Evangeline Lilly on South of Heaven, Real Steel, and the Ant-Man 3 Script

With director Aharon Keshales’ (Big Bad Wolves) South of Heaven now playing in selected theaters and available On-Demand and digitally, I recently spoke with Evangeline Lilly to talk about being part of the indie crime thriller where she stars opposite Jason Sudeikis. If you’re not familiar with the movie, South of Heaven features Sudeikis as Jimmy, a man who receives early parole after being in prison for twelve years and promises to give his dying girlfriend Annie (Lilly) a great last year. However, Sudeikis’ honest plans take a turn when his parole officer (Shea Whigham) forces him into running an errand or end up back in jail. The film also stars Mike Colter as a local crime boss.

During the interview, Lilly talked about what drew her to playing this character, why she wanted to work with Aharon Keshales, how she prepared for playing someone dying from lung cancer, how she influenced the script and a specific scene, what she remembers about being an extra in Freddy vs. Jason, why she loves when people want to talk to her about Real Steel, and more. In addition, with Lilly currently filming Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania in London, she talked about Jeff Loveness’ script, why it has the chance to be the best Ant-Man yet, and why she loved both WandaVision and Loki.

Watch what she had to say in the player above or you can read the conversation below.

EVANGELINE LILLY: Iron Man is my son's absolute favorite Avenger. He is always a asking me why I am the worst Avenger and why couldn't I be Iron Man?

COLLIDER: That's amazing. And I think the interview could end on that.

LILLY: That the quote of the dig, "Mom, why are you the worst Avenger, and why can't you be Iron Man?"

Amazing. So jumping on in, obviously I have a ton of questions about South of Heaven, but I like throwing some curve balls at the beginning. I want to know what do you remember about being a student in Freddy vs. Jason?

LILLY: I remember a couple people got trampled in the corn scene when everybody's running through the corn fields in terror, I don't even know what we were running from, to be honest. I assume it's Freddy or Jason. Who knows? Could been either of them. But people got trampled. I remember, because I was a student at the time, and I did extra work to pay my way through university. So my thing was, I was always trying to get to the back of a scene, so that they wouldn't need to use me for half of the setups, and I could go back to the extras holding and study.

And they kept putting me in front of the scene, right beside the lead actors. And it was like, I am never going to get my work done. Bow my IMDb page credits me as an actor in that movie, which is really irritating, because I was not an actor in that movie. I was an extra in that movie. They've done that with a bunch of my extra work. So, instead of my first credit being Lost, it's probably Freddy vs. Jason as things stand on IMDb.

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I think there's a few. I totally get it, but other people were dreaming about getting to the front of the camera. You're like no.

LILLY: No, I wanted to get my physics homework done. That's what I wanted to do.

So how often do people want to talk to you about Real Steel?

LILLY: Real Steel. By the way, did you know that today is the 10th anniversary of Real Steel?

I should know that, but I didn't.

LILLY: Entertainment Weekly has just released this beautiful, what is it called, like a-

Oral history?

LILLY: Yeah, an oral history. That's exactly it. Yes. I just actually finished doing a beautiful interview with them and the main cast of the film. It is a beloved, beloved movie. People who are fans of it are diehard fans of it. And there's a lot of them. When I go to cons, it's one of my favorite things is when people come up and they're like, instead of it being about Lost or The Hobbit or Marvel, they're like, "Yeah, I love Real Steel." Because I love Real Steel. As an audience member, it's one of my favorite films I've ever done.

So jumping into South of Heaven. I know you're basically, you are pretty selective with the projects you take. What was it about this material that said, "I want to do this."?

LILLY: There were a couple things, one was Aharon Keshales, the director. He's an Israeli director who had directed a film called Big Bad Wolves. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but it's amazing. It's not the kind of film I would normally watch. I don't watch thrillers. I don't watch horrors. I don't like violent movies, and it is about a homicidal pedophile. I mean, there is nothing more offensive to me, that I would normally turn it off within the first five minutes. But he handled it with such wit and sensitivity and sweetness and beauty, that I was like, "This guy is doing something really, really special."

