Thursday 20 June 2019

From Luna to Los Angeles - Evanna Lynch

Ahead of the IFTAs tonight, best actress nominee Evanna Lynch talks to our reporter about her new life in LA, overcoming anorexia, and her long-distance love life

IFTA best actress nominee Evanna Lynch. Photo: Rupert Thorpe
IFTA best actress nominee Evanna Lynch. Photo: Rupert Thorpe
Evanna Lynch. Photo: Rupert Thorpe.
Class act: Evanna with the Harry Potter cast.

Patricia Danaher

'I grew up in a family of teachers where your mind, your intellect was prized. It wasn't about your looks at all," says Evanna Lynch. "So, [in the acting world] I've always felt insecure. I get to the point where I'm obsessive until I catch myself and say: 'You're focusing on the wrong thing, unless you want to be a Kardashian.' There's a place for those people in this world, if that's what their passion is, but I'm more moved by feelings and vulnerability and weirdness."

There's no doubting that Evanna (25), the Termonfeckin native who first made her name playing Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter franchise, is about as far away from a Kardashian as you can get.

When we meet - just after Evanna has finished her Weekend photoshoot in the Hollywood Hills - she is in a mild panic. Her mother is due to arrive from Ireland today and she is worried that the electric kettle she ordered online, so her mother could have tea, will not be delivered by the time Mrs Lynch lands at Evanna's home in Los Feliz.

The slender, porcelain-skinned actress moved from London to LA "on a whim" four years ago, aged 19. Since then she's landed roles in a few TV shows and a small number of movies.

"I really like it here in LA, but it doesn't feel like home," she says over a bowl of pasta and pesto and a glass of white wine. "I sort of don't want it to. I'm looking for a place that feels like home, but isn't too near home."

Her thoughts have been returning to home more than usual lately since she was told that she'd been nominated for an IFTA Film & Drama award for her lead role in Irish movie My Name is Emily. The ceremony takes place at the Round Room in Dublin's Mansion House tonight, and Evanna will be attending.

"I was absolutely thrilled and surprised to get the nomination for an IFTA this year," she enthuses. "I have such admiration for Irish filmmakers whose passion and devotion to their art fill me with inspiration. Being nominated has made me realise something I didn't know about myself; however far I station myself from home, however much I change and grow away from the influences that shaped me, at the heart of my work is a simple, childlike impulse to make my parents and the people I came from, proud."

The irony of getting cast as the lead in an Irish movie which she auditioned for via video from LA, is not lost on her, but then Evanna has never seemed like someone who takes the direct or the obvious route.

My Name Is Emily is an unconventional - and inspirational - project in itself. The film was written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice. Diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2008, the Greystones man is now completely paralysed. He typed the script for the film using iris recognition software, and, incredibly, directed the six-week shoot using the same system.

"I found the producer for this online and I asked for an audition," Evanna says. "You don't find a script like this very often, so I said "f*** it, I'm going to make a tape". It was a bit cheeky of me - I didn't know if I would ever hear back - but he emailed me back with lots of notes.

"Then, I did a video audition from here. Normally that wouldn't be ideal but in this case it really worked in my favour because of Simon's condition. I had read a bit about his condition so I was prepared for it.

"It takes him a very long time to speak, so there are big, long silences and that really tested me and brought up all my insecurities in the silence. Simon can't move anything except his eyes. He uses iris recognition technology to speak and the screen in front of him picks up which letter his eye is moving to. It's very painstaking and you just have to be comfortable with silence."

You get the feeling that silence is not all that disconcerting for this deep-thinking young lady.

Evanna grew up in Louth, the youngest of three girls, where both her parents were teachers. She has spoken at length before about how she struggled with her image for many years, including several years of anorexia from the age of 10. In fact, it was through writing fan letters about it to a supportive JK Rowling that she eventually landed the role of Luna.

