Ant-Man and the Wasp star Evangeline Lilly is now part of the biggest franchise on the planet — the Marvel Cinematic Universe — but before she enlisted as future superhero Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man, Lilly nearly quit acting altogether.
"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," Lilly told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lilly's first major role came in 2004 as Kate Austen on hit television series Lost, running for six seasons on ABC. The series, co-created by future Star Wars helmer J.J. Abrams and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof, came after bit and uncredited roles in Freddy vs. Jason and Smallville.
"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," Lilly said. "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.'"
In her two years away, Lilly had a child, wrote scripts, and had "a quiet little life" with zero Hollywood contact until Peter Jackson — director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and subsequent prequel series The Hobbit — lured her back.
"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 recalled.
"I made a decision and I decided to go do the film. I had a wonderful time making that movie: One of the highlights in my life was living in New Zealand for that year and being a part of that family. That helped opened my eyes to the fact that, OK, this job can be a joy, it's just a matter of how you approach it, and what you do with it, how much I put myself out there, and to a certain degree, how much I work," Lilly said.
After her time starring as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Lilly was approached by Marvel to board the then little-heard-of Ant-Man as Hope van Dyne, the bright and feisty daughter of scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).
"And so as I was finishing press for The Hobbit, that's when I got the call from Marvel, and I thought, 'I just need to either draw a very firm line in the sand and say I'm done, or I need to just make my peace with the thing, find a way to be happy and do it in a way that makes me feel comfortable and satisfied.' So that's what I ended up deciding," Lilly said.
"I just thought, 'Well, I'm a smart lady. I can figure this out. I'm going to figure out a way to do this and be happy.' And I am, I'm very happy, I've had a wonderful time promoting this movie, and I've had a wonderful time talking to people about things I care about because this movie brings up so many cool issues."
After Ant-Man and the Wasp, now playing, Lilly next appears in Avengers 4, out May 3.