I think he's kind of a master in that space of handling high gore, high violence with such grace. He also creates great characters. Annie, the character that I play in South of Heaven, was a character that I was very excited to play. I was very excited to throw off the mantle of tough and capable kick ass chick and play a soft and sweet and sensitive and gracious woman who is dying. And despite dying of having about a year to live because she's dying of lung cancer, being a total ray of light to the world that she inhabits.

When I was doing my research for the project, there was a blogger named Linnea Olson, who blogs on outlivinglungcancer.com. She became my inspiration for Annie. Her cover picture is like absolutely glowing with light and joy and vibrant. And yet in her blog post, you see her go through these really kind of huge ups and downs of a huge emotional spectrum of sort of where it takes her facing death all the time.

So this character was really a huge driving force for me. I wanted to play her. And then who doesn't want to work with Jason Sudeikis? who doesn't want to work with Ted Lasso? I mean, he wasn't Ted Lasso back then when we made the film, but he was actually in the process of making Ted Lasso at the time. I remember he would be on set, and he'd be working on the editing for this show he'd worked on in the UK. He was so passionate about it, and he was so invested in it, but nobody had seen it yet. And now I'm a diehard fan, but I was already a fan of Jason's before that.

RELATED: Evangeline Lilly Praises the ‘Ant-Man 3’ Script and Explains Why She Loved ‘WandaVision’ and ‘Loki’

I really like the scene where you guys are ... It's when you're first together, you get into the house, and both of you guys are nervous about each other and about being intimate because it's been 12 years. I did hear that you were instrumental in that scene, being rewritten to be more like that than just you joining him in the bathtub, if you will. So can you sort of talk about that scene? Because I thought it was very honest and real.

LILLY: Yeah. I wish I would be able to remember the title of the film that was an inspiration for that for me. So Aharon Keshales based this film off of the old '60s and '70s thrillers, and he's a huge fan of those movies. So I did a little bit of research, and he had me watch a couple of them and one of them .... God, I wish I could remember the title. It's going to drive me crazy now, because I will not be able to come up with it, but maybe you'll know. There's a convict who comes out of prison, and then him and his gal are kind of on the run together. She was such a big star back then, brunette, absolutely drop dead gorgeous. She was probably only 19 when she did the role.

Not Faye Dunaway? I mean, I should know, but there's so many choices.

LILLY: I know there's too many. That's exactly right. But basically, the way the scene was originally written was very classic Southern guy, being smarmy and flirty and, "Come on, honey. Let's hook up." And her being classically kind of shy and demure in her lingerie like, "Oh, I kind of feel a little bit shy, cause I haven't been with you in 12 years."

I just said to Aharon, "We can't do that." That doesn't represent anybody's reality, I don't think. I think after 12 years in prison and after having completely destroyed his and Annie's life and future together, I don't think this guy would be coming in with... he wouldn't be coming in balls first. He would be coming in with a lot of pain and shame and guilt and anger and frustration. I don't know that intimacy is that easy when you first come out of prison. I don't have that experience. But if I were to imagine what that reentry period must be like for couples, it's got to be a challenge for a lot of them. I thought it would be much more interesting to represent that version of reality, where actually the woman has to take the lead. And she takes the lead not so much because she's horny, she takes the lead because she has so much grace for what he's done and how he imploded their life. And Aharon went for it and said, "I want to do that." I'm really happy with where the scene ended up.

No, it it's very real and honest. It didn't even occur to me till just now that but as you can tell by certain things that are behind me, I am a little bit of a Marvel fan. I really do want to ask you if you can tease anything about the Ant-Man movie that I believe you might be filming.

LILLY: I can tease that I am currently filming Quantumania. I can tease nothing else for you, lest I die.

