How Evangeline Lilly Hit the 'Jackpot' with Marvel's 'Ant-Man'

Evangeline Lilly NEW
Austin Hargrave

"I was late to the Marvel game because I wasn't into superhero movies. But I came away like feeling like I'd won the jackpot."

Nowadays, if you're cast in a Marvel film, it's like winning the lottery. But it didn't start that way for Evangeline Lilly, who stars alongside Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 17). "I was late to the Marvel game because I wasn't into superhero movies." But after watching them, "I came away feeling like I'd won the jackpot." For the third installment in the Ant-Man franchise, Lilly's Hope Van Dyne aka Wasp faces many changes: she's in love with Rudd's Scott Lang; the return of her mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and dealing with an issue with her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Lilly says Hope is "so tough and cool, but then there's this softness that comes through." Lilly credits Marvel's ability to mix a story about superheroes with "relevant, current political themes." They're seemingly able to "always feel like they're just slightly ahead of the curve in that way. And the only way you can be on the pulse in Hollywood is if you're ahead." And, of course, "they're doing it with such awareness that these are adults in tights."


What can people expect from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania?

Getting ready for the new film, it's always challenging because my character goes through such a massive evolution in every movie and has such huge changes that I don't feel like it's as simple as going back to the same character and putting on the same hat and doing it again. It's like I have to reinvent her every time. But she has to be identifiably still the woman that you met in the first film. So it's always challenging. I'm always a little bit out of my skin for the first little while and sometimes with the whole shoot, going like, "Who is she? And how should I portray her?" She's so tough and cool and she's very competent and she's very capable. But then there's this softness that comes through as she starts to heal some of her childhood wounds with her father. She reunited with her mother and she falls in love with Scott (Paul Rudd). And suddenly she's a stepmother. She went from being very isolated and very alone and focusing on her work exclusively, to now being a family woman. That's a very massive shift.

How Evangeline Lilly Hit the ‘Jackpot’
Paul Rudd (left), Kathryn Newton (center), and Evangeline Lilly (right) in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.' ©Disney

Did you just feel like the coolest person in the world when you found out Michelle Pfeiffer was going to be your mother?

I did. First of all, I was like, if anyone believes that I could have come from a genetic pool of Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas combined, that is the biggest flattery I've ever received in my life. I don't know if you know, but when we were shooting Ant-Man, I told the filmmakers—and they don't remember this, but I remember this—that if you ever cast someone to play Janet, like if that ever becomes a thing where she gets to come back and be in the movies, I want Michelle Pfeiffer to play my mom. When we did Avengers: Infinity War and we had to do that scene where all of the Avengers are at Tony Stark's funeral, we all gathered and literally, we had 45 mega movie stars in one place at the same time. It was amazing. Everybody just kept looking over in our little group, and it had nothing to do with me. That was Michelle Pfeiffer. They were all like, "Oh, my God it's Michelle Pfeiffer." Of all of these mega stars, she was the one.

I had no idea everyone was there together for that shot. I assumed it was movie magic.

It was amazing. I've done so many very cool things in my career, that was the biggest pinch me moment. And not just to be there, not just to be included, not just to see all of us together, but to be there with Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd. I was like, "What the hell is happening?"

You have done so much in your career, I would imagine being cast in a Marvel film is kind of like winning the lottery for an actor?

So first of all, we have to talk about time. At that time, it wasn't what it is now, where everyone's in a Marvel movie. At that time, it was pretty special. Still, I feel like now it's like if you're not in a Marvel movie...

What are you waiting for Meryl?

Yeah, exactly. Come on Meryl, get with the program. But I was late to the Marvel game because I wasn't into superhero movies. And when I first got word that they were interested in meeting me about this film, I was like, "No, thanks. I don't want to do a superhero movie." I was really reticent. My manager said, "Have you seen Marvel movies?'"And I was like, "No, but I've seen superhero movies. I don't think I need to see another one to know what they're about. Like I get it." "Oh, no, no, these are totally different. Like, this is not your run-of-the-mill superhero movie." I'm gonna go way out on a limb and be very controversial here and say they aren't Batman. They're a different thing. So I spent a weekend watching, like, five Marvel movies, probably. And I came away feeling like I'd won the jackpot. Like, this is really special. These are really tongue in cheek. They're really self-aware. They're really tackling some pretty relevant, current political themes. But they're doing it with such awareness that these are adults in tights. I love that about it. I think that was the thing that previously always turned me off about superhero movies, was the earnestness of it. I was like, guys, give me a break. Come on, these are comic books, you can't take it so seriously. They [Marvel] know how to walk that line of having it be serious and also silly. And this particular franchise, we have this beautiful focus on family and the institution of family, what that can look like and primarily the messiness of family. In 2023, there's probably no message I would rather be peddling than to get into the mess of relationships instead of running away from them into the safety of the online spaces we can occupy where you don't have to deal with people who think differently than you. Family is the hotbed of learning grace and learning tolerance and learning understanding, where you're like, "Oh, I really don't agree with you, but you're my sister. So f*** it, I have to love you." That's a really important fundamental thing for a human being to learn in their formative years. So that when they go out into the world and meet someone who thinks differently, or who rubs up against them wrong, or they don't particularly like or agree with, they can find love for them, they can still understand that there's things worth loving in that person. Our film, this particular one, it really gets into the messiness of family. Janet's (Michelle Pfeiffer) back from the quantum realm and Hope had all of these ideas about how idealistic and amazing it was going to be to have her mommy back and she was going to have this, they were going to be best friends, they're going to tell each other everything, everything's gonna be beautiful. And then the reality isn't like that. Her mom has a lot of secrets and she's not disclosing a lot of what happened to her down there. She's removed, and there's a wall between them and it's breaking Hope's heart, but Hope being Hope, her reaction when things are breaking her heart is she just gets pissed. She gets mad. That's her nature. So there's a lot of tension and that tension has to be worked through, and I like bringing that message out to the world right now.

