The first time I met Evanna Lynch was on a January morning in 2006. Warner Brothers was holding an open casting call in London for the role of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter film series. Some 15,000 girls were auditioned, and among the lines of excited and sleep-deprived wannabe Potter actors, Lynch was far down in the queue, huddled among the crowd.
Sent to find some Irish kids heading to the auditions, I came across Lynch – tiny, quiet, slightly detached, and to be perfectly honest, odd. She spent too much time pondering my vox-pop questions, so getting frustrated, I moved on, drawing a line through her name on my notepad.
Three weeks later she got the role, and my blood ran as cold as Voldemort’s when I saw her name in the papers. I had disregarded her and missed the scoop of being the only journalist who interviewed her before she even bagged the gig. I believe that is what one calls a bit of a facepalm.
Seven years later, Lynch is sitting upstairs in the wood-panelled Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. I am too embarrassed to tell her the story. I'm not sure how she'd take it, probably not with a slap of the thigh and a hearty laugh. Lynch is demure, serious, considered. The away-with-the-fairies disposition that led JK Rowling to describe Lynch as "perfectly cast . . . she is Luna", has been replaced with a contemplative Los Angeles gaze. She reminds me a little of Saoirse Ronan's Briony in Atonement, without the evilness.
Lynch now conjures a different kind of magic. She stars in a stage production of Houdini as Bess, wife of the master illusionist and escape artist. Jamie Nichols, an intimidatingly well-built and handsome British actor plays the lead. He's full of talk about body fat and building muscle and the kinds of things that make you feel guilty about eating a Walnut Whip for breakfast. Stuart Brennan wrote the script and also stars as Theo Weiss, Harry Houdini's brother. Brennan is doing well, with a BAFTA (Cymru) for Best Actor under his belt for Risen and a script in development with Martin Scorsese.
Lynch wanted to do something on stage "for years" and says her parents probably have more respect for theatre than film. It's been a rather incredible few years for her. As a child, the Harry Potter books were important enough for her to write to their author JK Rowling. At 14 years of age, she snagged a role thousands of girls dreamed of, stepping into a colossal film franchise with millions of fans around the world. "At the time it was 'I want to play Luna Lovegood, I want to be in the Harry Potter films,'" she says, as opposed to wanting to be an actor. She had already auditioned for another gig though, a short Irish film called 34A, "about girls who wanted to have big boobs." The Harry Potter experience has undoubtedly changed the course of her life. The 22-year-old from Termonfeckin in Louth now speaks with an LA lilt and the kind of measured detachment that young actors exhibit.
When she reflects on it now, she can talk with some perspective about her life changing instantly. “I got a lot of independence,” she begins, mentioning how school became tutoring in England. “At 16 I was living by myself and getting up and going to work and all that, and doing school. So there was that juggling of normal life and adult life, like working in the real world.” Her friends didn’t change, her family didn’t either, but people were “more interested in me, I suppose . . . I think the biggest change was personally, I had to come out of myself.” She wasn’t too great at being herself. Interviews were a disaster, she’d just sit there, scared and answer “yes?” “I didn’t know how to ‘be’. It really scared me.”
Talking to actors on set, especially the older ones such as Alan Rickman, was intimidating. But she forced herself to come out of herself, recognising that unless she got good at existing in that context, she’d miss some of the best experiences related to it. She says she was like a little mouse, afraid of everything, “so yeah, it forced me to grow up quicker.”
It sounds like quite the ordeal. It’s hard to imagine a quiet teenage girl away from home, friends, family, thrust into a sort of superstardom. But the challenge was also a blessing, she says. “If I hadn’t gone through that, I probably would have gone through school and gone through college, but I still would have struggled with confidence.”
Acting has taught her that confidence is about putting yourself out there, that when no one else believes in you, you draw resolve from a well within. She thinks her insecurity comes from a collage of things, “personality” being one. “I have two sisters and a brother, and everyone was good at what they did, was very competitive, so yeah, I always felt that I had to try hard to make people like me or impress me. That was just a thing I had from childhood.” And with that insecurity, “it’s not like it switches off when you get something. You think, when I succeed at this exam or when I get into this college or when I get a boyfriend, then I’ll be confident, then I’ll be happy. But you’re never. You’re always searching for the next thing, and you’re always afraid that someone’s going to pull the rug out from under you, and you’ll be just . . . you’ll be back at square one.”
Brennan interrupts to offer lunch, and there’s a stilted back and forth conversation. Lynch ends up just wanting some nuts or fruit, or just a banana, “because that’s energy”. Brennan suggests salad, but she doesn’t like tomatoes, eggs or dressing, “just don’t go there”. Salad it is. “He’s going to get it wrong,” she laughs.
There's more than a touch of LA in Lynch's behaviour. Not that she's a Bling Ring hair-flicking starlet, but she's controlled and measured, and wants a banana for energy. When she's in LA, she goes vegan. In Ireland, she's a vegetarian, because it's hard to get vegan food, and anyway, her Mum's cakes are too nice.
She has just qualified as a yoga teacher. The other day at rehearsals, she gave her castmates a class and they responded positively. After Harry Potter, she was determined to keep acting. Plenty of people suggested college, but she thinks a lot of people go to university because they want to learn more and they’re not exactly sure what direction they want their life to go in. She was sure. She didn’t want to go to drama school because it would prevent her from working. She got a manager and an agent and moved to the States. It was difficult though, having started out in major films as opposed to building a career that got her there. Things like showreels, designed to show range, were a little difficult when she had only ever been Luna Lovegood on screen.
In LA, she wakes up early, goes to the gym or does yoga. After that, she does her mails, social media updates, half an hour of fan mail. She’ll read scripts, maybe do some accent coaching, go to acting class or writing class (she did a screenwriting course at UCLA) and watch a movie. She likes the pace of life in that part of the world and type of person who hangs out there. “I think there are two sides to it. People in LA are quite idealistic.
“There are a lot of dreamers and sometimes there are too many people who are not very practical. But with that, because they believe they can do something, they work hard. People are always doing short films or web series, so it’s constantly inspiration to work that muscle. That’s what I like about it.” She’s written some stuff, but nothing she’d put out there yet. She’s good with characters and style, but not great on plot. “People are usually like, ‘this is nice, but it’s boring.’”
She still talks to people from Harry Potter, primarily those “in the same boat” – those with supporting roles who still had a huge amount of attention from fans. “We still had that pressure on us, but at the same time when we came out of the films, it’s not like our career was made . . . it was a bit of a contradiction, where you get this massive success and high profile, but don’t have as much credibility in the industry.”
Interestingly, our conversation only really comes to life when Lynch discusses Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. Lucia was Samuel Beckett's lover and a woman Lynch believes was Joyce's creative equal. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and died in 1982, having been institutionalised for most of her life. Lynch loves the play Calico, by Michael Hastings, that focuses on father and daughter Joyce. "Because she was a woman and she shared those ideas and she was as creative and free-spirited as he was, she just wasn't taken seriously. There are some characters that you read and the words they say, it's kind of spooky, you can hear yourself say those same things, and I felt that when I read that play." That's her dream role.
Another totally different one is playing Britney Spears in a film, and you can kind of see it, the wide-eyed innocence on top of a steely determination. Because there are hidden depths to Lynch. After an hour in her company, I'm left feeling as though I haven't even scratched the surface.
Houdini opens at the Gaiety Theatre on
October 7th, gaietytheatre.ie