Evangeline Lilly: Saint, Sinner, Writer, Wasp

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Photo by Joseph Y. Wong
Photo by Joseph Y. Wong

Evangeline Lilly may be most recognizable these days as the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but she considers herself a writer first. And a dirty thief (wink, wink—more on that later). But, Sunday in the Marriott during her first appearance at Dragon Con, she showed con-goers that her megawatt smile fronts a truly magnanimous soul—jumping off stage in the middle of the panel to hug a couple dressed as the Pyms and asking a young girl about her own interest in soccer.

First, about that writing. A few years ago (2013), Lilly wrote and published a children’s book, which sprung from an idea she had as a 14-year-old: The Squickerwonkers: The Prequel. But, knowing she had more to say, she mapped out a series of 18 additional stories based on a group of colorful marionettes (the Squickerwonkers), each with a vice, and set out to make those books happen.

Enter Rodrigo Bastos Didier, a young Brazilian artist who loved her first book so much that he drew fan art and posted it to her Facebook page. She “liked” it immediately, and the rest is history. Well, kinda. Didier, who joined Lilly on stage Sunday, is proof that dreams (coupled with some chutzpah) do come true, as he struck up a friendship with her enough to help bring her to Brazil’s comic convention, where he gave her his own portfolio and started to convince her he was the only one who could illustrate the new books, even after she turned him down.

Didier called it all a “crazy journey,” one that unfolded over nearly three years, countless hours of sketching, and months of back and forth with work at all hours, to account for different time zones. The result is intricate, colorful illustrations with a “renaissance” feel that he’s very proud of.

“I fell in love the first time that I saw it,” Didier said of the source material and that he “put all [his] art into it.”

Lilly said that when she wrote the first Squickerwonkers poem at 14, her mom praised it and declared it publishable. Because, you know, moms love all their kids do, even Evangeline Lilly’s mom. It wasn’t until she began filming The Hobbit and working alongside amazing artists for that production who all had many side and “secret” projects that she realized she wanted to have her own “secret project,” as she sees acting as just a day job (albeit a blessed one).

“This is my passion,” she said about writing and the books.

When asked how she came up with the name, she credited Dr. Seuss. She loved how he made up words or played with them in surprising ways. “Squickerwonkers” felt good on the tongue, she said, pronouncing it with a Scottish accent to give it more flair. She also, as a kid, drew several of the characters and always thought she would draw them as an adult. Alas, life—that aforementioned day job and being a mama—got in the way, so she turned to others, making sure she could develop a truly symbiotic relationship with whoever she chose as they would be the artist for all 18 books.

In retelling how Didier became her right-hand man, she said she couldn’t believe he had “the balls” to disagree with her when she turned him down, saying he told her she was wrong and then came back with something spectacular.

“Evangeline is so open to new ideas,” Didier said, adding that he “felt a part of it”—meaning the full creative process—and not as an outsider hired just to do a job.

Of course, Lilly had a great sense of humor, especially when it came to acknowledging that fans wanted to know more about her work on several of the most loved science fiction and fantasy series this last decade: Lost, The Hobbit, and Ant-Man.

“I know where I’m going,” Lilly said, with a twinkle in her eye while calling out those in the audience afraid of a Lost-like cliffhanger ending to her books.

“And, you all are gonna like the finale,” Didier quipped.

At one point, Lilly said Atlanta—where much of the MCU movies are filmed—was like a second home, one she invited Didier to last year as she worked on Ant-Man and the Wasp. She even brought him on as an extra in a restaurant scene, where he is acting as a waiter in the background.

Lilly herself fell into acting, working as an extra to pay for college. She said one day on the set of Smallville, a handler entered and singled her out for an actual (and incredibly small) part, which she didn’t want. When he said it would allow her to get a SAG card, which in turn would get her an additional $20 per gig, she was sold. She talked about how she wanted to be a humanitarian, but that she eventually realized that she can also make a positive impact being an actress

“Hollywood can, in some ways, make a difference,” Lilly said.

When asked about how her “disintegration” at the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp would affect the time she could dedicate to writing, she exclaimed, “Holy spoilers!” and called the questioner “a cheeky guy.”

“If I answered that question,” she said, “I’d have to kill you.” Once again, the MCU—and the Wasp’s future in it—stays shrouded in secrecy.

In advising those who find it difficult to put their ideas on paper, Didier suggested to pull tangible, disparate things from the world—like a glass of water, a mountain, and a beaver—and see what crazy thing you can concoct to get everything flowing. The world, he said, is vast, and can be such an inspiration. He also compared creating art to creating jazz music—there’s no one way to do something perfectly, but there are dozens of prefect choices for every piece. Lilly said she never suffers writer’s block as everything “flows out of [her] like vomit.” The hard part is cleaning it up into something complete and marketable.

“I relish the chance to make the story better,” Lilly said at one point when talking about editing and subjectivity.

When asked which of her own Squickerwonkers character that she most relates to, she said she’s actually her own: Carrie the Controlling. She described herself as a perfectionist who feels she always has the right ideas but is learning to trust the collaborative process and other’s ideas. Also, to let “it” go. Meaning, control, specifically for the manifestation of the Wasp, who is conglomeration of ideas from her, teams of artists, and teams of special effects experts.

“I had to remember,” she said, “that Peyton Reed made an incredible film in Ant-Man.” So, she trusted him the second time around.

Circling back to the controversial ending of Lost, Lilly gave an impassioned, and philosophical, mini-speech about the beauty of it—how it embodied everything the show had embraced: the cliffhanger ending, the constant search for answers, the not-knowing. If you want the answer, go to church, she challenged the audience.

“But, art,” she said, “art is supposed to turn the question back on you.”

When asked if she would ever consider writing a Wasp book or comic, she said she actually had the opportunity, but that it wasn’t right for her. She then talked about how she is a person of faith and trusts in that to guide her and flow through her.

When asked if she had taken any props from sets, she professed, “I should admit that I’m a dirty thief,” noting the oddness of the declaration right after talking about her faith. She even gave some tips—take objects during the middle of a production, as it’s less likely to be missed, and production will likely just make another (or pull out a spare). Dragon Con won’t tattle on what she took. Just know that her steal from The Hobbit anguished director Peter Jackson.

Evangeline Lilly—a sinner and a saint. It was fun to meet both sides of the writer, actress, and activist, and her and Didier’s first book in the new Squickerwonkers series sounds sublime.

 

 

About the author

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.

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