Can I at least ask you, what was your reaction after reading the script?

LILLY: I would be happy to. I was so stoked on the script. Jeff Loveness is our new writer for the film. We've never worked with him before. I think he is phenomenal. I think he's one of the best writers we've ever had. I think he's got an incredible mastery of voice. So on the page, I could to hear all the characters, and I knew that he'd really kind of harnessed each person's unique personality. I just think that it's going to be really special. I think it's going to be really good. I actually think it has the chance to be the best one we've done yet.

I cannot wait. Do you actually pay attention to all the other…

LILLY: No, I just love the genuine enthusiasm. I can feel it.

I actually really care about this stuff. But I'm curious, do you actually watch all the other Marvel things, the animation? I know you did What If…? Are you watching all this, to sort of make sure that you're in the loop as you understand everything that's going on? Are you almost watching it now? Because you mentioned you have a son who is a fan. Are you now watching everything with your son and sort of taking it in through his eyes in a completely new way?

LILLY: A bit of both and a bit of neither. I have not seen all of it, and I do try. I see it as almost like homework. I need to know what's going on in the world. I need to understand. When there's references made in scripts, I need to know what's going on. I'm also a fan of Marvel, as in I'm a fan of the filmmakers that are creating this incredible universe. I think they are the best superhero moviemakers I've ever witnessed. I know that I'm not alone in that, so that's not a revolutionary thing to say, except that I don't actually like superhero movies. So coming from me, that's different. I think they're really smart. I think they're really, really, really good at what they do. It's why I wanted to get involved with this franchise.

I never had any desire to be in the superhero movie, but Marvel does it right. They do it really well. So I'm a fan. I think WandaVision was phenomenal, and I think it was probably the best they've ever represented a female character. It was so incredible to see her be so complicated and so flawed and yet so redeemable and so lovable, the way we have typically historically treated our male characters. I think it was an epic female protagonist story. I loved, loved the ending of the Loki TV show. They didn't fully have me till the end. I was like, "Okay. Okay, sure. Yeah. Okay. Good." But I wasn't like, "Oh my God, this an amazing show," until they got to the end. And I was like, "It's chaos theory. I love it. I love it. I love it."

The science geek in me loves that element of how smart they are and how they tackle such enormous topics that most kind of fluff popcorn movies are not going to tackle. They tackled chaos theory. That's really brave and really bold and really cool. So yeah, I don't watch them all. I still haven't seen my What If…? episode, which I'm dying to see, because I had so much fun making it, but I will. I'll catch up on it eventually. I still haven't seen Black Widow, but I will. I have intentions to. I haven't seen ... What's Anthony Mackie's show called?

Falcon and Winter Soldier.

LILLY: Yes. I haven't seen Falcon and Winter Soldier yet. I will. There's so many things. But I have definitely not seen them all. WandaVision and Loki are the only TV shows I've seen from Marvel.

I could just dig deep on this, but I'll just say that with Loki, I agree with you. That ending is amazing, because Jonathan Majors is telling them the truth, and it's just this great... and he's so good in it. He's telling them, "You might get someone a lot worse than me." You know what I mean? It's so good.

LILLY: It's so good. And the fact that when we explore the two sides to chaos theory, it's two sides of the same person, is so good. Because I don't know about you, but I have both those people in me. I mean, I have that constant battle inside of me, especially right now, with the way the world is today, of like, how much do we control, and how much do we need freedom? And where is that balance? And what does that look like? And what's more important, safety or freedom? That's what they're tackling in this show. And the fact that they're tackling it in 2021 post ... well, mid pandemic, is really brave and bold. And yeah, I dig it.

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Steven Weintraub launched Collider in the summer of 2005. As Editor-in-chief, he has taken the site from a small bedroom operation to having millions of readers around the world. If you’d like to follow Steven on Twitter or Instagram, you can expect plenty of breaking news, exclusive interviews, and pictures of cats doing stupid things.

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