"I'm very glad that all that happened to me before Harry Potter. Ten to 12, those were the worst years for me. I was very sick and all my parents' time and resources went on me - therapists, nutritionists. My sisters were young at the time and I think they were angry that I was making my parents so down. We were not a great family of talkers and express-your-feelings kind of people. Anorexia isolated me a bit, but then it also brought me closer to my parents."

She was treated successfully at a clinic. "My family's attitude afterwards, during recovery was very helpful. I went to the clinic for about three months and afterwards, some families would monitor everything they ate, weigh them every few days and my parents didn't do any of that. I think that was healthier, even though it was not what the clinic recommended.

"If everyone focused on your every bite and on you, then you can't get away from it. My parents had really nourished the art and the creative impulse. Acting actually brought me away from anorexia. I fell in love more with my dreams than my fears."

Evanna says she gets letters from families worried about loved ones with anorexia but she is reluctant to be seen as a spokesperson for overcoming the disease as she believes each person's experience is very different.

"You can't send everyone to the same clinic with the same programme and that's it. It's really up to the person, getting to know themselves and asking if they want to leave that side of themselves behind.

"I like talking about it so that people are aware and not ashamed, but I don't want to take on the responsibility of saying 'I know how to do this'. The nurses at the clinic did have that attitude of: 'I'm right, you're wrong. You're a sick person, you do what I say.' It just makes you want to strike back.

"I think it's a matter of having the right people around you, good therapists you can trust and work with and who help you see things in different ways."

Given the amount of beauty per square inch in LA, I suggest that it's not the best location to be feeling insecure about your looks.

"I used to think that being really skinny shows you have willpower, you're disciplined. In the film industry, so many women, that's their go-to, that's what gives them their identity. I realise now that being thin is not about being strong.

"I'm glad that I had that experience and that I have that perspective now. It is still a struggle. Pilot season was difficult. I was going up for a lot of stuff. I always put everything I have into every project and if I don't get something, I always think: 'oh they got it because they're prettier, because they're skinnier, because of their image.' I don't have that. As an actor you do have to have the full package.

"My therapist made the point that it's the insecurity that helps me resonate with outsiders, so I think it's good to have a measure of insecurity."

Even if Evanna is not totally at home in LA, she seems to have lost some of that insecurity. "'Don't say maybe if you want to say no,' is a quote from Paolo Coehlo that I really like. The LA experience for me has been about finding out what I want to say yes to and what I want to say no to.

"When I came here, I was quite naïve. Anyone who was nice to me, I would be their friend. Being here has made me realise I want to be more selective. I want to feel happy every day. I think there's a certain feeling of guilt in Ireland in our unconscious that we're not allowed to be too happy, we're not allowed to love our work too much. Being in LA and being around people who are positive and who are workers and dreamers, I feel like I can change things so that I am really happy.

"I feel like LA has made me more of myself and made me more comfortable asserting myself. Because the industry is so competitive and so full of people who know what they want, you have to find your voice.

"When I got into this industry, I was shy, a wallflower and I was lucky I had people to pull me out. I don't here. They expect you to know yourself and be yourself when you come here and I've really learned the power of that.

"This place is so full of opportunities and you can do everything. It's made me assertive and not so afraid to say what I want. It's made me grow up and stop being that little girl, waiting for things to happen. I used to think that's what actors do: you wait for someone to come along and declare you their muse. I've found that it can be more empowering and creative and the best actors are that."

Unlike her fellow Harry Potter co-star Emma Watson, she is less driven by a passion for further education.

"Emma Watson was so serious about pursuing her studies. Everyone else couldn't get out of school quick enough! She was so focused on that and had a bigger purpose beyond just being an actress. I like that about actors I work with. Acting isn't their world. It can't be. There has to be something else that feeds their work."

Coming off a huge franchise like Harry Potter is challenging in many ways. Not all directors are as gentle as David Yates, who she worked with on the last four Potter movies.

"I've had auditions here in LA where they are so rude. They look at you like you're nothing and they just want to get through you and that just makes me crawl inside myself. I was very lucky to have David Yates bring me out.

"If he sees something he doesn't like, he won't say it directly, he'll just talk to you and ask about the character. His philosophy is that you know the character best and that really gives you the power back and makes you think for yourself."

