• Diana

THE PURSUIT OF AWESOME: EVANNA LYNCH


Like a lot of teenagers growing up, Evanna Lynch adored Harry Potter.

Unlike a lot of teens, at the age of fourteen, she found herself with a starring role in one of the worlds most successful movie franchises of all time. Quicker than you can say “wingardium leviosa,” the Termonfeckin girls’ life spiralled, going from small town girl to Hollywood starlet alongside Harry, Ron and Hermoine.

“From an early age, my parents really instilled me with the belief that I could be anything I wanted. I’ve been through the whole gamut of potential career paths from ‘magical cat’ to play school teacher to acrobat, to artist. I feel like I settled on acting because I couldn’t make up my mind and acting allows me to be a bit of everyone.

I know this will sound daft but my very first urges to take the stage and become a part of the story was at Sunday mass. Our church had one mass a week called a ‘children’s mass’ where basically a bunch of children would sit up on the altar and sing Glory to God and stutteringly answer the priests’ questions about the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn’t care about the content of their words or the quality of the production. I just felt terribly frustrated that I was part of the boring, blank-eyed mass of people who were sat mutely observing the storytellers. I had a lot of questions for my mum. Who were these very privileged children? How did they get up there? What gave them the sacred right to ascend the two plush golden-carpeted steps up the altar and hold our eyes and attention for an hour each week? And it wasn’t that I wanted to be the centre of attention and have my friend’s grannies tell me how movingly I’d read that Prayer of the Faithful. It was simply that I wanted to be part of the story, inside the action, making things happen, rather than on the outside, silently looking in. Being a mere audience member made me feel like I was missing out on life. Life!! So I started starring (as I saw it) in the children’s mass and entered the holiest period of my young life. As soon as I realised that the people on TV were playing princesses as a job and that there were pure acting classes available in the Little Duke Theatre in Drogheda, my fascination with the world and art of acting began and my short-lived but pivotal role as a holy servant of God swiftly came to an end.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH ACTING

I attended the Little Duke Theatre for several years, taking drama exams before making the decision to audition for Harry Potter. I was aware that the Potter films were ongoing and casting people from my age bracket. I had fallen in love with Luna Lovegood when I read the fifth book and from that moment on I had my heart set on playing her. But the main reason I wanted to play her was because I felt I understood her and that she meant more to me than she would to a professional actress or any young girl for that matter. I felt a fierce protectiveness over her and the determination that the movies should not ‘mess her up’. I’ve never really felt so right for anything in my life, I usually get nervous and start to doubt myself. But her story and the desire to honour her was a greater concern than myself and I think that’s what gave me confidence. I was able to transcend my petty insecurities and self-consciousness because I had so much love for her that I forgot myself. I was just a portal for her soul. That’s kind of what has become my process, I have to fall in love and have the utmost respect for the character I play. Otherwise I’m too in my head. The opportunity to audition came through an open audition. Jo didn’t have anything to do with my casting process. I don’t say that pridefully, it is just a fact! We were in touch already for a different reason and that was because I’d wrote to her as a fan and told her about an eating disorder I was struggling with. She helped me so much through those few years and her encouragement definitely gave me confidence when going to that audition and stepping in front of the casting directors. I found out about the open auditions from an announcement on the fansite mugglenet and convinced my dad to take me.'

THE AUDITION PROCESS

'I wasn’t nervous at first. I had a purpose and my mind was set on that. I felt utterly ready to play Luna. I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a career or fame or any of that stuff that comes with it - those were things I certainly wasn’t prepared for. It wasn’t like a math’s exam I hadn’t studied for or a cute boy I couldn’t look in the eye. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. You only feel nervous when you feel like you’re not enough for the given task. If you shift the focus and make it about something outside of yourself, a higher purpose, a service, then you can go beyond yourself. That said, there was a heart-poundingly tense moment during the initial stages of the open audition, which was when we were brought into a room and told to line up in rows of approximately 30. All we had to do was step forward and say our name and where we came from. And I knew that this was a moment of total surrender to luck. This process of elimination was simply based on superficial things like your look, height, voice quality, demeanour. You could be the perfect Luna but if you were 6’2’’ and towering over Daniel Radcliffe you wouldn’t make it through the next door!

