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Friday 27 April 2018

Luke Evans puts his Welsh stamp on dragon fighter Bard in The Hobbit

Will Lawrence

Growing up in the Rhymney Valley in south Wales, Luke Evans was not allowed to read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or indeed any other fantasy literature.

His parents, David and Yvonne, were religious and allowed their son no truck with swords and sorcery. Quite how they would have reacted to news that their son would go on to take a starring role in one of JRR Tolkien's best-loved stories is anyone's guess.

"I had no interest in fantasy at all as a child," begins Evans, 34, who plays the dragon-fighter Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second instalment in director Peter Jackson's latest fantasy film trilogy. "Tolkien didn't really form part of my youth.

"I was brought up in a household where the magical world was not something that we delved into."

As he matured and teenage rebellion loomed into view, Evans did eventually turn to Tolkien. "I read The Hobbit," he says. "The Lord of the Rings terrified me too much, just because of the sheer size of it."

The Lord of the Rings has indeed proved a colossus of 20th century fantasy literature and of 21st century fantasy film-making, with New Zealander Jackson releasing his three-part movie adaptation between 2001 and 2003.

Jackson has now brought its predecessor, The Hobbit, to the big screen, employing Tolkien's vast collection of writings to make a trilogy that carries The Hobbit story right up to first chapter in The Lord of the Rings.

The first Hobbit film took more than $1bn at the worldwide box office, justifying the studio's decision (on financial terms certainly) to release three separate films.

Evans' character enters the fray in the second film, which opens next week, when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) pitch up wet and bedraggled at Lake-town, an enclave that is suffering under the tyrannical rule of the Master (Stephen Fry).

"You meet Bard exactly as you meet him in the book, which is nice," Evans explains. "The dwarves crash on the edge of a river and they don't know where they are. They are a bit disorientated and they look up and all of a sudden there is this huge, ominous figure peering down with an arrow pointing at them."

Evans underwent extensive training with sword and bow for his role in The Desolation of Smaug and its 2014 sequel, though he is no stranger to action-adventure film-making, having pitched up as rough-handed rogue in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood and as Apollo in Clash of the Titans (both 2010).

As his star rose, he then bagged bigger action roles, playing Aramis in The Three Musketeers, Zeus in Immortals (both 2011), and, most recently, the main antagonist in this summer's Fast & Furious 6.

"It is hard to put it into words what has happened to me in these last five years," he says. "But I feel as though this is my time and this is my moment."

So popular was his performance in Fast & Furious 6 that the studio behind the franchise cast him as the lead in its forthcoming big-screen rendering of the Dracula story, which will play out as a fantasy action-adventure on its release next year.

"If you had asked me six years ago what I would have been doing, it would not even remotely be in this world," continues Evans, who has featured in several major London stage productions including La Cava, Taboo, Rent, Miss Saigon and Avenue Q.

"But to have been part of all this is amazing. Everybody knows about New Zealand and The Hobbit and Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings, so to actually have been part of it for such a long period, to live there and to have friends that I will have for life because of that experience, is a wonderful thing."

His proudest achievement on The Hobbit, he says, is his use of his Celtic brogue. When he auditioned, in-between his lines of dialogue he spoke naturally, with his Welsh accent.

"And Peter Jackson really liked it," he says.

"A lot of characters in the Rings trilogy and in The Hobbit, have Irish, Scottish, Yorkshire accents, but they didn't have a Welsh accent, so the film-makers thought this might be the perfect time to put the Welsh stamp on the film.

"Overnight Bard became a Welsh-accented character and I'm quite proud of that."

Irish Independent

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