Evangeline Lilly has become a pivotal part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stealing the show in Ant-Man and now getting promoted to double-billing for Ant-Man and the Wasp. But it almost never happened — if not for Peter Jackson.
Lilly shot to fame after the beloved ABC sci-fi series LOST premiered in 2004 to rave reviews, with Lilly transforming from unknown to household name virtually overnight. But the frenzy around the much-debated, oft-divisive show turned Lilly off to Hollywood, and she decided to retire from acting altogether. Until she suddenly got a call from none other than Peter Jackson.
When Evangeline Lilly retired in 2011, she didn’t anticipate returning to the film industry at all, the actress revealed to the Hollywood Reporter. But thanks to a determined Peter Jackson, we were not robbed of one of the best female characters in the MCU.
And now Lilly is the co-lead in a Marvel film — with hopefully her own solo outing in the future. It’s way better than going down in history as the girl who was great at finding trails and starting love triangles.
Evangeline Lilly knew she’d eventually fly as the Wasp. But equal billing in the “Ant-Man” sequel?
That was a surprise.
Lilly, 38, calls 2015’s irreverent “Ant-Man” origin story “a happy little success,” earning $180 million — a modest take compared with the gigantic hauls of films such as this year’s “Black Panther” ($699 million) and 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” ($333 million).
So when they were a month or so away from shooting the sequel, Lilly got a shock. “I got sent a PDF photo in an email of the [double-billed] title card. And that’s how I found out.”
What’s more surprising, frankly, is that Lilly is even in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stung by the intense spotlight that came with fame after her run as Kate Austen on TV’s “Lost,” the actress famously declared an early retirement from acting in 2011.
Lilly told THR all about her temporary retirement and her unexpected return — nay, Unexpected Journey:
I don’t know if you’re familiar with my journey with acting, but it’s been a unique one, it’s not your typical story. Basically, by accident, my first speaking role in film or television was Lost, and so I was instantly launched into international stardom, and that was really uncomfortable for me. I instantly balked, didn’t know how to deal with it and felt very uncomfortable after that situation. I ended up deciding to retire after I finished Lost. I did a film called Real Steel with Hugh Jackman and then I walked away. I said, “I’m done, I’m never doing this again.”
I had a baby, I was writing scripts, I had a quiet little life, and two years later — and I mean, throughout those two years, I had no contact with Hollywood at all — I got a covert call from Peter Jackson, who I knew through my relationship with Dom[inic Monaghan] back in the day, and he said, “Nobody in Hollywood seems to be able to reach Evangeline, but we want to get a hold of her because we want to cast her in this film.” And I was so torn because I had genuinely retired, I thought I was done, but I really wanted to do the movie. The little 13-year-old girl in me was like “I get to be a woodland elf? What?”
Lilly’s is not an unusual situation — we’ve seen plenty of child actors or longtime TV actors up and retire from Hollywood after being disillusioned with the whole thing. But it’s rare to see them return through an even bigger franchise than the one that initially brought them fame. And Lilly came back with two.
Lilly never lived in Los Angeles; she was raised in British Columbia, Canada, and launched her career by taking bit parts in Vancouver while attending college. In the post-“Lost” years, she has made a life in Hawaii with her partner, Norman Kali, and their two children (now 2 and 7).
But the offers kept coming. Two years after going off the grid, Lilly got a call from Peter Jackson, offering a hard-to-pass-up passport to Middle-earth as an elf in his “Hobbit” films.
When Marvel dialed her up, “I realized, ‘You know what, this might keep happening,’ ” she says. “There is a very good chance I will be fortunate enough to continue to be given these opportunities to do these big films and to be in the spotlight. And I either need to draw a hard and fast line in the sand right now and say ‘I’m out and I’m never doing this again, no matter how cool the project is that comes along’ — or I just need to make my peace with it.”
Lilly chose the latter, and her entire stance on fame has shifted. Yes, Lilly is still private (the actress continues to live in Hawaii when not working) but today she’s less guarded, more willing to engage with fans on social media.