Mr Luke Evans
With <i>The Girl On The Train</i> adaptation, the actor embarks on his next chapter.
Since bursting onto movie screens seven years ago, Mr Luke Evans has played a lot of guys you wouldn’t want to mess with. He’s been a Greek god, twice. He was the British baddie in two The Fast And The Furious films. He had the title role – a hacking, brooding, vampire-in-the-making – in Dracula Untold, and donned body armour again to play staunch Bard the Bowman, killer of Smaug, in Mr Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
And now, as a guy-next-door who may or may not have murdered his wife, Mr Evans is the most explosive figure in the current thriller The Girl On The Train – an adaptation of Ms Paula Hawkins’ unputdownable bestseller. In the movie, Ms Emily Blunt’s snooping, derailed heroine isn’t sure whether to try to get him interested or stay the hell away.
Similar uncertainties present themselves when we meet one evening at Soho House in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The broad-browed 37-year-old looks rugged in a grey henley, but is sporting an alarmingly yellow blond dye job. (He’s in the middle of filming in Toronto, he explains, playing a sleazy nightclub owner opposite Mr Michael Shannon in a psychological thriller called State Like Sleep.) He is drinking green tea, albeit apologetically. And when the topic turns to action movies, he’d rather nod to his stage training than go into the usual spiel about fitness regimes and combat classes. “Stabbing someone in the chest, tumbling to miss a bomb, or whatever it is, you have to hit your mark every single time. You have to remember a sequence of movements and have accuracy, consistency, and replication. Fight choreography is dance,” he concludes. “And I can dance.”
He can sing, too. This will be less of a secret come next March, when Disney releases its live-action Beauty And The Beast, in which Mr Evans plays the hulking, preening villain Gaston. It’s the sort of meaty musical role he’d been waiting for, and he backed out of an upcoming film by his friend (and High-Rise collaborator) Mr Ben Wheatley in order to do it. Ask Mr Evans whether seven years off the stage has weakened his vocal chords and he laughs indulgently. “They’re made of well-used leather,” he says. “They’ve never been out of use for long, in fact. It’s just that, as Gaston, I got to sing more often, and in front of people, instead of on my own in my living room.”
Of course he sings, Mr Evans half jokes: “I’m Welsh.” Rural Welsh, in fact, from a village of a few thousand inhabitants. The only child of a bricklayer and cleaner, Mr Evans played rugby as a boy, almost by default. “I wasn’t brilliant at it,” he admits. The lyrical tradition of Messrs Dylan Thomas and Tom Jones appealed to him much more, and he started studying the stage arts properly at age 16; a year later he was on a full scholarship at the London Studio Centre. Mr Evans doesn’t recall any of his classmates there hailing from a mining town. “Just me – a little Billy Elliott of the Valleys,” he jokes.
Working in the West End was intense yet gratifying: the proximity to other actors, the repeat performances. It was a far cry from the air travel and time alone that would come with blockbusters. The character-building struggles of his twenties (scrounging to pay rent, being turned away from clubs) must seem distant indeed to him at the moment.
Scripts are flying in from all corners these days. They’re all he reads. Earlier this year, during a rare break between shoots, Mr Evans took a few weeks “to just sit back and take a breath and enjoy” the run he’s had to date. In retrospect, he says, the working year he spent in New Zealand filming the Hobbit trilogy stands out. It wasn’t just the heroic role in a celebrated global franchise. It was the epic surroundings, the sense of a grand adventure so far from home.
He took long walks with Sir Ian McKellen on days off. “I really loved his company and listening to his stories: the things he’s done, people he’s met,” Mr Evans recalls. Sir Ian, 77, is possibly the most respected openly gay performer in the business. Mr Evans is more reserved on the subject, at least in the press. Many years ago as a rising one to watch on London’s West End stage, he spoke in at least one interview about coming out to his parents. Lately, though, he has avoided the topic of sexuality. “If somebody talks to me about my personal life, well, the clue is in the title: it’s personal, it’s private,” he says when the subject is tentatively broached. “I’m protecting myself, not because it’s anything that I’m embarrassed about, but because it’s mine.”
Message received and fully understood. Mr Evans is more forthcoming when the conversation turns to fashion. The three-piece suits he pulls off so well come from Savile Row. (He credits London tailor Thom Sweeney, along with Dior and Armani, for turning him on to the double-breasted look.) He attributes a few of his recent style experiments to the temporary blondness. “Subconsciously, I’ve started to wear clothes I wouldn’t wear with black hair” – clothes such as baggy T-shirts, high-top sneakers, and the combat trousers he sports during our interview. As confident as Mr Evans is that he’ll always appreciate Italian tailoring, some preferences are clearly not set in stone.
Five years from now, Mr Evans muses, he’d like to be living in a warmer climate. Somewhere by the sea, ideally, and wouldn’t it be nice to feel settled enough in one place to have a dog? “There’s this unconditional love, no questions asked,” he explains. He knows exactly which dog he wants. Not the breed – the individual. “I fell in love with someone’s dog once, and I sort of want that dog. Not another dog – that one,” he says.
He is currently single, and while this lasts, he’s treating it as an opportunity for “finding contentment with myself, and not relying on anybody else to validate it”. He adds, “I think being an only child has hindered that slightly, because I’ve always wanted to be around other people.”
Despite his fast-rising stock, there is something essentially and endearingly homegrown about Mr Evans. He wishes there were more old folks in his life, and not just celebrated ones. Sir John Hurt is another favourite interlocutor, and his “dream” is to work with Sir Anthony Hopkins, both of them deploying their native Welsh accents. But he also squires his mother and father to premieres and aims to speak with his grandparents on the phone once a week.
“One thing I thought was nice about New Zealand was that everybody stopped to say hello,” he says, sounding more like one of the pensioners in his east London neighbourhood than a Hollywood leading man. But if Mr Evans recognises the oddity of the contrast, he doesn’t show it. When discussing his path from macho blockbusters to a Disney musical, he says: “I’ve given a lot of my life to this business, and I feel like I’m quite a versatile actor. So I don’t really get hung up on this typecasting thing.” Forget fight scenes: keeping that whole spectrum of performances in play, as Mr Evans is doing at the moment, might well be the ultimate act of choreography.
The Girl On The Train is out now in the UK and 7 October in the US