The Irish Times Interview

Starring with Emily Blunt in Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a long way from the West End – or the tiny Welsh village where Evans grew up.

Dressed casually, and speaking with that musical Welsh lilt, Luke Evans cuts a pleasingly languid figure. Well, he can afford the effortless demeanour: it’s not as if his new film – a big-screen adaptation of the monstrously bestselling thriller The Girl on the Train – could be anything other than a monstrous box office hit.

As the new movie opens, Rachel (Emily Blunt), a lonely alcoholic, fantasises about a hot, young couple she observes on her daily commute. She believes that Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) have a perfect marriage. But then Megan goes missing. And between blackouts and half-remembered drunk calls to her ex-husband, Rachel may or may not be a suspect.

Luke Evans as Scott broods and rages accordingly.

“I guess he’s a man of few words. When he gets going he has plenty to say. But by then he has all these questions and he doesn’t trust anybody.”

As with Evans’s role in Stephen Frears’s 2010 drama Tamara Drewe, starring Gemma Arterton, we are quite a way in to the movie before he gets to wear a shirt. He recalls reading the script for the first time: “Okay. Sex here. Then sex. Then more sex. Lucky I had been going to the gym.”

Physicality is something of a specialty with Evans. His swagger allowed him to pass as Jason Statham’s kid brother in Fast & Furious 6 and 7; his deranged filmmaker was the best and scariest thing in Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise.

“I didn’t think I was going to be covered in blood for most of High-Rise,” says the erstwhile star of Dracula Untold. “Another film covered in blood. What the hell is going on?”

Evangelical kid

Evans was born to David, a bricklayer, and Yvonne, a cleaner, and raised in the tiny Welsh village of Aberbargoed. The family were Jehovah’s Witnesses and the young Luke would join them on their evangelical tours of the locale.

“From the age of, well, still a baby in a pram to the age of 15, I was knocking on doors,” he recalls. “Having doors slammed in your face, people shouting at you, kids laughing at you. It was hard. In the valleys you only had to look a little different or sound a little different or be a little different for people to treat you like a freak. I ticked all the boxes. I was segregated at school. People don’t want to be your friend. They don’t want to be seen with you. It was horrible.”

Horrible, but ultimately, character-building, he insists.

“It did something to me. Something good. I certainly didn’t think so at the time. But you learn to pick yourself up and brush yourself off. You get up in the morning. Put a smile on your face. And you go back to school, where you’re being bullied. Because you know there’s something better and this isn’t going to be forever. Eventually, this is one of many challenges life will throw at you. I’ve met a lot of young adults through the Prince’s Trust that have had their confidence destroyed by bullying. It’s horrific. But it does get better. I’m proof of that.”

It helped that Evans found his voice: “I started going to eisteddfods, which are Welsh singing and acting competitions. And I won all of them. I had never won anything for rugby or cross-country or swimming. But suddenly I have 16 trophies.”

Emboldened by these early successes, he left for Cardiff, found a job and began paying for lessons with Louise Ryan, a singing teacher whose pupils included Charlotte Church. In 1997, he won a scholarship to the London Studio Centre. He had just turned 17.

West End boy

“I was ready,” he smiles. “And I loved every second. If I could have moved at 10 I would have. A city life for me! I don’t know why. My parents were super-contented in their little terraced house. They still are. They would never leave our village. They love it. But I had wings I couldn’t spread.”

Living and training in London (“especially being at musical theatre college”) allowed Evans, who is gay, to spread his wings “. . . both personally and professionally”. He became a well-known fixture in such West End blockbusters as Miss Saigon and Rent. Hollywood was never part of the plan for the Hackney resident, until his well-reviewed turn in a rare straight dramatic role, Small Change at the Donmar Warehouse, brought agents and agencies a-calling.

“I never thought about film,” he says. “It’s so bizarre. It happened so suddenly. I remember watching Emily Blunt on TV while I was in some two-bit show. Now I’ve done scenes with her.”

Luke Evans may not have been ready for the movieverse but the movieverse was apparently ready for Luke Evans. A late overnight success, aged 30, he became the go-to actor for blockbusters and franchises, playing Apollo inClash of the Titans (2010), Aramis in The Three Musketeers (2011), and Bard the bowman in The Hobbit Trilogy.

Between these high-profile gigs, he still finds time for valleys: “I was home just last weekend,” he says. “I went to a lovely pub at the top of a mountain with my auntie and my cousin and his family. I love walking into my parents’ house and sitting down where I have always sat down. Your life might change every second of the day and you’re doing all these crazy things. But that past – that real life, where you came from – is just as real and strong as ever.”