The Girl on the Train star Luke Evans: ‘I wasn’t looking for fights …’
POSTED BY RitaFILLED UNDER

Not every actor knows the secret of his or her appeal. Not every actor wants to. But Luke Evans gets it in one: “I’ve been told I give off a very masculine vibe.” He says this almost reluctantly, as though he has been asked during a job interview to list his most appealing qualities. “I’ve got an expressive face and I’ve played a lot of angry, tormented creatures. The feedback is that I present myself as a very strong man who can love as much as he can kill. He can care for his children and he can also turn around and fight 15 men.” He continues more quietly in his Valleys lilt: “I don’t have children. I hope I will do at some point.” This moment of reflection is all the lovelier for being entirely unsolicited.

We are in a hotel room where the 37-year-old Evans is dressed smart-casual: dark polo shirt, light grey trousers, black suede boots. He is not a demonstrative man either on screen or off, so it can appear that he has achieved success by stealth. Even in noisy blockbusters he maintains a studied composure. As Bard the Bowman in the Hobbit trilogy, he slew the dragon without making a song and dance about it. He was sweet and excessively shirtless as the token hunk inTamara Drewe but he has also been psychotic in the grisly No One Lives and a brace of Fast & Furious films (six and seven, if you’re wondering).

Now he finds himself in a sure-fire hit: an adaptation of the bestselling thriller The Girl on the Train which he says is “about broken people struggling with their demons”. The movie begins with a lonely souse (Emily Blunt) fantasising on the commute into town that the house she passes each day belongs to the perfect couple. In fact, Megan (Haley Bennett), the woman who lives there, is woefully unhappy despite the attentions of her husband, Scott — which is where Evans comes in. “They’re madly in love but he knows something isn’t right. They argue fiercely. They fuck passionately. He loves her and wants it to work but she’s given up. He doesn’t have a lot of people in his life. She’s everything. I felt sorry for him.”

For that reason, it wasn’t much fun to make. “It was a dark one.” That’s several dark ones in a row. Up next is the revenge thriller Message from the King (“ugly” and “lurid” according to reports from Toronto), in which Evans plays a sociopathic dentist. Then State Like Sleep, where he is a sleazy nightclub owner. Before that, he was the deranged documentary-maker Richard Wilder in the intoxicating High-Rise, which really took its toll.

“A couple of times during shooting, I went out drinking but I was so into the character that the second I had some alcohol, this personality was present. I wasn’t looking for fights or anything. I was just much larger than life than I would have been ordinarily as Luke.” Thank heavens he managed to fit in some light relief in the forthcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast in which he stars alongside Emma Watson as Gaston. Is he, as the role demands, especially good at expectorating? “Especially good, yes. I’m only not expectorating today because we’re in this nice hotel. Ordinarily I’d have you in the corner with a bucket trying to catch it all.”

He enjoyed preparing the look of Wilder: the mutton chops, the Tom Selleck moustache. “It’s the final layer. I’ve always felt a part of me is still on show until those touches are in place. Then I can disappear.” His hair now is short, black, shiny. A fortnight ago, it was platinum blonde for State Like Sleep. “It really is the lid to the box, isn’t it? That’s what my hairdresser says. ‘How’s your lid?’”

Evans is quick to emphasise that his interest in his appearance has nothing to do with vanity. It’s just that he spent a decade in musical theatre before his first film, so he never got the chance to watch himself. “All you’d hear was other people’s opinions. ‘Oh, it was wonderful!’ And I’m thinking: ‘Was it? Which bit?’ You want to dig them for more but then you sound self-indulgent. I was desperate to know whether the audience could see what I was feeling – whether psychologically it was coming through.”

I remark that his stage career predates theatre-to-cinema broadcasts and he laughs. “Trust me, they wouldn’t have shown anything I was in.” He’s talking about the West End barnstormers: Rent, Piaf, Miss Saigon. Then he corrects himself. “Hold on. They did film Taboo for DVD. Really badly.” That 2002 musical, co-written by Boy George and based partly on the singer’s life, was Evans’s breakthrough. He was 22 when he played Billy, who flees his suburban home to become one of London’s new romantics. Or, as Evans calls them in an endearing slip, “true romantics”.

There were similarities between himself and the character. “Billy from Bromley. Luke from Aberbargoed. We both came to the big city. And Billy has that song.” He begins singing very softly, almost to himself: “If I stay here, I’ll be nothing, I’ll be no one, so don’t stop me, it’s safe in the city … ” He has, by his own admission, a tremendous voice. When he arrived at the London Studio Centre at the age of 17 on a scholarship, he couldn’t keep up in tap class and he was always falling behind in technique but he could wipe the floor with his classmates when it came to singing. So the effect of him performing those lines in this tiny hotel room is rather like seeing an Olympic sprinter jogging on the spot. Even idling, he’s impressive.

Evans always knew he would leave Aberbargoed, a small town in Caerphilly. As a child, he was bullied intensely. His parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses who would take him along with them to spread the word on their neighbours’ doorsteps every weekend. “Imagine. You’re knocking while they’re watching He-Man on a Saturday morning. Who wants to be interrupted when they’re watching He-Man? I don’t blame my parents or their religion but I hated it. I absolutely hated it. There were streets I wouldn’t walk down in case the bullies were there. I wouldn’t play out in the evening with my friends. I’d go half an hour out of my way to avoid those streets. Then I’d have to stand on a bully’s doorstep in a suit with my parents behind me on a Saturday morning.” He winces. “That’s not what you want to do as a kid.”

Is there an element of redress in the roles he plays now? “It’s possible, yeah. If a bullied kid reads this article and sees that someone like me went on to play these quintessential, masculine characters … Well, maybe that shows you don’t have to let it affect you. That bully is only one person you will meet out of thousands in your life.” Evans coming out as gay when he was 22 may have had much the same effect on anyone hiding their sexuality. “I don’t blast it from the rooftops because I’m a very private person. And it doesn’t affect anything. But it’s life. This is who I am as Luke.” That habit of referring to himself in the third person suggests a slight dislocation between person and actor. In fact, he admits that he only truly feels like himself when he is with his family back in Wales. “I mean, I can put it on. For a day, a week, an event, a dinner. But in the pub with my cousin or in the garden drinking cheap booze by the bonfire – that’s where I’m at home.”

  • The Girl on the Train is released in the UK on 5 October.

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