November 2011

Bolt Action

Bolt Action Assuming the role of legends and gods is all in a day’s work for Welsh-born actor Luke Evans  by LESLIE GORNSTEIN / photographs by JÖRGEN RINGSTRAND / styling by JAY MASSACRET / produced by KIM POLLOCK

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In Hollywood, a summit meeting of the gods looks like this: Zeus as a young god and Zeus as an aged one sharing a trailer. In the spring of last year, John Hurt, septuagenarian and living deity among the British acting elite, was chilling on his side of a double-wide when he heard a knock on the partition.

A Welsh kid named Luke Evans was on the other side. In their new film, the two actors would be playing different versions of the same bolt-throwing Greek immortal. So, Evans had done what any neighborly godhead would do: popped by to borrow a cup of ambrosia.

“I remember thinking, Oh my God, just through that very thin partition wall is a legendary actor,” Evans recalls. “I went and knocked on his door, and we got to chill and go through lines. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself.”

The 32-year-old Evans must surely be pinching himself raw of late, and not just because of the caliber of his on-set neighbors. By all indications, Evans himself is poised to take his own seat in filmdom’s Olympus. Immortals, due out November 11, is a CGI extravaganza of a crowd-pleaser, full of hunky actors disemboweling one another on multiple planes of existence.

And Evans lords over it all with a rare blend of high rhetoric and earthbound grit. His turn as Zeus is sandwiched between a rapier-swinging role as Aramis in the recently released Three Musketeers and a date with a dragon in Peter Jackson’s long awaited two-part Hobbit opus, which bows in 2012. Between the three of these, plus a role opposite John Cusack in next spring’s period mystery The Raven, some industry watchers are already calling Evans the next big action hero.

“What can you say?” raves Immor­tals director Tarsem Singh. “He’s Russell Crowe without the drinking problem yet. Luke is so street...you think, How can he have the gravitas of a god? It took one line. The guy can do anything.”

Evans’ real selling point, however, comes from a decidedly less exalted place. Sure, there’s a distinct carnality about the guy. Even in Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frears’ erudite comedy about writerly indiscretions, Evans’ handyman character, Andy Cobb, radiates an almost tangible yowza. And Evans himself comes from, as he puts it, “a family of doers—always doing something physical.”

But filmmakers say he brings something beyond the usual head-snapping good looks. Unlike many of today’s comely young A-listers, Evans boasts a bona fide background in, of all things, musical theater—and quite a lot of it. For eight years, he treaded the London boards in such standards as Rent, Miss Saigon and Avenue Q, as well as the Boy George musical Taboo—the exact opposite of dragon slaying in front of a green screen. A part in the critically acclaimed drama Small Change garnered initial interest from stateside agents, but it wasn’t until 2009, when Evans was 29, that he landed his first film audition.

That path shows in every line Evans delivers, no matter how abstruse the wording. The result, filmmakers say, is a guy who can parachute into an action movie and elevate it with just a few words.

“Luke can take the s--tiest of lines and sell it,” raves Immortals director Tarsem Singh. “What can you say? He’s Russell Crowe without the drinking problem yet. Luke is so street...you think, How can he have the gravitas of a god? It took one line. The guy can do anything.”

And that includes turning the heads of people who matter. We speak of producers and casting directors, of course. But more importantly, we speak of the kids. “All I can say is, when my nieces came over, all they wanted was Luke,” Singh says.

Wanted what from Luke, exactly? An autograph, perhaps?

“To sleep with him!” Singh says with a laugh. “What do you think? No, they just wanted to meet him and play chess.”

Once Immortals debuts, millions will likely fantasize about full-contact chess with Evans. In all the key ways, he has been prepped for this collective obsession or at least the inevitable press scrutiny.

Nearly a decade ago, Evans gave a statement to the Advocate about his sexuality: “It was something I’d spoken to a lot of people about, including my boyfriend at the time—we’ve broken up now—but when I’d just got Taboo, I knew that even though my part was a straight character, everybody knew me as a gay man, and in my life in London, I never tried to hide it.” Today, however, Evans toes a more homogenized line. “My personal life is my personal life,” he says, “and I am very happy living my life as I am. People speculate, but I am not entertaining any of that. I’m happy in my personal life, and that’s it.”

If, that is, Evans even has much of a personal life. His schedule has been jam-packed, and he has five films slated for a 2012 release, plus the second half of The Hobbit, titled There and Back Again, which comes out in 2013. “In the last two years, I have never worked so hard in my life—it’s been crazy,” Evans says. “Now I could sleep standing up. But I know that, coming from musical theater, I’ve broken the mold in a way, so it’s a nice feeling, knowing I’m on this journey.” And where might the journey wind up taking him? Considering his already Olympian trajectory, we’d say up.


GROOMING: Tamah K
FASHION ASSISTANT: Olivia Kozlowski