Venezuela border. Her brother and her husband, both with deep military experience, struggle to find her against the explosive backdrop of a secret war. What can you share with us about this series at this point? And how was the experience of filming it for you?
It’s a very beautiful, sweeping, powerful, complex, emotionally driven story about three people that are all connected somehow to the military in different ways, but also connected to each other through blood, through marriage and through military connection. The script was written by Mark Boal, an incredible screenwriter, Oscar winning screenwriter, who wrote ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Detroit’. He knows this world very well, he’s written about it very well, in much depth before. So it was very exciting for me to take on this role for 10 episodes, which is a long time. That’s basically 10 hours of filming, which is basically five movies. We basically shot the equivalent of five movies in 10 months and that’s a lot of story and that’s a lot of character and that’s a lot of digging deep and really seeing the different layers of a human being.
It was wonderful, it was very enjoyable. But it was also very challenging. When we moved to Columbia, we shot in some very difficult places around the country, weeks and weeks of night shoots and jungles full of dangerous animals and poisonous insects and snakes. And then moving to the Rosario Islands and working in the depths of the city of Bogota was extraordinary. It was an amazing journey, an exhausting journey, but an amazing one that I am very proud of. You don’t get a gift of a role like Bambi every day and I felt very lucky that I was able to give this character life and go on the journey with him and bring such depth to it, because as much as it is amilitary geopolitical thriller, it’s core storyline is about people, what you will do for someone you love, what will you forgive, what will you accept and how far will you go in the face of adversity to save someone else that you love dearly. And that’s a question that runs through the whole series.
On 8 September we’ve also been able to see you on Disney+ as The Coachman in Robert Zemeckis’ live-action retelling of ‘Pinocchio’. How would you say the story follows the classic and with what twists does it differ from it?
It is always a complicated thing doing a live action remake of something that’s much loved and old and been around a long time, like ‘Pinocchio’. I’ve also had experience already because I was in the the live action remake of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which was received wonderfully. The remake is very loyal to the story of the animation. But as you can imagine, when you have a wooden boy and then you have a cricket that talks and a fox and a cat and a whale and a goldfish and so many other creatures, and a world that semi exists and then a fantasy world, you need someone like Robert Zemeckis, a director who understands this kind of world and whose imagination is as big as the ideas of Pinocchio, to take it and create the live action version. And that’s what he did. He did an extraordinary job.
My character, the Coachman, is a very dark sinister character, but comes with all this charm and fun and charisma. Even though he is quite scary to look at, he convinces these children that if they come to this pleasure island, they can have all the fun they want and no one’s there to tell them no. They can drink and they can break things and they can just be unruly and they can get away with it. But there’s this terrible ulterior motive that the Coachman is gonna turn them into donkeys and sell them to the salt mines to make money for himself. And that’s a really scary thing to have to play. But there’s a big difference with my character and the character in cartoon. I look very different to him. Also, I get to sing a new song that’s been written for the film, which was brilliant. And it was magical and I enjoyed it very much.
Last year, you were part of the star-studded cast in Hulu’s limited series ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’, produced by David E. Kelley. The 8-episode series took place at a boutique health-and-wellness resort that promises healing and transformation as nine stressed city dwellers try to get on a path to a better way of living. What was the most special thing about this limited series, especially starring alongside such powerful women in the industry?
I’m always in awe and amazement when I get to work with actors of both sexes that have already had incredible illustrious careers, because they are my idols and they are the people I’ve looked up to and respected their ability and their craft. So to actually be in the same room as these actors and these wonderful women, especially Nicole and Melissa, to work alongside them and do scenes with them and watch how they work, it was like a masterclass every day. I remember scenes with Nicole and every single take she did was different. It was unpredictable, it was dangerous, it was exciting. It was thrilling to have to think on my feet as to how to react, respond to her. And it had to be different every time because her ability to just turn the key and change it all, was incredible to watch and an absolute joy to work opposite. I’ve always said when you work with brilliant people, you become better.
Since starting your career in Hollywood, we’ve been able to see you in many notable roles, among them as the villain Owen Shaw in ‘The Fast & Furious’ franchise. Which TV or film role do you personally believe impacted your success the most?
I think it’s a collection of roles actually. ‘The Hobbit’ was a huge moment and when it came out, it did change things. I think definitely ‘The Fast & Furious’, because of the commrcial level. And the way I look in the franchise is similar to how I look in real life. And so I wasn’t hiding behind leathers and long hair and a bow and arrow, but I was actually just sort of like like myself. I think I was much more identifiable on the streets, in the airports and basically anywhere I went. I think it really was ‘Fast & Furious 6’ that sort of changed that for me as. As a character I’m still talked about. I meet somebody in the street in Cartagena in Columbia and they knew me as Owen Shaw. Then after that came ‘Dracula’, which was a huge success for me. And people recognize me from that still, eight years later. So I think those two films, off the back of ‘The Hobbit’, really was the moment where it changed everything. I can’t really go anywhere anymore without either ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Fast & Furious’. It’s like those characters really stuck with people around the world.
