Luke Evans: ‘If it was gay roles for gay people, I wouldn't have a career’
I meet Luke Evans not far from his apartment in London, the city in which he’s lived for almost two-thirds of his life. But we are talking about Welshness.
The Pontypool-born actor is releasing an album featuring two leading lights of his country, Charlotte Church and the Treorchy Male Voice Choir. And, the week after our interview, he films Luke Evans Showtime, an all-star concert in Newport’s three-year-old International Convention Centre (“It’s got a massive red dragon outside it!”), for the BBC at Christmas.
Evans has travelled the world in his career, appearing in such international blockbusters as The Hobbit and Fast & Furious 6, as well as this month’s Apple TV+ thriller Echo 3, filmed in Colombia, and Channel 4’s current, Australia-shot series Nine Perfect Strangers with Nicole Kidman. But the more he jet-sets, the more his roots matter.
“It’s very easy to promote Welsh culture because it’s so rich,” says the 43-year-old. “The music, the acting, the performance – it’s just in our blood. You can’t stop a Welsh person from singing. They’re always humming something.”
Does he feel the need to shout about it whenever the opportunity arises? “I’m British, of course. But I’m Welsh. I made that point very clearly early in my career when people interviewed me. Just because I feel proud of it. I come from a very working-class place, in the Valleys.”
For Evans, then, it’s a point about class too. “People might assume I came from a lovely middle-class background, and I was just invited to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. None of that happened. Mum’s a cleaner. We lived in a terraced house – they still do. We had a Nissan Micra! And my dad worked himself to the bone, until he didn’t have to any more.”
Evans has a parallel career as a singer. Having bonded with Kidman and her husband, country music superstar Keith Urban, during the filming of Nine Perfect Strangers, he asked these two A-listers to help on his second album, A Song for You. Kidman, recorded by Urban in the musician’s Nashville studio, and Evans sang together on Say Something (made famous by Christina Aguilera).
Evans recorded another duet, Come What May (from the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!), with Church, an old friend with whom he shared a childhood singing teacher. Evans asserts that Kidman is a more confident, better singer than she was when she sang the same song for the Baz Luhrmann musical. “It wasn’t like she had Baz there [directing] her – you imagine that would have been very, you know, involved. She did this herself. And that’s the voice that came out, which is f------ brilliant.”
I’m interviewing Evans in a meeting room in White City, west London. He’s brawny, chiselled, tattooed and resembles a model-cum-lumberjack in his plaid shirt and faded jeans. He strikes me as someone who is supremely comfortable in his own skin. Indeed, as a gay man in an often closeted industry, he made his sexuality clear early on.
Yet he is also aware of the misguided perception that he didn’t come out until relatively late in his career. “That’s the bit that everybody always gets confused,” he begins.
“I came to London at 16, 17, and lived an openly gay life. So when the movie stuff started to happen, in my head, I thought, well, I’ve already done that [and come out].” But when, after spending his twenties in musical theatre on the London stage, he entered “the world of movies, it felt almost like I’d been born again. People said: ‘Oh, who is this person? Let’s get to know who he is.’
“I’m thinking: hold on a minute. I’m 30, I’ve been in London for 14 years. I’ve paid my bills and mortgage, bought my own underwear and had a life since I was 16.
“And all of a sudden I’m being told I have to come out again, like it’s a big thing. And it was just not. Not to me, at least. So that was weird, and to have to endure that was unpleasant – the public opinion saying that I went back in the closet and all that stuff. Absolutely ridiculous.”
He remembers newspaper coverage of his first world premiere, accompanied by a good female friend. “The Daily Mail said she was my girlfriend and things were becoming really serious,” he recalls with an incredulous smile. “We giggled so hard. [But] the next thing is: ‘Luke Evans has a beard and he’s hiding away!’ How wrong people are! And how quickly a story can be made up to the point where I hid it away. And I didn’t at all.”
What does he make of Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies’s view, expressed last year, that only gay people should play gay parts? “I’m not sure about that,” he replies, carefully.
“Gay people have definitely missed out on gay roles, for sure. Russell spoke very powerfully, passionately, about this point. I get it, and I totally think that things do need to change. But from my perspective: firstly, I wouldn’t have had a career if gay people played gay roles and straight people played straight roles. I’d have played two roles out of the 36 projects I’ve worked on, or whatever [the number] is.”
Secondly, his view is simply that “the right person gets the job. Talent and ability, and a bit of luck and timing ... That should be the reason why you get a job. It shouldn’t have anything to do with anything else.”
Evans’s sexuality certainly hasn’t hampered his career. Among projects in the pipeline are roles in a film comedy called Good Grief, directed by Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy, and Netflix’s animated take on the musical Scrooge, in which he duets alongside that other actor who’s artfully moonlighting as a singer, Jessie Buckley. With A Song for You also featuring his covers of Last Christmas and Silent Night, Evans, it seems, has made the festive period his own.
“You’re going to be sick of me!” he laughs. “People will be like: ‘Thank God Christmas has come and gone!’”
A Song for You (BMG) is released tomorrow