Evangeline Lilly Steps Into the Ring in ‘Real Steel’
(Photo: DreamWorks Pictures)
Once the series ended, she turned her attention to feature films, starting with the robot boxing spectacle "Real Steel" opposite Hugh Jackman and some real, full-sized mechanical pugilists. Lilly plays Bailey Tallet, who inherited her father's boxing gym where Charlie Kenton (Jackman) trains his robotic combatants. With the family-friendly fight flick now available on Blu-ray and DVD, I got to speak to Ms. Lilly on the phone from her home in Hawaii. She spoke about her process for choosing projects, how acting in a scene with Jackman was like boxing, the challenge of screaming while pregnant, and the differences between working with robots and smoke monsters.
Matt McDaniel: You've had incredible luck with the projects you've been involved with: you had a series that became an instant classic and a movie that won Best Picture. So what is it that you're looking for in a project?
Evangeline Lilly: Oh man, I think I'm looking for too many things, [that is] probably the answer. I haven't done a lot of projects and maybe that's the reason. I think that some of the primary things I'm looking for, first and foremost, is a story that inspires me or intrigues me or challenges me. I have to respond to the story. I love writing and I love reading and I've been an avid reader [of screenplays] for about decade now. So when I read a script, if I think the story is lacking, it really wouldn't matter to me who is involved or how big the picture was going to be. I just couldn't find myself interested in doing it. So, that's the first thing.
And then I think, all of those other pieces: who's involved and what it's shooting and where it's shooting and what my role would be and if I connected to that role and all those other questions you ask yourself come second to the story. And this one in a particular, "Real Steel," was just a story that I loved. I was almost in tears at the end of the script when I read it and it's this silly little kids' movie that really touched me and it really connected with me. And so I thought that was pretty amazing.
I don't feel a lot of films nowadays or scripts that are coming out that are good, not cynical, not angry children's movies -- movies that aren't sarcastic or teaching kid's values that I just don't understand or don't agree with. I think this movie is like the movies that I used to watch. It's like "E.T."… and it's like the movies that we watched in the '80s that taught us, "Hey, be a better person and strive to be the best you can be." And I thought it was just an inspiring story for kids.
MM: And your character has a nicely layered backstory. Did you bring anything to that? Did you suggest any new dimensions to her?
EL: I think probably on the day I did it. I didn't have a ton of conversations with Shawn [Levy, the director] about her backstory or about the depths of the character. We both agreed, though, that we wanted her to be not your typical tough girl or boxing girl. I've played tough girl, I've done that, and I think it was important to me that it should be really normal and just really somebody that other women could reach and could understand and could relate to. And on that day, we have a lot of discussions about how things should play out, and I think that with the chemistry between Hugh Jackman and myself, things just naturally came about that we maybe didn't even plan for, and I think she became a lot more vulnerable than we ever expected her to be.