Lost star Evangeline Lilly has found her strength.
From 2004 to 2010, the 38-year-old actress played airplane crash survivor Kate Austen for six seasons on ABC’s Lost—and in the July 31 episode of The Lost Boys podcast, she shared some behind-the-scenes stories from the set. The role changed Lilly’s life, even though she never aspired to be famous. “I would say it was my destiny, because it certainly wasn’t my agenda. I was one of those very rare, rare actresses who wasn’t trying to be an actress when I got that job,” she explained. “And the only reason why I took the job at the time was because I had enormous faith, and I really believed that everything in my life just continued to sort of push and prod me and point me towards this thing. Then it happened so quickly—it happened so easily!—that it felt like destiny. It felt like, ‘I can’t say no to this, or I’m saying no to my fate.'”
To the host’s surprise, Lilly said she “always” thought her character “was obnoxious.”
Backtracking a bit, the actress said, “At the beginning, she was kind of cool. And then as the show went on, I felt like she became more and more predictable and obnoxious. I felt like my character went from being autonomous—really having her own story and her own journey and her own agendas—to chasing to men around the island. And that irritated the s–t out of me.”
Once Kate’s main storyline became centered on her love triangle with Jack (Matthew Fox) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Lilly grew restless with her role. “I did throw scripts across rooms when I’d read them,” she said, “because I would get very frustrated by the diminishing amount of autonomy she had and the diminishing amount of her own story there was to play.” Lilly clarified that she wasn’t “opposed to having romance in a woman’s life.” In fact, she said, “I’ve never been able to be single; I’m one of those unfortunate women who goes from relationship to relationship. So, there’s nothing wrong with women’s lives being characterized by their relationships; I think that often happens to men and women. But, there was this eventual lack of dimension to what was going on with her. It was just really, ‘Jack? Sawyer? Jack? Sawyer?”
In the show’s final seasons, especially, “I wanted her to be better, because she was an icon for strength and autonomy for women, and I thought we could have done better than that,” she said. “I think we did well. I think I tried very, very hard to take what I was given and always find the way to shower her strength, find the way to have her own thoughts and opinions and ideas, and to take moments that I thought might be a bit whiny and somehow make them not whiny.”
As an example, Lilly cited the episode in which Kate chased after Jack—and the Others captured her, held her hostage and used her as a bargaining chip. “That irritated the s–t out of me, because I felt like her chasing after Jack seemed so immature, and I wanted her to be better,” she said. “But the great thing about that is that she was flawed, and that’s so important. If you don’t have flaws in the women onscreen, then you’re telling the world that women have to be perfect if they’re going to be lovable. If you have flawed women onscreen who are also icons of femininity, who are also beloved, then it gives us all permission to be flawed. In a way, the things that irritated me about her were probably totally necessary—and important, even.”
Unfortunately, those weren’t the only tough times Lilly faced on the show’s set.
“In Season 3, I’d had a bad experience on set with being basically cornered into doing a scene partially naked, and I felt had no choice in the matter. I was mortified and I was trembling, and when it finished, I was crying my eyes out and I had to go on do a very formidable, very strong scene immediately thereafter,” the actress recalled. “And so, in Season 4, another scene came up where Kate was undressing, and I fought very hard to have that scene be under my control, and I failed to control it again. And so, I then said, ‘That’s it. No more. You can write whatever you want—[but] I won’t do it. I will never take my clothes off on this show again.’ And I didn’t.”
Lilly added that she would handle the situation differently today. “I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years, so I kind of know the ropes,” she said. “I’m a little bit better equipped now to not have uncomfortable experiences come up.” Now, when she reads scripts that involve nudity, she passes. “And it’s not because I think there’s anything wrong with doing nudity. It’s because I don’t trust that I can be comfortable and safe,” said Lilly, who currently stars in Ant-Man and the Wasp. “I’m lucky. I’m in a position—a very privileged position—where I’m allowed to be picky. I can be picky. I’ve got enough success under my belt that I can be, and I feel for women who are just struggling to come up in the industry and don’t really know how to navigate that.”
Working on Lost wasn’t all bad, of course, and Lilly particularly enjoyed sharing scenes with Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn. “Their immovability in a scene taught me about not bending to make my co-stars comfortable—which I think is a quintessentially female trait, to always try to accommodate and take care of whoever you’re with,” she said. “But they were never selfish, unkind or egotistical. They were just very strong and talented. They were pros and they weren’t going to apologize for what they needed to do to accomplish their scenes.”