Seriously, if all you had on your résumé was “Lost,” a relatively small part in THE HURT LOCKER, REAL STEEL, two HOBBIT movies, and ANT-MAN, you aren’t doing two bad. And it just so happens that those titles make up a great deal of Evangeline Lilly’s major work to date. She clearly has an affection for genre work. In ANT-MAN, she plays the pivotal role of Hope Van Dyne, daughter of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne, the woman who was once Wasp to Pym’s Ant-Man. Estranged from her father after effectively helping to vote him out of heading his own company, Hope is beginning to see the villainous ways of the current head of the company, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and so she and dad are part of a plan to stop his evil deeds with the help of a new Ant-Man, the master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).
When a small group of online journalists visited the ANT-MAN set in Atlanta last October, we sat down with Lilly in a location set that was doubling as the Pym Technologies headquarters. Not only was she fairly open and honest about her role in the film, but she was a complete delight to talk with and well aware that many of her recent works are special-effects-heavy studio films, of which she may be the reigning queen (she’s at least in the royal family). Please enjoy our talk with Evangeline Lilly…
Question: So it sounds like Hope has a bit of a negative history with Hank.
Evangeline Lilly: That's true, that is true. Hope and her father don't get along very well and haven't for many many years—kind of haven't for most of her life—and they've been thrust together because of circumstances right now. But it doesn't mean that they like it, and it doesn't mean she likes it.
Question: Last night, Peyton told us that this movie is as much Hope's movie as it is Scott's movie.
EL: Oh wow.
Question: Big talk, but can you elaborate on the role that you do?
EL: Well, I'm only in three pages of the script, so I don't really know what he's talking about [laughs] I'm lucky enough to have gotten involved with the film when they were still rewriting it from the original Edgar Wright draft, and I met with Paul Rudd in New York City before they really came out with the official new draft. So, I got a chance to say, "Hey, why don't you beef up my character [laughs] and give her a really full arc?” I think one of the things that is easy to have happen in a superhero story is that the female character, whether she be a heroine or not can often be just like "the wart on the man," she's just his accompaniment, she's just there when he's there, and there is no real arc or story for her.
There is such an appetite in the comic world from fans to see fully realized, fully developed female characters, and Marvel are very supportive in that. All the suggestions that I put forward and the things that I would ask for—“Well, what about this? We could do this with her”—they were very amenable and open to it. And then they would take it even farther; they would go away and come back to me and say, "Oh we've really done something incredible with Hope.”
So I got lucky. I think I started out believing that I was walking into a film playing a supporting character, and it's now become like a trifecta with myself and Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd, and I'm not going to turn my nose up at that; it's good.
Question: Some of the movie thematically is very much about fathers and daughters on every front and about the responsibility of mentorship and who you look up to. So your character is stuck between Hank, her real father, and then it looks like in this you're working with the person that he mentored [Cross]. Is that dynamic difficult in this movie, to manage between the characters?
EL: Yeah, it is actually; it's a very astute question because I just finished talking to Corey about that very thing. This is a new section of filming, us being at Pym Tech, and I've spent a lot of time up to now filming primarily the dynamic between Hank, Scott, and Hope and now having it be Hank, Hope, and Darren and playing this dynamic, I'm still trying to find my feet because it is a bit complicated and a bit confusing on so many levels. They're very complicated relationships, as most father/daughter relationships are. There's no easy answers.
Question: When we first meet your character, do you work for Pym Tech? Where do you start off in this story?
EL: Um, you're under embargo, so I'm just going to answer the question. [Everybody laughs]. I don't know what I'm allowed to say. Yeah, I do work for Pym Tech and I'm a fairly senior-level scientist at the company. I have a lot of power in the company; I'm one of the board members; I'm also the daughter of the man who created the company, which helps. But in her own right, she's become a very capable, very intelligent young woman, so she very much stands on her own two feet in the company. Hank hasn't been around for a long time.
Question: Speaking of being Hank's daughter, you're also the daughter of Ant-Man. And in this movie, he's passing on Ant-Man to somebody who is not in his family. How does Hope feel about the idea of Scott Lang coming into their lives?
EL: She hates it. [laughs] That's actually become a difficult question to address in the script, Why isn't Hope Ant-Man? In the day and age when Ant-Man was first invented, it would've made sense, why would he hand it off to his daughter? That wouldn't make any sense at all. But in 2014 it's like, "Well, why wouldn't he hand it off to his daughter, especially a daughter as intelligent and capable as Hope?" Of course, we answer all those questions but I can't tell you how or why.
Question: What sort of relationship do you have with your mother?