I really felt for the girls who didn’t get past that part as there was nothing they could have done. But I breathed a sigh of relief that I got through. When I finally got seen individually by the casting directors I felt calm and centered and read the scenes they had provided naturally. The Luna they had written for the movie was my Luna. It was only when they started inviting more and more casting people in the room and I, as a Potter fanatic who had scoured the film credits and written to the casting directors numerous times, began to recognise people’s names, that I got nervous. It was all getting a bit real. But I got through it and a week later I had a screen test with Daniel Radcliffe and David Yates.'

THE FIRST SCREEN TEST

'The scene took place in Dumbledore’s office. It was all completely, absurd and overwhelming for me. They were leading me around the study casually introducing me to my teenage crushes and striding hurriedly past giant chess pieces. There were moments where I just couldn’t speak because I was trying to process everything and I often giggled to myself- that state of awe must have contributed greatly to my dreamy, spaced-out Luna air that the producers loved. I remember Daniel Radcliffe talking to me, trying so hard to put the superfan at ease but I was so used to watching him on screen that I kept forgetting to talk back and I would let him awkwardly keep rambling. He was really kind to me. At the end of the day David Yates gave me a copy of the Order of the Phoenix (which I thought was a bit daft because of course I already had 3) and he signed it ‘It was great working with you!’ and I took that as a sign off. I went back to the fancy hotel room Warner Bros had provided and I sobbed my heart out while my dad tried to console me because I thought I had messed it up and the dream was over. I wasn’t sure how I would return to life as an aimless second year again. Thankfully, it turned out to be paranoia and I only had to go back to school for a few months every year.'

THAT LIFE CHANGING PHONE CALL

'The call for the part of Luna came one faithful day while I was at our local grocery store in Sandpit, Termonfeckin doing the shopping for my mum. Not because I’m a very helpful daughter though, it was actually because the casting agent had said she’d call that day and I was afraid if I let my mum do the shopping she’d meet everyone and their aunty and have chats with them and we would not get home for hours and I would miss that very important phone call. And I had this irrational fear that if we missed the phone call, they would give up and give the part to the next best Luna. I was absolutely driven mad that day, it was awful!! So I went in to get the groceries and suddenly I got a call on my mobile and it was Fiona Weir the casting agent and she said ‘Where are you? Can you go somewhere that you’re not surrounded my millions of people?’ so I stepped outside the shop and I distinctly remember her saying ‘We want you to be our Luna’. I gave my mum and sister the thumbs up through the car window, stuttered a few thank you’s and hung up. It was too much to process at once though. I mean, I was the most ecstatic I’ve ever been. But I could not wrap my head around the enormity of it. All I knew was that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone outside my family for 10 days, that I had a lot of homework to do and that teachers and friends would think it suspicious if I didn’t do it. So I went home and did my homework. I think my family and I had a little cake and got excited but it was very much a matter of taking it one step at a time.

NEWBIE ON SET

By the time it came to filming, I had wrapped my head around the whole thing a little better. All I can remember is pure excitement! It didn’t feel like work at all. I couldn’t relate to the crew complaining about exhaustion or wondering at breakfast time, what they were serving for lunch today. I just wanted to live the stories. You could say I was method acting but I was just being a kid... I also wanted everyone to stay in character, which they did not! I think at that time I was in denial of the fact that these were normal people. I would turn my head away when I saw Dan and Tom Felton laughing and joking together. I remember being flabberghasted by crew members who said they hadn’t read the books and realising that this was just work for them. And when the day came to an end and we hadn’t made the shot list required but had to stop because of child labour laws I would go up to the first AD and tell him I didn’t mind working overtime and I absolutely swear I won’t tell the lawyers. I was just incredibly naive about the business and process of filmmaking but I was having a fabulous time. I was still nervous around the other actors who I considered professionals and worthy of the role they were in. I definitely felt like a fraud and tried to be perfect every time. Eventually I realised that the perfectionism was holding me back and that the professional actors were just playing, that’s all it was! The first few scenes we did were the ones in the Room of Requirement where Harry is teaching us spells and it was a great place to start because they were big crowd scenes and having so many young actors there made it fun and easier to forget the cameras.

