Lost and found

Lost News

Official News Poster
The Age (Australia) has this nice article about Lost's Evangeline Lilly:
Lost and found
July 31, 2005

As an unknown, Evangeline Lilly believed going Hollywood meant selling your soul. Now, thanks to Lost, she's a star. So, Karl Quinn asks her, how's the soul doing?

If new actors came with a warranty, Evangeline Lilly's would still have a couple of years to run. The 26-year-old Canadian was so new to acting when she landed a starring role in Lost that auditioning for roles and not getting them still counted as a "fun" experience in her book. In fact, she considered the whole thing a bit of a lark. "Acting wasn't actually a goal of mine, it wasn't something I'd pursued," Lilly says when Preview meets her in the swanky Circa restaurant in St Kilda during her whirlwind promotional tour of Australia. "Until, on a whim, I said, 'Hey, I'm going to try this, I'm going to go out and do some auditions and see what happens'."

What happened was she got an agent, she did some auditions in Los Angeles, including one for Lost, and "a month-and-a-half later I was in Hawaii. I mean, just instant". And here she clicks her fingers. "Instant."

There's nothing gloating about the way Lilly tells her tale of overnight success. But there is something a little spooky. She talks about "signs", "paths", "fate". Things in her world seem to happen for a reason; nothing is by chance. It's a view born out of what she refers to as her "faith" - she was raised in a good Protestant family and, at the age of 18, she spent three weeks in the jungle in the Philippines with a church missionary group.

But it's also oddly in sync with the underlying themes of Lost. No wonder the series' producers were so convinced they'd found their girl when they met her.

Though Lilly had no acting credits to speak of, Lost creator J.J. Abrams was sold the moment she begged to climb a 15-metre tree in her audition. She swears she wasn't bunging it on, and claims she does all her own stunts on set; as one of three girls born to a grocery manager father and a cosmetician mother, Lilly says she developed a tomboy streak to satisfy her father's craving for a son. "I love insects and trees and sleeping under the stars," she says. "I've had no problems playing the tough girl who's running with the boys all the time."

But getting the OK to play the tough girl was a little harder. As a Canadian, Lilly was every bit as foreign in the eyes of the American Screen Actors' Guild as you or I. As an inexperienced Canadian, she was rubbing salt in SAG's wounds. "When I got the job I almost couldn't take it because they refused me a visa," says Lilly. "They said, 'Why can't you find an experienced, trained American actor? Why this inexperienced, untrained Canadian girl from nowhere?' And it was a massive battle that Disney waged to get me a visa, all driven by the producers of the show saying, 'We have searched the globe, she is the one. This is the girl we want'. And I'm sitting there blinking in the headlights, going, 'I don't understand what the hell is going on'. I really didn't. I just kept trying to keep up, because it was so fast."

Eighteen months on, the pace is hardly less hectic. Shooting the first series of Lost took nine months. When it wrapped, Lilly says, "I packed my bags for three months and I've been on the road ever since". As soon as she finishes this round of press it's back to Hawaii to shoot series two for another nine months.

Before she decided to try her hand at acting, Lilly was studying international relations at university in Vancouver. She was determined to do something "on the humanitarian side of things", but was less interested in getting her degree than in learning for its own sake. She was broke, she says, driving a rusty 1982 Corolla with a smashed rear window. She appeared in a few commercials and did some work as a movie extra, not as a way of breaking into acting, she insists, but "because it meant I could get to do my homework and go to university".

She loved being a student, but not for the frat-party side of things. "I didn't speak to a soul," Lilly claims. "I would go to class, I would do my work, I would come home. I was very private, very insular."

Did people think you were stuck up?


Were you?

"No. No. I was just very private. I was very comfortable and very friendly with people but for the most part I'm not a huge communicator."

Still, she wasn't unaware that she had a certain appeal. Agents, producers, casting directors regularly approached her to ask if she'd thought about acting or modelling. "And I was really uninterested. I thought the industry was superficial and materialistic and it was corrupt and it had really sort of raped our culture of any morals and values."

What changed her mind was a long, heart-wrenching conversation with her boyfriend of the time. He asked her why, when she so fervently believed in signs, was she ignoring the fact that she was being called to try her hand at acting. He listened to her reasons and then told her, "I think you're full of s***. I think ultimately you're afraid of your own success".

And that, says Lilly, was spot-on. For while the rest of us may struggle with a fear of failure, high achiever Lilly was wracked with a deeper fear - the fear of being disliked. "As an adolescent I had a really good taste of success in everything that I endeavoured to do," she explains. "I was a strong student, vice-president of the student council, the star of the soccer team, the star of the school play. I was well known in my church circle. Everything I did, I was a perfectionist, I had to do it right, I wanted to be the best."

She pauses for breath at the end of this litany of horror and blushes. "It's a weird time to talk about," she goes on, "because I look back on it now and I feel like I want to vomit. It just sounds so cheesy and awful. And I got to a point where I realised people didn't want me to succeed. The people around me would see me attempt something, anything, and hope against all hopes that I would fall flat on my face. And I remember thinking, 'I would rather be mediocre and average and normal but have people care about me than reach great measures of success and grandeur but be all alone in that place'."

But then along came that boyfriend with his cut-to-the-chase analysis, and now here is Evangeline Lilly sitting at a restaurant in St Kilda. Talking to me.

Well, no one can say she wasn't warned. When she was offered the part of Kate, J.J. Abrams - whose other television credits include Felicity, Alias and 24 - took Lilly aside. "He said, 'Have you ever heard of Kerry Russell (star of Felicity)? Have you ever heard of Jennifer Garner (Alias)? Well, those are my girls. Are you ready for this?' He said to me - and I think this is the kindest thing any human being has ever said to me - 'If you're not ready, turn around and run for the hills now. Because if you take this on, your life is never going to be the same again'."

So, was she ready?

"There's a part of me that wants to go, 'No, I was not ready for it and I'm still not ready for it'. And then there's another part of me that thinks, 'My head's still above water, I haven't fallen off a cliff and I haven't slit my throat, so obviously I am surviving and obviously I am coping'."

The worst thing about her new life, she says, is that she's had to exchange occasional but deep interactions with people for frequent and shallow ones. "I had to learn superficiality," she says. "It absolutely tore me in half, broke my heart. I remember calling home to my parents, saying, 'I have to become a different person to be in this industry, to do this job'. I've had to learn these techniques for survival that are tragic, in my opinion. They're tragic."

One of the techniques she's learnt is to avoid talking about her private life in anything but the vaguest terms. Although she's on this promo tour with her Lost co-star Dominic Monaghan (the Lord of the Rings hobbit who plays washed-up rocker Charlie), she refuses to confirm or deny that the two are, as widely rumoured, romantically linked. Nor does she want to talk in any detail about her faith or her humanitarian work. "Anything that's sort of sacred to you, as soon as you talk about it in the press it loses a part of its magic and its beauty in your life, because it becomes public property and part of everyone's life."

It's a fair point, well made. But given that she still seems to feel the industry she works in is inherently corrupting, how long can Evangeline Lilly remain in it without losing sight of the person she used to be?

"I feel like I have a ticking time bomb inside and I feel like it's going to go off in five years," she says. "I keep saying, 'Syndication, syndication, syndication'. If we can just take this show to syndication then I can go and have babies and disappear from the world forever more because I'll be set for life financially.

"There are beautiful things about what I do as an actor, as opposed to what I do as a celebrity," she adds. "But I have other priorities and goals and challenges that are waiting for me to attack. So I do feel like there's a limited time in which I'll be able to exist in this industry before being lost in it. No pun intended."