Broken people are The Girl on the Train's main draw
If you haven't read The Girl on the Train, the 2015 murder mystery by Paula Hawkins, you might just be in the minority. The novel, set in suburban London, follows an alcoholic named Rachel who uncovers a possible murder after seeing something suspicious from a train window. The book follows three female characters from various times and perspectives, and ends with a whopper of a twist. It's now a movie, as these books tend to become, and the film shifts the locale to New York and puts Emily Blunt in the lead role. Although the story is very much about the women, the male characters suffer just as much as the female ones. For Luke Evans, who embodies the seemingly perfect suburban husband Scott Hipwell in the film, the story reveals how much we all have our secrets and our own demons.
Evans, who is best known for his work in The Hobbit series, as Vlad the Impaler in Dracula Untold, and as the villain in Furious 7, found the character a far cry from his usual work (no fantastical worlds here). The actor will next star as Gaston in the live action Beauty and the Beast, so he took this opportunity to connect with a real-life guy in a (sort of) real-life situation.
We spoke with Evans about the story, his character's suffering and what it's like to adapt a massive book into a film.
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What did you find compelling about the story of The Girl on the Train?
I loved the idea of Emily Blunt playing this lead character, who is quite an unlikable protagonist and someone who is suffering from her own demons. It's through her eyes that the story unfolds. It was a very unconventional story, and I really like the fact that you're forced to discover and decide on your own as to who is the culprit. Throughout the film you lean toward different people in that process. For me, it was a really complex script, which I thought had been really well adapted from the book.
"What I like about this film is it's full of broken characters, broken people, who are all suffering and trying to rectify the damage that's been caused to them or that they've caused to other people."
Why do you think it's important to have unlikable characters onscreen?
Well, it's real life. Not everybody is likable. It's the way it is. What I like about this film is it's full of broken characters, broken people, who are all suffering and trying to rectify the damage that's been caused to them or that they've caused to other people. Everything from the outside looks so perfect, but not everything is. I thought it was a very realistic story in that way. The people in it are all sort of suffering very natural human emotions that we all experience throughout our lives.
What was your process for uncovering your character's emotional state?
I looked at what he went through in the film and his story is quite tragic, in a way. He loses his wife and suffers from grief and guilt, and then realizes these terrible things about her he didn't know. And then he's obviously manipulated by another woman in his life, who claims she's the best friend of his wife. He's desperate for answers. And he's accused of the murder of his wife, which seems extremely unfair. But when doing research on real life situations, I realized this often happens. Family members are often the first person to be accused or suspected, and they're put through hell. Often, they're not the murderer, but the spotlight is on them. It must be awful to be in put in that position. But that's often the case. So I did a lot of research and observed the lives of these people who have gone through that in their lives and what it actually does to a human to go through something like this. I wanted to play the realism of his journey and keep it in the now and the present.
The focus is so much on the female characters in the film that it's easy to forget how much he must be suffering.
Seriously suffering! I mean, everybody is suffering in their own way, but I do think he really does get dealt a terrible hand of cards. It's horrible what he goes through. And in such a desperate moment he looks to a complete stranger for help and solace and even that person is lying to him as well. It's not an easy journey.
Did it shift your ideas about married life or suburban family life at all?
I don't think either is a bad thing. I just think everybody has problems and everybody's dealing with issues, large and small, married or not. We're not perfect. We all have our crosses to bear. And the truth always comes out in the end. That's why it felt like that. These people, as broken as they are, will find some closure at some point. Sometimes you have to go through it to get to the other side.
Do you think it made sense to shift the location of the story from England to New York?
I'm not sure why it was changed. I don't think it's because London's not a great place to have it. It's a very universal story. Everybody travels on trains everywhere in the world. Trains are an ancient form a transport and still as prolific as they were a hundred years ago. You can get on a train anywhere in the world and you can do what she did. It's a very universal experience that she has. So it doesn't change the story at all, from my opinion, whether it's New York or Sydney or London or wherever.
It just changed what accent you had to do.
Yes, exactly! My accent changed and Emily's stayed the same.
Had you read the book before you were cast in the film?
I hadn't, no. I read script first and then I read the book. I was very aware of the book, obviously. You'd have to live under a rock to not have heard of The Girl on the Train.
Once you read the book did you understand the hype?
Yeah. And, I mean, I thought it was a great adaptation as well. The screenwriter did a great job adapting what is essentially a very difficult book to adapt to a film. There's so many characters and so many loopholes into different storylines and the structure of it isn't linear. There's nothing conventional about the storytelling of this film. I thought it was very well done.
You've been in a lot of films that are adapted from books. Is there any pressure that goes along with that?
No, I don't think so. Obviously you have to be respectful of the fact that this book has been embraced by millions of people around the world and they've imagined the characters faces and where they live and all that stuff. You have to be aware of that. But at some point you have to detach yourself from that and the fact that it was a book read by millions people or whatever. It's a story. You're telling a story. The book is essentially the beginning of this story, so it's nice to have the book as a reference and to go back and to read. But at some point you had to stop and hope that you're interpretation of the character will be sufficient for these fans of the book and who will relate to you.
How does this role fit in with the sorts of characters you want to be playing at this point in your career?
I don't know! Sometimes you get scripts sent you and you've never thought about that sort of role before. I'm just about to start a film now that is very different from everything I've done before. You have to have an open mind. You can't be too rigid on what you want to play next because sometimes scripts come up and they're very different to what you thought you might want to play. So you can go completely off on a tangent and do something different.
Was there something new you learned about yourself as an actor while making this film?
It was very nice to be playing in a contemporary story. You don't have to think about dragons and monsters or costumes. You're wearing jeans and a T-shirt. You're wearing normal stuff and you're living as an everyday guy. And that's who I am. So in a way it becomes very real and allows you to be very present. That was really enjoyable. I really enjoyed that. And often when playing against a brilliant actor or actress you learn something—it's a constant organic journey you're on as an actor—and I enjoyed playing against Emily. She was fantastic.
The movie is very dark. Was it hard to separate from that headspace when you were finished?
Not really. Sometimes it is, but this one wasn't too bad. And I think that's down to the fact that Emily and I were both really chilled and relaxed about the whole thing. When we weren't shooting the scenes, we were able to switch off a bit and bring a bit of levity to the set. Tate Taylor was very relaxed and very pleasant to be around as a director. So the energy was very positive most of the time, which is quite interesting.
That's the opposite of what you'd expect.
It's important! Who wants to stay in that dark space all day long?
This story by Emily Zemler originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.