EL: When we begin the film, um, Janet Van Dyne is not alive. So she has lost her mother, and that marks the character in a way that affects everything she does. Her mother has become just a figure in her mind more than a human being, and I think that she has always suffered from that loss and from not having that presence, that female figure in her life.
Question: We were told that Hank harbors animosity towards superheroes because he lost his wife. Does Hope share that same animosity because she lost her mother?
EL: No, in fact, I think she doesn't understand her father's animosity towards superheroes in that way, and I think that for the most part that's because she really doesn't understand any of what really happened in her life. A lot of stuff has been kept from her. So she's in the dark, and I think that results in a lot of bitterness and confusion about her father's behavior.
Question: Hope has taken her mother's name Van Dyne, instead of Pym, but she's still working for Hank's company. Is this sort of her way of taking her mother's legacy and using it to correct her father's in her mind?
EL: It is so multilayered. When you finish watching this movie, you could dissect that question 20 times over and have 20 different answers for it. I love that. I love the multi-dimensions of Hope Van Dyne because what motivates her to do all of the things that she does in the film, and even in the backstory that you realize as you're walking into the film, there is no clearcut answer. She’s angry and hurting and has made a lot of decisions based out of that anger.
Question: You’ve worked with some pretty great actors in your career, and now you get to work with Michael Douglas in this. Can you talk a little bit about what it's been like so far working with Michael?
EL: Yeah. I distinctly remember the day, the scene, that I was working on when it hit me that I was working with Michael Douglas, and up to that point, I hadn't given it any thought. I think I was just like, "Yeah, great cast, looks good, let's do the movie," and I started working without really thinking about it. And then I had to do a fairly intense “actor” scene—and superhero movies don't often have a lot of “actor” scenes—and he had to bring it and I had to bring it, and somewhere in the middle of that scene, the penny dropped and I went, "Holy fuck, I'm working now with Michael Douglas!”
But the thing is from the minute he steps on set, he brings an energy into the world that puts you in your place—and I don't mean that in a negative way, I mean that in the most incredible way—and you are immediately transported into the world that you're supposed to be performing in instead of this world, because he goes there and he goes there 100 percent. And I think at this point in his career, it would be very easy for a man like Michael Douglas to dial it in on a film like this and just go, "Eh, it's a paycheck, just come and get my job over and done with and get out." But when they roll those cameras, even when they're not rolling, when they just call for us to rehearse, he really brings it and he opens his mouth and you go, “Oh, that's how it's done; that's what we're supposed to be doing."
Question: We know that Scott Lang and Darren Cross get into the action with the Ant-Man and Yellowjacket. Does your character get to do any physical stuff?
EL: She gets some physical stuff; she didn't originally. That was one of the additions that came through me making suggestions, and then Marvel coming back and going, “Oh, wait until you see what we did." And they've made her a pretty physically capable character. But, as much as Hope Van Dyne at some point in this movie would probably like to have a shot at Yellowjacket, she doesn't get it.
Question: What are her thoughts about Darren? We know she's not crazy about Scott, she's not crazy about her dad.
EL: [Laughs] She's not crazy about anybody, is she? She’s such a bitch! She's kind of horrible. I'm not exaggerating, there was a point when we were filming when I turned to Peyton [Reed, director] and I was like, "Peyton, do I ever get to play a color other than dower? I would really like to smile for once." She is an island unto herself in this film, and what I love about that is that you're never completely sure where her alliances are, because she doesn't seem to like anybody. It makes for a wonderful ambiguity in the character that I have a great time playing. And I love the idea that you might walk away from this film and, still at the end of the film go, "But wait, is she good or is she bad? I'm not totally clear."
Question: We were talking about the science behind Ant-Man, like the quantifying things and qualifying things. Peyton mentioned that you had a lot of questions early on about the science behind Ant-Man. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that at all.
EL: I just really like ants, and I really like science. I like quantum physics a lot, so I was interested, I was curious about the quantum world and about the physics behind how it all works—not like actually sitting me down and teaching me the physics, but I think the thing that got me most excited about the film was when I came for a screen test before we started shooting, they showed us the pre viz videos, and I got really excited because they showed us the stuff with the ants, and for me that's the coolest part of this film. You could take all of us out of the movie, and it'd still be really kick ass if you had the ants; they're really the best part of the movie.
Question: When you signed to this, did you go back and look at the other Marvel movies and get a tone, or had you already seen them?
