Cool hand Luke

Luke Evans has been shooting blockbusters back-to-back for the best part of a decade but has still found time to make an album and build a house

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“Every day feels surreal,” admits a disorientated Luke Evans as he attempts to explain his life over the last few months. He’s speaking from Budapest on a set designed to be New York City in 1897, shooting the follow up to hit series The Alienist, which sounds confusing enough. “Then I’ve been coming home every weekend to London to record my album for two months.”

The debut LP, aptly titled At Last, marks a return to the Welsh actor’s musical roots. “It’s been a long time coming – 20 years,” he laughs. “It still doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening, if I’m really honest. Right now, my world is manic and extremely busy with lots of interesting things going on.”

“I’m from a family of doers who don’t sit on our bums doing nothing.”

Over the past decade Evans has starred in back-to-back Hollywood hits like The Hobbit trilogy, Beauty and the Beast and the Fast and Furious series. This month marks the release of real-life war drama Midway, and in December animated kids feature StarDog and TurboCat hits screens, and both are squeezed in alongside filming The Alienist follow-up, The Angel of Darkness, for Netflix. It’s a wonder the 40-year-old star finds time to sleep let alone record an album. “You have
to know your limits and how to look after yourself,” says Evans earnestly, “but it’s fun.”

Having fun seems to be a key factor. During our brief conversation – itself crowbarred in between takes on The Angel of Darkness – the pure joy Evans finds in his work is evident in the light lilt of his Welsh accent. Growing up in the small village of Aberbargoed, in Caerphilly, Evans gravitated towards the stage. An accomplished singer, he moved to Cardiff at age 17 and studied music. After scooping up a scholarship to study at London Studio Centre he found early success starring in West End musicals like Rent and Avenue Q before Hollywood called. His day job may have transitioned from musical theatre to movie sets but his love of singing and showmanship endured.

“Music has always been my first dream,” he tells Big Issue North. “I’ve loved singing ever since I was a kid and my dream was always to be a recording artist. Recently I sang in Beauty and the Beast, which was great because a lot of people realised I could sing,” he says, recalling his part in Disney’s 2017 live-action adaptation in which he played pompous villain Gaston. “It was always in the back of my mind that I might get the opportunity to record an album and then the stars aligned.”

At Last is a collection of twelve classic tracks – reimagined, stripped back and borrowed predominantly from female artists – that marks the realisation of a lifelong dream. “The hardest part was narrowing it down to just twelve songs,” he says. “I’ve saved them up for all these years. [Roberta Flack’s] The First Time
I Ever Saw Your Face has been my song ever since I was 12.” And there’s a boyish pride evident when he adds “some of them had never been sung by a man before.”

After singing musical scores for Disney it’s perhaps not surprising that Evans has gone big on production. “We used the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to do all the strings and it just sounds amazing,” he beams. “It’s a fantastic experience to be able to sing these songs that I’ve sung acapella in the middle of the night around a coffee table with friends, then all of a sudden I’m doing that same song with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.”

After wrapping The Angel of Darkness Evans will be moving onto rounds of promotions for his two new films. Midway is director Roland Emmerich’s Pearl Harbour epic and Evans is clearly impressed by the scale of that project too.

“We built the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and huge replica airplanes on hydraulic gimbals to replicate air combat,” he says with giddy enthusiasm. “It was brilliant fun for a bunch of adults to play like big kids but then you remember we’re telling a true story of an epic moment in the American-Japanese war. It was very poignant and lots of people lost their lives. We’re respecting that story and honouring those heroes on both sides.”

Light relief comes in the animated kids film out just in time for Christmas. Evans stars as the eponymous TurboCat, sidekick to Nick Frost’s StarDog, and it’s sure to please the young fans he’s won over since starring as Disney baddie Gaston.

“It’s not just kids – but big kids,” he laughs. “Mums come up to me with their kids and look at me with their mouths open like, ‘That’s Gaston!’. I’ve played some iconic characters but this one’s going to stay with me for a long time.”

Evans says it’s a tightly regimented schedule and strong assiduity to work helps ensure his often exhaustive schedule never gets too much. “I’ve got a really good work ethic,” he says. “I come from a family of hard workers. My dad was a manual builder, building houses his whole life – we’re a family of doers and don’t sit on our bums doing nothing. That put me in good stead to have lots of energy to do what I do.”

But Evans concedes that a Welsh graft ethic alone can’t keep his tight ship afloat. “I couldn’t manage without the small team of people who work with me. They make sure my schedule is tight and I have windows to take a breather and fit everything in. I have to look after myself. I drink vegetable juices every morning, sleep well and know when I have to have breaks. I know my limits.

“If you’re going to keep up a workload like mine, you have to sleep well and eat well. You can’t party all the time.”

Knowing when to call time on Twitter is also a key factor in staying happy and healthy amid constant commitments, he says. “Social media is an interesting thing. I’m very much aware that if you choose to be on it, you’re either on it or you’re not and if I’m going to have a social media presence, I want to make it interesting. I get to promote my country and charities through social media but I’m also very aware that there are online bullies.” Is this something he’s experienced first hand? “I’m 40 years old – I couldn’t give a damn about those people,” he says. “I just feel really sorry for them and for the people who are affected by it. It’s horrible.

“I have moments where I just disappear for a couple of weeks, go back to my personal life and switch off. I give fans plenty so my life outside of the public
eye can be mine. It’s a healthy balance that you have to find but I don’t think
you ever do – you just have to try and control it. It’s very difficult.”

But even during the scant personal time Evans does take for himself he’s doing work his father would be proud of – building a house in Ibiza. “I feel very much at home by the sea, even though I was born in a valley in South Wales, in a mining village,” he laughs.

As for next year, Evans is already plotting an album tour and has a confirmed part in cartel thriller Dreamland alongside Gary Oldman. Evans says he’s a huge fan.

“Whenever you get to work with one of your idols, you really can’t believe it.  When the director shouts ‘action’ and you’re face to face with someone who you literally admire every single thing they’ve ever done, it’s incredible,” he says. “Every day something happens and you get to pinch yourself and say: ‘Blinkin’ heck – where have I come from, where am I going and how is this happening?’ It’s a lovely thing and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

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