How Evangeline Lilly Hit the ‘Jackpot’
Michael Douglas (left), Evangeline Lilly (center), and Michelle Pfeiffer (right) in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.' ©Disney

That is something unique about Marvel, the films are able to evolve in a way other superhero franchises don't. Like Marvel will keep the same actor and have their story grow, whereas how many Batmans have there been? Even your character has grown so much in importance.

Yeah, definitely. I agree. Although I can say that in the first film, that was always the intention, because I read the script and from the get-go she gets her suit. So Marvel, I always feel like they're just slightly ahead of the curve in that way. And the only way you can be on the pulse in Hollywood is if you're ahead, because, of course, these films get made like two years before you see them. And they get written like three or four years before you see them. The initial ideas are all being worked out years before they come out. So they have to somehow be almost a little bit prophetic and understanding of what's going on in the culture and where we're headed. And I think that the way they accomplish that is not by some mystical, magical power, but is by allowing the voice of artists to be heard. Because I think artists are often our prophets in society today. We don't have a highly religious culture, but that doesn't mean those people who have those gifts have just disappeared. It just means that they found other outlets that are more socially acceptable through which to exercise their voice. And I think that Marvel makes space for that. They're always looking for people's ideas and thoughts. And they're very collaborative. And I think by giving creatives and artists space, they end up tapping into what we've seen in the sci-fi genre for decades. A certain prophetic understanding of humanity.

You got your start on Lost. Now that you have these iconic things in TV and film history on your resume, what do you get stopped about more, Lost or Ant-Man?

I'm gonna throw The Hobbit in there because that was a bridge between the two that I spent a lot of time with. I feel like I'm always saying to people, it's a generational thing. If you are 40 or above, then it's Lost. If you are 30 and above, then it's The Hobbit. And if you are anything under that, it's probably Ant-Man. But the reality is that still, to this day, I would say that the character that I am most beloved for is Kate [from Lost]. I think that's just what happens. First of all, television has way more profound impact on the inner psyche than a movie does. Because those people are in your living room, while you're in your pajamas, week after week, and you go on these very long journeys with them, and you become very emotionally attached to them. So I still get called Kate more than anything. But I feel like the kids, of course, most of them haven't even seen Lost yet. Although I trip out sometimes [when] an 18-year-old come up to me and says, "Oh my god, I love Lost." "You watched Lost? Lost finished airing before you were born."

I feel like in a lot of ways you become a touchstone for them. Like your performance makes them think about a particular time in their lives.

I feel like what happens is this really, really lovely gift that people root for you in the other things, but they're not as invested. In a way, they're like, I want her to be successful and I want everything to be great for her because she was my Kate and I love Kate, but I kind of don't want her to be anything but Kate. So, yeah, they're rooting for you, but they're not invested in the other ones.

A bit of a plot twist with you is that you have a children's book series The Squickerwonkers. What inspired that?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, but acting is my day job. Writing is my passion. It's what I love to do. So many of us can relate to the idea when people say whatever it is that you would do if no one paid you to do it and, at the end of the day, you feel full of joy from having done it. That's what you want to try to do for a living if you can. For me, that's writing. I've been writing my whole life. I've always been much more of a writer than an actor. Acting kind of happened a little bit by accident. It was a funny twist of fate that brought me into acting. Whereas I wrote the initial Squickerwonkers poem when I was 14. I'm always encouraging young people [to write]. You have amazing ideas right now, because you're so unadulterated, your mind is still so virgin, you haven't seen so much content. I think your creativity is enormously intact when you're still young. When I was working on The Hobbit, I paired up with Johnny Fraser-Allen to illustrate that poem with me, although I completely rewrote it by then. Now, of course, it's going to be a series of 20 books. But that's what happens when you have a story in your head for 35 years. And there's nothing I love doing more than the audiobooks, because I really get to let my weird flag fly. So I do all 10 voices, and I work with the composer to create this quirky soundtrack and sound effects. I work with everybody, I'm very in the trenches. Right now I'm focused on my acting career because I have kids at home and I've got to bring home the bacon, but the goal is for me to be able to turn my attention to them more.

Listen to H. Alan Scott on Newsweek's Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott