"They were the first victim of my career," sighs Luke Evans ruefully.
He was very attached to his tropical fish; at the end of each day he'd melt into a beanbag and gaze at them endlessly. But as the movies got bigger, stealing him from his London home for months at a time, they had to go. "These discus were beautiful. The fish man came into my house and scooped them out into bags, gave me £20 for them. I said, 'Just take them, it's all too much...' So the fish tank is now in the attic and shall stay there until I can afford to not work, when I'll look at fish all day long."
After breaking into the film world in 2010, Evans was suddenly everywhere: five films in that first year, including Clash Of The Titans, Robin Hood and Tamara Drewe. Summer 2013 found him snarling at Vin Diesel as Fast & Furious 6's bad boy, while this week's Hobbit sequel sees him play the altogether more heroic Bard The Bowman. His first leads follow soon: he recently wrapped Dracula Untold, which takes the bloodsucker back to his roots, and is now filming a remake of The Crow. From nowhere, this 34-year-old Welshman seems to have waltzed into Hollywood and gobbled up all the franchises.
"Well, I had a lot of ground to cover," he says. "It happened overnight in a way, but for 10 years I was struggling through theatre. All those wonderful experiences, living on kebabs and all that shit. But it is sometimes being in the right place at the right time."
'I feel like I've put Aberbargoed on the map for something other than once having had the biggest slag heap in Europe'
Born to a bricklayer and a cleaner in Aberbargoed, a tiny village in the Welsh valleys, Evans partly attributes his tenacity to his upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness. His family didn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas, and his education was miserable. "I was often looked at as a leper by kids at school, because I was a Jehovah's Witness. They didn't like it – you were 'weird'. And on Saturday mornings you'd be knocking at their doors. I remember standing there with my mum and dad, thinking, 'Oh my God, I know whose door this is, and I'll have to see them on Monday.' It was terrible."
Terrible but character building? "Well, I'm still here, and I'm smiling," he says, explaining that being bullied gave him thick skin and that having doors slammed in his face prepared him for rejection. "When I didn't get a job I thought, 'Don't worry, there'll be another one.' I still live by that now. Nothing really fazes me any more."
Evans had always wanted to sing, so at 16 he left school, quit the Jehovah's Witnesses and got a job to finance some singing lessons. He won a scholarship to The London Studio Centre, graduated in 2000 and rose up the theatrical ranks for nine years, starring in the likes of Rent and Miss Saigon. Then, off the back of Small Change at the Donmar Warehouse, he auditioned for the 2009 film adaptation of Dorian Gray. He didn't get the role, but his audition tape did the rounds in LA. "A lot of people said, 'Who's this guy? Where's he been?' That's how it all began."
In the new Hobbit he plays Bard The Bowman, a character with a particular set of skills (well, one) – a small role in the book that's been beefed up for Peter Jackson's expanded interpretation. "We haven't added a whole plotline that doesn't exist, but Bard's story has more breathing space to move," says Evans, who was on set for almost a year. "It's a very exciting part of the film, and we really do give Bard his moment." Also, for the first time on film he was asked to use his own accent. As a result, Bard's family are Welsh. "I feel like I've put Aberbargoed on the map for something other than once having had the biggest slag heap in Europe," he laughs.
Did he have a strategy for conquering Hollywood? "Definitely, because I was starting in the business way later than most people. My team have been very clear in where they saw me." He's on screen for all of 12 seconds in Clash Of The Titans, but merely having the chance to exploit that movie on his CV set off a chain reaction.
"I was 30, a fully fledged man, I wasn't a twinkie kid. I didn't have a pretty face, I had rugged lines. I'm not a Twilight boy, I'll never be as good looking as those lads, and that's fair enough. I'm this dude that can play a farmhand and a handyman and sometimes a Greek god. And now I'm playing Count Dracula," he grins, very happy with his lot. The fish will have to wait.
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is out in the UK on 13 DecThis article was written by Alex Godfrey, for The Guardian on Saturday 7th December 2013 08.00 Europe/London
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