The entire filming process was a whirlwind and I was in my element. But little was I prepared for just how much my life would change. I suppose I was lucky because it was a bit different back then. Social media wasn’t so prevalent. I wasn’t comfortable with the fame part at all as I still identified way more with being a fan. I knew how to act but I didn’t know how to be a celebrity and was very awkward with it at times. I knew I had fans but there was definitely more of a sense of distance from it and I’m grateful for that.'

DEALING WITH A NEW FOUND FAME

"The great thing about having fans is that it opens the world up to me. You become connected to more people and they share things more easily when you play a beloved character. They trust and like you and that’s a nice atmosphere to walk into. I don’t respond to adulation because I find it’s bad for my soul. I’m human and I find it’s very easy to be seduced by praise and fan worship if you’re around it too much. Some of it is genuine but a lot of it is fickle because they can’t truly know you. But you can get addicted to that feeling of adulation and your ego gets blown up and then when that ‘love’ falls away you feel empty; like any addiction. I like to connect with fans to learn from them and share inspiration with them. There are so many amazing people out there and playing Luna gave me a chance to talk to them. One of the coolest things about having a lot of Twitter followers is you can ask a burning question about pretty much any specific area of interest, there is someone who is an expert on that subject and can help! If you use it the right way, it really does open the world up and I love having that connection.'

CHOOSING NEW PROJECTS

'I’ve grown up a lot since my Harrry Potter days and I’ve learned a lot too. For one, I realize now that I can only work on projects I love. I have to go with my heart. I made a decision a while ago to not audition for things that don’t fascinate me or that I wouldn’t watch. I kind of have the same rule with dating; the guy has to be utterly fascinating; otherwise he is not worth the time. I have no place for lukewarm or apathy. I’ve learned that I cannot think about being good, I can only focus on being truthful. As soon as I focus on being good, I suck! Being ‘good’ is objective and also bland. So I can only take characters I respect, that elevate my spirit and make me a better person. There are some actors that can take weak, under-written characters and make them amazing, colourful, endearing, real people and I envy that talent. I’d work more often if I could do that. But at the same I know what I like and what projects inspire me and though they are rarer, that’s what makes them special. I know now that unless the story or character really move me, unless it’s something that I feel will make the world a better place, that the world actually NEEDS, I am better off turning it down and continuing to follow my passion elsewhere.

FINDING HAPPINESS

I’ve also learned that you can’t let your happiness depend on your work!! You have to find something more concrete and deeper. This will sound like a platitude but you have to go within and find the source of love there. Work will come and go but your love for your self must not disappear when the work does. You’re so much more than what you DO. There’s a saying for this that I like ‘Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art’. It is an amazing job and when I’m working it’s the best feeling in the world but when I’m not it’s the pits. And you can’t let your happiness ride on something so fickle as your work. You have to go back to that young child you were who did what she did purely because she loved it, not because she loved the feeling of being loved. It’s an industry of great highs and crushing lows and you simply cannot lose yourself amidst the chaos. I think any sensible, sane person in this industry has a spiritual practice. I think you have to. I certainly need to pay more attention to mine anyway.'

EMBRACING ASSERTIVENESS

'I’ve learned that you need to be assertive and bold about expressing your goals and intentions. Waiting for life to happen to you is a childish attitude that you must grow out of. Nobody will come knocking on your door and offer you your dream job. Because they don’t know the unique essence you have to offer. They haven’t seen it before and it’s up to you to show that to them. You have to blow their minds with it. You have to be the thing they couldn’t possibly have imagined. People are all so busy chasing their own dreams and doing their own thing so you have to make them stop and pay attention. And they will because no matter how busy everyone us, we want to be inspired. We all want something to catch us off guard and make us see the world differently.'

THE MAGIC OF ACTING

'I like that acting gives you total permission to explore sides of yourself you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s freedom to feel things that are perhaps socially inconvenient or embarrassing to feel as myself. I can feel whatever I feel and blame it on the character. Another actor friend recently expressed this perfectly to me. He said ‘Between action and cut, I can do whatever the heck I want. I can have moments, urges, relationships; feelings I act upon and nobody can stop it. I have total freedom for a few moments.’ We never get that kind of freedom from ourselves or the critical gaze of others! I love that I have had precious moments and feelings and true loves on camera that don’t have to be locked down and legitimised by real life but that were totally 100% real and meaningful to me. I’ve had so much more access to life through acting.'

