After starring in Lost and Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, Evangeline Lilly is practically Comic-Con royalty, but she’s down in San Diego this year promoting a very different sort of project: The Squickerwonkers, a clever, creepy children’s book she wrote (with beautiful illustrations from WETA artist Johnny Fraser Allen). It’s a career change Lilly has been working toward her whole life, but it’s been long in coming — and this morning, she told Vulture what had to happen in her life before she felt courageous enough to put pen to paper.
The Squickerwonkers is an idea you’ve been carrying around since you were 14, but when did you decide that you could actually write this book and get it published?
What had to happen first? Well, I’d had this incredible opportunity that occurred with Lost where I suddenly had this fantastic job — a great-paying job in a great place, where if you lined up all the pieces, it looked like I struck gold — but I was unhappy. So that really made me ask myself, If all this makes you unhappy, something that is a lot of people’s dream job, what would make you happy?
Had it been your dream to have an acting job like that?
No, it was never my dream. But I knew it was a lot of other people’s dreams, so I thought, Well, I’ll give it a shot and see what happens, when the opportunity arose. But to know that I was in this fortunate, privileged position and [still] unhappy, I really had to dig deep and say, “Would anything make you happy?” And that becomes a bit of a scary question in your mid-20s, to wonder whether anything would make me truly satisfied in a job.
And what was the answer?
What I realized in that exploration is that writing is the one thing I have always done all my life, with no intention of ever getting paid for it. If I went for too long without writing, I would start to feel like something inside me was dying. I guess I just finally connected to that and realized, Hang on a minute. If this is the thing that I do anyway just for the joy of it, then that’s the thing I should try to do. And that realization came sometime in the middle of Lost. It wasn’t until about five years later that I had the courage to stand up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this writing. Does anyone want to look at it?” And I took baby steps. I looked into literary agents and tried my hand at script-writing, which is really not my forte. [Laughs.] It takes a while, and it’s scary to say, “I really, really want this,” and to know you might fail.
Now that you’ve got this creative outlet, has it changed the way you look at acting?
I would have thought it would make me say, “Great, I’m done with acting,” and it had the absolute opposite effect. Suddenly, I got 20 times more pleasure out of my acting, and I think it was because I was so satisfied creatively in this regard. Now when I go to work as an actor, I’m happy to … well, this is a horrible way to put it, but it’s like I’m happy to go to my day job.
I think a lot of actors feel that way. Actors have less creative control than people think, and recently there’s been this explosion of young actors who do different things on the side, like music, art, and directing. It’s a way to actually control what you make.
I agree. It is a very frustrating thing to be the face of a creative project and yet essentially have zero creative control over that project. Essentially, you’re a pawn in the system. Of course, once you reach a certain level as an actor, you can start throwing your weight around and have more creative control, but I’m essentially an introvert — which I think is surprising for a lot of people to find out — and I’d rather be behind the scenes. Even with this book, I was directing the process, the advertising, everything. I love being sort of the Wizard of Oz who gets to lay out the pieces however I want and then close the curtain, so to speak.
Since we’re at Comic-Con, I’m going to throw out a couple of things that people get really geeky about, and you tell me how much of a fan you are. Since you just wrote a children’s book, let’s start with the Harry Potter series.
[Shakes head, laughs.] I tried! I tried, because it was such a phenomenon and my father loved it and my sister loved it and my niece loved it. Everybody loved it! I saw the first movie and then I picked up the first book, and I couldn’t get into it. I kept saying, “But it’s a kid’s book! It’s so clearly a kid’s book. How does it satisfy your adult literary appetite?” I could never understand that. I could never bridge that gap. Somebody told me that the books started out rather kiddie and then got more sophisticated as they went on — which, if you think about it, is brilliant of J.K. Rowling, because the people who started reading those books started getting older, and they would be looking for something more sophisticated.
How about Star Wars, since J.J. Abrams, who co-created Lost, is currently directing Episode VII?
I do love Star Wars, although I’m not one of those crazy fans who knows everything about everyone. I barely could pull the Millennium Falcon out of my hat, if I had to come up with something. But of course I love Princess Leia, and when I found out J.J. Abrams was doing the next installment, I immediately picked up the phone and said, “I wanna be Leia! I would kill to be Leia, please let me be Leia!” [Laughs.]
Are you a fan of Star Trek?
There are some Star Treks I love, and there are some I don’t love. I love Next Generation, and I really like J.J.’s new installments. And I’m not just saying that because it’s J.J. — I’m brutally honest! The rest? I never got into them.
A switch-up: What musicians are you a superfan of?
Recently, I got really obsessed and hooked on this Canadian artist named Patrick Watson. He’s like a cross between Sigur Rós and Radiohead. I mean, come on! He’s brilliant. He’s got this harrowing, slightly spooky sound, but it’s also really angelic and beautiful. Adventures in Your Own Backyard, check that one out.
Any movie directors you’re obsessed with?
Do you know Wes Anderson? [Begins bowing] I would KILL to be in a Wes Anderson movie. I geek out for him!
How about comic books?
When I was a kid, the only ones that I ever had any interest in were Archie and Jughead, because of Betty and Veronica. I freak out when I see those Archie comics at the grocery store now — how are those still around? It’s because of Betty and Veronica’s boobs. Seriously, they’re perfect! Even as a little girl, I was like, “That shape!” They’re amazing.
Were you a fan of the Ant-Man comic book, since you’re rumored to be playing the female lead in Marvel’s upcoming movie version?
[Laughs, says nothing.]
Maybe you’ll have more to say about those after the Marvel movie panel this weekend?