EL: No, I had seen one of them—Iron Man 1 from way back in the day. So I had to even go back and rewatch that one because I didn't remember. I really had to do my research because initially I was like, "Marvel." I didn't realize they were making outstanding films. I’d assumed they were making popcorn-chewing films, and therefore they filled theaters, which didn't give them a lot of credit in my mind because to me that's a very different art and craft than creating a great film. So I went back and I started rewatching and I went, "Oh, wait a minute. These guys actually know what they're doing; they're making good movies."
One of the ones that impressed me the most was the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA film, where they address such incredibly topical political shit. I was going, "Are they getting knocks on the door from the FBI? You’ve got to quit it with that stuff; you're poisoning the minds of young Americans," because they really went for it, and I was really impressed by that. I was a political science major, so I loved that they politicize their films and they have something to say. They don't just entertain us.
Question: What are they saying with this film?
EL: What are they saying with this film? I think that this film is more focused on emotion than politics, because it is so focused on father/daughter relationships. There, of course, are political messages in the film, and I think the main one is "Is there such a thing as absolute power that is non-corruptible?" And, of course, the answer is "No, there isn't, and therefore absolute power is nothing but terrifying and dangerous." We explore the idea of, “Can’t you put power in the hands of good people, and then it's okay?" And really in the film the message is "No actually, there's no such thing as a totally good person.” There is a little bit of evil in all of us, and it's very easy to draw that out.
Question: Did any of your ideas for how to beef up your character in the script come from watching the other films and seeing maybe the way that women are portrayed in some of the other films, or did that happen before?
EL: I really love story; I actually write as a passion, as something I actually am more passionate about than acting. So it came from looking at the story and looking at her arc and saying, "Yeah but it's missing a lot of elements.” It didn't really come from another character or another film; when I read a character, I need to get excited about playing her, and in any way there's anything boring about playing her, I can't waste my time. Life's too short.
So I wanted to get excited about her. I think there were just elements of Hope originally that were undefined. I had a lot of questions about her relationship with her father. When you walk into the film, why are they where they are in that exact moment? What is the history? What has happened to lead to that moment? And when you start asking those questions, you have to create those answers. It just suddenly fills in the character in the present and opens up so many more story points for the character in the present.
Question: Was there anything specific that really just nailed the character for you, like you saw this within the character, and that's what made you connect with her?
EL: I liked that she was mysterious and I really pushed the envelope on the ambiguity about whether she's good or evil. I like that ambiguity. I think it's so much more interesting to play than an overtly good or an overtly evil person.
Question: It would seem like being in Jackson’s HOBBIT films, you got a crash course in the giant special effects, green screen, created-environment thing. This is more grounded, and it feels Marvel tries to ground these in the real world, even when the fantastic elements come into play. For you, when you do finally get into some action, is it more physical, is it more real world, or have you drawn again on the playtime, green screen thing you've been doing?
EL: For the most part for me, it's all been very real, very physical—human beings not tennis balls; sets, not green screens, which is a great blessing. I've done so much acting in my career with green screens, starting with the Smoke Monster and screaming in terror from something that's not there, to REAL STEEL with the robots, to THE HOBBIT, to this. I like fantasy; I like worlds where sometimes you need the special effects to make it come alive, but it's not so fun acting it.. But this film's been great. I have yet to do a scene really where I can't see what's going on.
Question: When you join a Marvel movie, you’re not just joining a Marvel movie, you’re joining a Marvel universe. Has Marvel given you any idea how Hope might fit into the larger Marvel universe going forward?
EL: Well they always make you sign multi-picture deals, and that always gives you an idea. I know that, for example, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne were the founding members of the Avengers, they created the name, they got the people togethe. That was their baby. So I'm assuming Ant-Man is probably going to show up in a Marvel film somewhere along the way. Does that mean Hope will? Not necessarily, but maybe. I think the Avengers films are great; they're such a ride.
And the universe of Marvel. My introduction into this world was Comic-Con 2014, where I was ushered into a room, and in this room there was like 200 people and 50 percent of them were mega stars, just total rock stars in the world today because they play either Captain America or the Hulk or one of these myriad of characters. And I really had to take a step back and go, "What have I walked into? What is this place?” It's wild, and there are all these crazy rock stars walking around who are all older than me, which was really weird. I feel too old to be in a superhero movie, and they're like 10 years older than me. [laughs]
Question: Do you think Hope could take out the Black Widow?
EL: Um, no but it'd be a really sexy fight.
Question: You talked about being in the movies, but what about in the TV shows that they're working on. Would you have any interest in...?
EL: Are they doing TV shows?
Question: Yeah, they have two ABC projects.
EL: Oh god. I have sworn off television. I mean, never say never, but it's too much of a grind, man, I don't know who wants to work that hard.
Question: One episode per season.
EL: Okay, maybe an episode.