IT'S NOT ALWAYS EASY

'My toughest day on set was on the film I made in 2014 called My Name Is Emily. I absolutely loved the script and character and the director, Simon Fitzmaurice. I enjoyed every day and never wanted it to end. But there was a particular scene that I was frantic about. It was the catharsis of the story for my character, Emily where all her emotions come bursting forth and she can’t hold back her rage and heart hurt any more. I was so, so anxious about the fact that that stuff wasn’t inside me, that I wouldn’t reach the emotional climax. And I kind of self sabotaged myself there. I built it up so much and held so, so tight that the only possible outcome was me messing it up. Like when you have your worst fear stare you in the face you and you do that thing purely for the release of it having happened and being done. Like sometimes on live telly I get the urge to swear violently (even though I never swear) just because I’m so nervous and it would be so awful if I did but at least the awful wouldn’t be hanging there like a horrible grey cloud anymore. It was so stressful! Then the next day we had another crack at the scene and we somehow got there. I never got to the point where I felt ‘nailed it!’ but I did something I felt better about. And that was that. The next scene was Michael Smiley’s big scene, the one he was pretty psyched up about, but of course he’s a more experienced actor and handled it better than I did. In that scene all I had to do was listen to him. And I was totally relaxed cos my big scene was over and it was all on Michael now and I just wanted to support him. And then the most shocking thing happened. As Michael told his story in character and I listened, I felt something inside me open and emotions and real tears all came leaking out. That emotional release happened completely unexpectedly. That was the most profound acting lesson I’ve ever had. I do wish it had been in private and not on a very important job and I know I’ll cringe when I see that scene again and wish I could redo it. But you just can’t plan those moments of real life happening and all you can so is try stay open as much as possible.

Looking back, my proudest moment was getting the role of Emily in My Name Is Emily. I was getting to the point where I was beginning to worry if the Harry Potter thing was a fluke and should I resume my abandoned dream of being a full cat-lady. The script was the best thing I’d read in ages so for the creator of that thing which so inspired me to trust me with his work was a huge honour. And it was a role I pursued avidly. You feel a greater sense of triumph when you win something you’ve fought hard for. I think the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment was when J.K.Rowling said in an interview that I had influenced how she wrote the character of Luna in the seventh book. That’s just one I’ll never quite get my head around.'

DREAM ROLES

'I have two dream roles that I am currently working on privately, on my own time. One is Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce. She is the boldest, most fearlessly creative person I’ve ever read about. She inspires me to not let my hypersensitivity stop me from expressing myself. And her story is a cautionary tale to all like-minded creatives whose spirit is stifled. She was ahead of her time and society could only classify her as mentally unstable. I think a lot of artists would be mentally unstable if they were not able to get the art out. And the other one is Juliet Butler from the Artemis Fowl books. I adore her! She is a vibrant, passionate, fun-loving girl but she is also a fighter. People think to be a strong woman you have to grow a thick wall around your soft sensitive heart and blink away tears but I think those wild emotions show strength of character. Juliet is a different kind of strong woman, very feminine and sweet and but she is a mad skilled fighter because she has to defend those things that make her heart bleed. She’s actually the reason I took up martial arts, I think she is awesome and I wanted to feel some of that!

Of course people have perceptions of me from my work on the Potter films. I don’t resent that because it has opened way more doors than are shut. It is a name that carries so much weight and usually means people will at least consider me. I know that there are perceptions I have still not broken down but I don’t mind because I know it rests completely in my hands to change them or not.'