Would she like to become a director herself someday? "I would love to write but not to direct. My writing teacher at UCLA was a very bitter Hollywood writer who was like: 'If you can write it, you can direct it.' He'd had so many movies ruined by directors.

"I don't know that I would want that responsibility. I'm a free spirit and I do my own thing and nobody bothers me, whereas a director has to be in everybody's business. I would just like to write and act."

When she's not working, Evanna shares a house with a room mate and her cat, a Persian called Puff. What's her average day like? "I wish I was a morning person. I'm not. I wake up about 9am. I love exercise. That genuinely makes me happy - it's not just an LA thing. I go to yoga or a Muay Thai class. I just ran a half-marathon.

"I do some social media. I never Google myself - I'm really bad at image managing. I write for about two hours. I'm trying to start blogging. The day just goes. I read in the evenings. I have a room mate and I hang out with him and I cook.

"I'm vegan now and I've discovered you can be a lazy vegetarian, but you can't be a lazy vegan. You have to really plan your food if you want to eat healthy.

"Becoming vegan was always something I wanted to do, but I didn't want it to feel unpleasant or like I was depriving myself or sacrificing, which some people do. Someone gave me very good advice about going vegan: crowd out your old habits with new ones, before you start cutting out lots of food, start learning new recipes.

"I always cook in the evenings. I have a real sweet tooth which is kind of my downfall. When I'm travelling, I need to have lots of treats - they don't sell vegan chocolate at airports.

"I go to the cinema a lot and I go to too many gay clubs! I'm always in gay clubs because most of my friends here are gay men. I have a boyfriend, so I'm not always out there looking."

The boyfriend in question is British actor Robbie Jarvis (29), with whom she's been in a long distance relationship for the past three years. The couple first met at a ComicCon in Chicago.

"He lives in Cambridge and we see each other every two months, which kind of sucks but I also feel if we lived in the same place we might be like 'oh, I really liked you at a distance'. It's quite exciting when we see each other.

"He was in Harry Potter [playing the young James Potter] and he's been in lots of UK TV shows. He was in Upstairs Downstairs. He played a young JFK. I better plug his stuff! He has a pilot coming out called Harley and the Davidsons.

"It works for us, because I get more work than him! If the shoe was on the other foot and he was getting more work than I, I think I would get jealous. He's happy to come to my events and hold my purse. I don't think I would be happy the other way around," she laughs. "I wish it wasn't that way, but I've told him. I'm ashamed to say it - but it's true.

"Do you know Rhonda Rousey? She's a big UFC fighter and she has a phrase 'Do Nothing Bitches'. People criticise her body, but she was like: 'I'm proud of my body and every muscle has a purpose. I'm not a Do Nothing Bitch.'

"I just love that phrase and I said to Robbie: 'Sometimes when I go to your events and I'm just the girlfriend on your arm and I get that feeling like I'm a Do Nothing Bitch and I don't want to be that.'

"He is great for auditions and feedback. It's so much better taping auditions with him than doing it with my mum or dad. They try too hard and they don't know not to criticise too much. They constantly want to tell you what's wrong and what needs work. He's great for collaboration and encouragement."

The whole experience of doing an Irish audition, for My Name Is Emily, from LA was weird for Evanna - "especially because I got notes telling me to work on my Irish accent!" she laughs. "It really opened my eyes to what we have back home and made me think about where I want to be.

"I got my break with Harry Potter in London and I always thought, you have to go out there, all of this stuff is happening out there. I felt Ireland was very limited and small, so finding this script and crew really opened my eyes. Here in LA, a lot of stuff gets made. It's optioned before it's even written. It's not like that in Ireland. There you write it and you have to love it. The movies are fuelled by love and the passion, that's what breathes them to life."

The 2016 IFTA Film & Drama Awards taking place tonight. Ceremony highlights will be broadcast tomorrow, April 10, on TV3 at 9pm. 'My Name is Emily' is in cinemas now

Photos by Rupert Thorpe

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