Question: How much romance is in this film, if any?
EL: Not a ton, not a ton. No triangle! It's pretty ambiguous. I think any time you put a female in a film, there's probably gonna be some level of romance. It’s the same as life—you put a man and a woman in a room, and somewhere something's going to bubble to the surface, generally speaking. But it's not really a big thing in this film, it's not really a big focus, and you’ve got to watch the film to find out exactly how.
Question: Can you talk about working with Paul? You talked about meeting on the writing process. What’s the experience been like bouncing off of him?
EL: As you can imagine Paul's an asshole. [Everybody laughs] He's horrible. I took this job primarily because Paul Rudd was in this movie. He was on my short list of actors I wanted to work with, and I think one of the main reasons for that is that, in my mind, I thought it would just be so much fun, and he'd be such a nice guy to work with. And he is. I think it does him a disservice though just to talk about how nice he is because I think it's really obvious. And I think what maybe gets taken for granted is what a great actor he is.
I think that because of his work in the comedy genre, people often forget what a consummate independent actor he is and some of the more meaningful films he's done and how good he is at it. So I was excited to work with him on all levels, and there's been zero disappointment. He's both kind and incredibly talented, and it turns out he's a great writer. I don't know if you guys know that, but he’s writing on this film and he's a really good writer. I told him,"This has been a great test for me; now I know I can never work in a comedy, because I can't keep a goddamned straight face." He makes me crack up in the middle of takes all the time, and then I get all embarrassed that I'm blowing take after take after take because I can't stop laughing. But it's a great way to spend your day.
Question: You talked about how at the beginning of the movie, Hope has this interest in why is her father is giving Scott the Ant-Man mantle? By the end of the movie, has her opinion on superheroes or interest in wanting to take up the suit changed?
EL: Almost everything about the way she thought at the beginning of the film has changed by the end of the film. She goes through an incredible arc; she has to face a lot of her demons, and she goes through that journey with Hank and Scott, two guys who she's not very keen on, which makes for great scenes. She's a changed woman by the end of the film but she's still dower, she's still horrible [laughs].
Question: You said that one of the reasons you worked on this was ants and that you like ants and that you're fascinated about them. So did you get to play scenes with ants? Did you get to have some time with them?
EL: I have the best ant scene in the film and you can quote me on it. [laughs]
Question: Can you talk a little bit about working with Peyton? You said you were involved with this film early, but what's it been like with him coming into this film?
EL: Peyton has been a pleasant surprise because I didn't know anything about him when we first started. It was similar to how it was with Marvel: I very quickly started watching movies; I rented like six movies from iTunes and sat down and watched them all in a weekend to try and catch up on Peyton and what he does. But nothing gave him more clout and more credit than when we were on the Comic-Con panel together, and he was announced and Kevin Feige said, "And for those of you who don't know, this is Peyton's 20th anniversary Comic-Con" That's 20 years he'd been going to Comic-Con religiously.
And then they showed this cover of a comic book that he had sketched when he was a young man, when he was in a punk band and he was a drummer, and he drew himself as Ant-Man playing a tiny little set of drums. He was like a diehard Ant-Man guy. And then I was still like, "Okay so you're qualified, but I don't know if you're going to be fun to work with or if you're going to be any good." And we got to set and we started working and then we had this big dinner with all the bigwigs on the film. And he walked into the dinner late, and the only free chair was beside me, he sat down beside me, and I remember distinctly thinking, "I'm really glad Peyton is sitting beside me because I really like this guy," and I went, “Oh, I really like this guy." And then I kinda realized, "It's come around”—not come around, but I had to take some time to figure him out. And he's wonderful to work with, he's very collaborative, he's very fun, he's very smart and very funny. And I like to be around people who make me laugh; it's one of my favorite things on a set. I hate it when people take themselves serious on a film set, like, "Guys, really we're not curing cancer." We all know that, but we still act like it all the time, right?
Question: It sounds like Janet Van Dyne won't be playing that big role on the film, but was just her comic book character, was that an influence for you in this character?
EL: No, it wasn’t. I am still trying to figure out how to get my hands on original Ant-Man comics. I've been given a couple recent Ant-Man comics—no offense Marvel, but they are total crap. I really want to read the original ones because, I got through two of them and I was like, "Dude, you can't force feed me another one of these magazines”; it was terrible. But Janet's not in them and neither is Hank and neither is Scott. It’s just a completely different fabrication. So if anybody has any old Ant-Man comics that they want to lend me…
Question: I can give you the names of some comic shops in Atlanta.
EL: Great. They would have them? I'll send a driver. Thanks very much guys, thank you.