ADVICE FOR BUDDING ACTORS

'For anyone hoping to enter the wonderful world of acting, what are you waiting for? Join an acting class and get to work! Do it as much as you can, try on as many different characters so you can learn about yourself and what you love. Put yourself out of your comfort zone often, that’s the quickest way to have brand new experiences. Read lots too! Reading gives you experiences and feelings you may not otherwise uncover. But also remember to be with people. Be curious and learn about them. People are mirrors and show us sides of ourselves we are trying to avoid. If there is ever someone you can’t stand it’s because they’re mirroring a side of yourself you’re trying to ignore or stifle and you really should investigate that! Pretty much all of my smartest insights and best acting/writing material have come out of my most challenging relationships. Basically, get your buttons pushed by challenging situations and people and life.

Also, don’t worry about getting ‘there’. Acting is one of those beautiful jobs at which you only get better with age. With most jobs the deterioration of youth, beauty and all those attractive facilities spells less work or early retirement. As an actor you never have to worry about that. Your work will only get stronger. The more life experience you have, the more loves, the more heartbreak, the more mistakes, the richer and more textured your work becomes. After all, it is your real life that feeds your acting life so don’t wait to be ‘successful’ to start enjoying your real life. Brad Pitt had a lovely way of expressing it: ‘The life of your art is only as rich as the art of your life’. So don’t get bent on purely ‘being an actor’. In many cases actors who started young, child actors get derailed by the pressure to live up to their early success because they got it before they had fully developed a strong sense of self. All the best actors I know have side passions, hobbies and even lifetimes of experience before they turned to acting. Michael Smiley loves bikes and spent years as a bicycle courier before becoming an actor. Mark Williams loves trains. Natalia Tena has an amazing gypsy rock band. Orla Brady travels all over the world on safari missions. And pretty much every actor has a philanthropist cause they are pursuing with just as much passion as their acting career. So stop being in such a rush. You can’t really control how ‘successful’ you will be or which jobs you’ll land. You just have to keep showing up and if you’re brave enough, putting all of your heart and soul into your work and detaching form the result. And in the meantime keep living your life to the max.'

EVANNA'S TIPS ON HOW TO NAIL AN AUDITION:

1) LEARN YOUR LINES Learn your lines inside out and back to front! Learn them while doing an activity like bouncing a tennis ball so that you REALLY know them. Knowing your lines will give you the ease and freedom to focus on the important stuff and let that flow.

2.) BE ON TIME

Personally, I still struggle with this one but oh, what a difference it makes when I’m 10 minutes early. Auditions are already plenty stressful. You want to do everything you can to eliminate nerves. Showing up late is disrespectful of the casting agent’s time. They already have so many actors to see so it makes their job easier if they can just cross you off the list. Don’t give them any reason to cross you off, especially not such a silly one as bad time-keeping. If you show up late you automatically put yourself at a disadvantage. You are apologetic and indebted to them for waiting for you. You probably won’t feel the confidence and freedom to totally own your role and will be wondering if the casting director actually hates you now. Save yourself this anxiety and just show up on time, and by on time, I of course mean be early.

3.) BE A NICE TO EVERYONE YOU MEET

Imagine that the casting agent and director etc are your dear friends and treat them as such. I’ve heard people say ‘pretend it’s your callback’ and it’s the same idea. You have to walk in there knowing these people already love you because that way they will get the best version of you. They’ll get the real, warm, relaxed and confident version of you. Think of how you are with strangers vs how you are with your closest friends. You know your best friends love you no matter what so you trust them with every piece of you. With strangers you don’t trust them so you hold back, you are not so forthcoming and friendly, you’re probably a lot cagier and less likeable. And basically all the casting people want to see is your true self and all your beautiful colours. So walking in there acting like they already love you, tricks you into opening up to them. It brings forth charisma and that is what will catch their attention. The people with the most self-love can be this way with all people, all the time and I personally think the best actors manage to be this. They don’t dim their light for anyone because they don’t expect anyone not to love them. Or rather they don’t care because they have enough love in themselves already. The alternative is going into the room worrying about what they think and trying to read them. Your focus is on your inadequacies, not the work. And the casting director will spot your desperate need to please from a mile off and be repelled by it. They want you to inspire them, not pander to them. So do whatever you have to, to feel like you’re past the awful, awkward ‘does this person like me and can I trust them with my weirdness’ and just be free. The thing is they’ll find out eventually and it’s better you work with the people whose weirdness matches your own, trust me.

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