I would really love to know, who that you’ve starred alongside with has made the biggest impression on you?
I’ve worked with some brilliant people. Again, I’d say it was a collection of people that I’ve enjoyed working opposite. I really enjoyed working alongside Nicole Kidman, for sure. Because of the reasons I just told you earlier. Helen Miren as well. It was absolutely brilliant to be on screen with her, playing such a close character to her character was a joy. And John Hurt, it was absolutely joy to work against him. Often the older actors are the ones I really enjoyed spending time in their company, listening to their wise words.
With your background in musicals, in November 2019 you even released your debut studio album ‘At Last’. This album brought together an eclectic collection of modern and classic songs, which you boldly reimagined. What inspired you to record an album in the first place? And what was behind the choice of songs that you decided to take on with your unique delivery and vocal style?
Firstly it was presented to me as an idea because, I guess, off the back of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. And I’d sung quite a few times publicly that year. I’d sung for the Queen’s 92nd birthday. I was propositioned by a music producer who said “I think you should make an album. Shall we go to a few labels and see what they say”? And sure enough, they were interested. And so that’s how it came about. On the first album I was guided with some great producer and a person from the label. And that’s the way we chose the music. We really wanted to reimagine a lot of very famous songs people knew, but they wouldn’t have heard them the way I sang them.
I’ve now recorded my second studio album, which I recorded a few months ago and which will be coming out in the next couple of months. And that was more of a personal choice for me music wise, because some of the songs on the first album really resonated with people. There were certain songs, which really sit very well with where my vocal ability comes from. Very big powerful ballads, just like this wonderful, beautiful sweeping melodies. So I’ve basically written tracks for this album. I have original tracks on the album, as well as covers of very famous songs that I’ve always wanted to sing, which is a little different to the first album. This one is much more where I sit personally, emotionally and vocally. So I’m hoping people enjoy it. The second album is very orchestral, but people will really be able to sit back and go “Wow, I love this song, it reminds me of something from my past”.
Being born in Wales, living in London and now traveling the world for your career, which place in the world is in your opinion the most special one to exist?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I left home, I left Wales at 16, but a little part of me is still there in Wales. I feel very loyal to my country, even though I don’t live there anymore. I’m very proud of being Welsh. I feel that my Welsh culture and my Welsh heritage has given me an awful lot creatively to work with vocally. I feel like my voice came from singing these big rugby anthem songs when I was a kid. It’s where I found my voice, so I’ve got a lot to thank those songs for. Wales in general is a beautiful place. There’s lots of beautiful places in Wales, which I love visiting, but London has been my home for a very long time. And I’m very connected to this city, where I became an adult. It’s where I studied my craft and this city gave me my career. I have a love for this city and it’s full of such a diverse mix of people and cultures. I feel very connected to it, even though I don’t spend so much time here in London that much anymore.
For me, traveling the world is like one of the best gifts ever. I mean, apart from flying, which is a bit boring. But when you get to the destination and you experience something new or you see something new, it’s incredible. And my job has given me that gift. Every time I get to go somewhere new, I embrace everything. From New Zealand, to the glaciers, to Australia, to the beaches of the coast of Byron Bay, to the Welsh countryside, to the Welsh coastline of Pembrokeshire. My job takes me everywhere and I just make the most of it. And traveling makes you realize the world is a big place, but also wherever you go, people may look different, but we’re all the same. And I think that’s quite a nice feeling, to feel like you’re part of a very big family.
Soon, you’ll begin production on the film ‘5lbs of Pressure’ and are also set to star in ‘Our Son’. What can you tell us about some other upcoming projects of yours?
I can’t tell you much about these two because there’s still negotiations, just hoping that we can fit it into the schedule, around my album launch. ‘Scrooge: A Christmas Carol’, which is a Netflix animation film, comes out at the end of the year.
All I can say is that these roles I’m taking are very different and I’m jumping from different spectrums to different kinds of genres, to different kinds of characters, from supporting to leading. From thrillers to romance, to heartbreak, to comedy. I’m mixing it up and I’m doing it more now than I’ve ever done in my career. It’s very challenging and I’m gonna have to focus my energies very specifically in the next few months to get through it all. But I’m very excited because I will finish this year with some of the most challenging, interesting and diverse roles that I’ve ever played in my whole career.
Talent: Luke Evans
Stylist: Caterina Ospina
Groomer: Sally O’Neill at Caren
Styling assistant: Censi Lucena
Photography assistant: Grant Hamilton
Editor: Timi Letonja