Despite the reaction to her not-in-the-book character, Tauriel, Evangeline Lilly reckons audiences will fall in love with the feisty female elf, writes Michele Manelis.
Purists of the J.R.R. Tolkien novels may baulk at the creation of Tauriel, one of the integral elf characters in the upcoming movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
But Evangeline Lilly, 34, who plays the newly minted kick-ass heroine, is a welcome addition to the testosterone-laden cast.
Lilly sighs. "Yes, that's right. Tauriel didn't exist in the Tolkien world. She was completely an invention of Peter [Jackson], Fran [Walsh] and their writing partner, Philippa [Boyens]. But there are other characters in the movie that he expanded, like Radagast the Brown, who is only one sentence in The Hobbit. Peter turned him into a big character but no one seems to be quite as annoyed by that as they are by the complete invention of a character," she says, defensively.
"I tried not to read anything online about it but every once in a while something would trickle through and someone would say to me, 'Just ignore everything they're saying about you'," she laughs. "And I'd think, 'What are they saying about me?'
"On the one hand, I get it. If you're a fan of the books you're going to have an opinion. And listen, when I heard that The Lord of the Rings was coming out on film, I refused to see it. I was like, 'No way will anybody do those books justice'. I'd never heard of this Peter Jackson guy from New Zealand. I wanted to protect the images I had in my mind but I ended up going because my whole family went as a Christmas holiday outing and I would have been the only person left out, so I relented," she laughs. "And I was so amazed. Everything I saw was what I had envisioned, so for me, Peter earned the title of the ambassador of Tolkien's work.
"So, when I was called to play an elf, I couldn't believe it. When I was a little girl I would fantasise at night about being one so it was very exciting. And Tauriel is so cool."
In fact, until Lilly got the call, she was toying with the idea of retiring from acting. Known for her role as Kate Austen in the hit TV show Lost, in which she starred from 2004 to 2010, it seems that her career, for the most part, didn't bring much personal satisfaction.
"I was planning on retiring after Lost. In my mind I was going to living a gentle, quiet life of writing and new motherhood," she explains. Lilly gave birth to a son, Kahekili, in Hawaii, in 2011, whom she is raising in Hawaii with her boyfriend, Norman Kali, a former production assistant she met while shooting Lost - and after she split with series co-star Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry the Hobbit in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"But then I got the call, and frankly, I can't think of any other role that would have pulled me out of bed at that moment, especially with a 3-month-old son. Looking back on it, I think it was destiny because I had such a positive experience shooting this film in New Zealand.
"New Zealand was the perfect place to be with my son in his first year of life. It was like being transported back in time to America of the 50s. There's a greater focus on community, family values. It's an innocent, almost naive sheltered culture that provides for a really nurturing environment for a family. And Kiwis are particularly fantastic with celebrities. They never treat you like a celebrity; they just speak to you like you were their next-door neighbour," she smiles. "The only time I remember any paparazzi was when maybe Orlando Bloom or Miranda Kerr showed up in town."
It seems her experience was transformative in both her professional and personal life.
"Working on The Hobbit really changed my mind about acting. I found that it could be a rewarding job for me and it could be a healthy environment, which I also found when I worked on Real Steel. Hugh [Jackman] opened my mind to the idea that acting could be a pleasurable experience and now with The Hobbit, it solidifies that concept."
Lilly enjoys living the quiet life away from Hollywood. "I'm not chasing after stardom, that's really not my cup of tea. Primarily, I like being a mama to my son, Kahekili, and I look forward to more kids in the future. Actually, I'd like six, if all goes according to plan."
But for now, Lilly is optimistic about how the world will take to her character, elf Tauriel.
"Tauriel is the voice of the audience. She does what's right and that fits in with the Tolkien books, which are all about good and evil. I'm so proud of the character and I think people who have an open mind will fall in love with her. She's so lovable because while all the men are on quests for selfish gain, she is selflessly fighting for justice and for what's right on Middle-earth," she says. "I have come out of the process feeling totally vindicated."
Who: Evangeline Lilly as elf Tauriel and former star of the television series Lost
What: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
When: Opens today