Luke Evans is not the sort of actor that you catch dipping into the Kool-Aid. On location in Germany filming The Three Musketeers, alongside Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and actors Mads Mikkelsen, Orlando Bloom and Milla Jovovich, the Hollywood newcomer is concentrated on his performance, not the glitter sparkling from his rising star. “If it happens, it happens. It’s not really what I’m in this business for,” says Evans of fame. “I’m just in this to act, and to enjoy a career I’ve always wanted to have and it’s happening, and I’m enjoying it. Whatever else happens that’s out of my control.” While a shoulder shrug is a relatively standard response from any conscientious young actor in Evans’ position (especially one with the cushion of six upcoming theatre releases over the next two years to sit upon), an exception is found in the unaffected honesty of his comment.
Raised in the lush greenery of South Wales’ Pontypool, Evans has a no-nonsense ease about him that speaks to the “five and country senses” fellow Welshman and poet Dylan Thomas lionized. The salty candour of his conversation is layered with a debonair cosmopolitan charm (think Clark Gable in It Happened One Night) — introducing itself in the upturn of his enigmatic grin. “I like to dabble between the two,” says Evans of town and country. “I enjoyed growing up in the countryside but I’ve always been a city boy. I never really lost the balance between the two”
In the bright lights of London, a young Evans found a second home on stage in the city’s West End. Landing his first professional stage role during his third year of university, the actor went from Theo in La Cava to starring in musicals including Taboo,Avenue Q, Rent and the U.K. staging of Miss Saigon, intermixed with fringe productions such as Piaf at Covent Garden’s acclaimed Donmar Warehouse. After nearly ten years on stage, Evans made the leap from live audiences to location shooting and camera crews, culminating in a spectrum of releases starting with this year’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Clash of the Titans and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and on to Toronto International Film Festival entry Tamara Drewe. “It has been quite surreal,” he says of the acceleration of his film career. “And the speed at which the trajectory has been jumping the last 18 months has been quite surprising.”
Transitioning from starring in the original West End production of Boy George’s Taboo to the role of Apollo in Warner’s 3-D blockbuster Clash of the Titans has required a re-education of sorts. “I’ve learned a huge amount since moving to film,” he affirms. “It’s a different discipline, it’s a completely different form of acting.”
However accustomed to the mystery of the theatre and the energy of a live performance the actor may be, Evans is adjusting his skill set to fit his new medium with heralding success.
Cast opposite Gemma Arterton as Andy Cobb, the romantic lead in Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears’ (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) latest feature Tamara Drewe, Evans is on the brink of becoming a household name. A gala at this year’s Festival de Cannes, the dramedy has already piqued industry and media interest in the “new” British talent. The film’s North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival will only heighten the buzz.
Based on Posy Simmonds’s long-running comic series for The Guardian, Tamara Drewe steps into the lives of a cluster of neighbours living in a rural village in England’s Dorset County. Residential disturbances arise when the narrative’s eponymous heroine, played by Arterton, returns to the countryside an arrogant London reporter, transformed in beauty (nose job), as much as in sensibility (misplaced in the metropolitan bustle) — the combination of which sends the villagers (men at the top of the list) into a tizzy of operatic proportion. Evans plays one of three men Tamara has passion-struck. His opinion of the romance between Tamara and her multiple suitors: “Oh God, what is modern romance nowadays,” he chuckles. “It’s a difficult one to put a title to isn’t it?”
A standout in the film as the good-natured unassuming farmhand, Evans wears the role like an old glove. As Frears shared with the international press at Cannes, he took an instant shining to Evans’ salt-of-the-earth disposition, immediately recognizing him as Andy Cobb in the flesh. “I think that’s the part of Andy that is very much like Luke,” comments the actor on Frears’ initial impression. “I’m quite a humble guy and not much of a showoff…I’m just myself and don’t pretend to be anything I’m not, and I hope that’s what he saw.” Evans’ own relation to the character of Andy was equally swift. “As soon as I read the script I just got him, I understood him, related to him,” he shares. “It’s nice when that happens, it rarely happens that naturally.” He does point out though that similarities in character do not transfer over into personal style, however low maintenance he may be. He laughs, “I probably would wear better clothes than [Andy], and I wouldn’t be covered in mud all the time.”
Your average comedy at first sight, Tamara Drewe would not have found a place in Frears’ astute oeuvre if its subject matter did not cut against the grain. And so it does, in its meditation on the intrigue and theatrics of common rural life. Evans took to this subject matter readily. “I think there are not enough films that show middle England and middle class and lower upper class, [meaning] middle class who think they’re much more upper than they are,” he suggests. “I’m quite sure that as much drama goes on in Dorset as in the east end of London.”
On location in the English countryside, Evans and the small, tight knit Tamara Drewe cast fell into a familial grove nurtured by Frears. “Stephen was just great,” says Evans of his experience on set with the director. “He provided a very warm, trusting, safe environment that allowed you to feel very comfortable and experiment with what he wanted you to do. It was just so fulfilling as an actor, I really enjoyed every minute of it.” For him, being on set with Frears was a career milestone, one he has yet to get his head around. “Because of the speed this journey…my career has been, I couldn’t even have processed it 8 months ago, and now it’s [been] 7-8 months that I actually worked with Stephen Frears…it freaks me out.”
Surreal moments have become a regular occurrence in Evans’ daily life since being catapulted into the Hollywood hills. “It’s gone quite fast,” he says. “I have to pinch myself and have a reality check. I mean my God, you’re staying at this beautiful hotel in Munich, and I just spent my whole day sword fighting and horse riding with Christoph Waltz today, and I just think ‘Jesus, this is normal life,’ but I don’t feel like it’s normal life.” By the way, he will have you know, the horse he speaks of is a stallion and he’s a “total pro” on it.