As her new film My Name is Emily continues to garner critical acclaim, Evanna Lynch takes some time aside to speak to Patrick Kelleher about developing as an actor, living in LA and her writing ambitions.
On a Monday afternoon, Evanna Lynch is in her family home in Louth taking phone calls from journalists. The Irish actress is home from LA for a few days following her IFTA nomination for her performance in the acclaimed My Name is Emily, an independent Irish film. Even though recent days and weeks have been filled with press interviews, Lynch is still on a high from the film, which becomes increasingly apparent as we speak; she has a love for both the character and the film that few actors could rival. This is dedication at its height. But as she explains, getting the role was all down to chance.
“It was actually just chance that it came to me,” she explains. “It was a friend of mine, she’s an actress, Scarlett Byrne, and she’s one of my best friends, and she was reading it, and I think she just felt that it was more suitable for me than for her, and she passed it on… I fell in love with it. It’s not often that you’ll get a script like that that’s so beautifully written, and the characters are so clearly defined, and I really admired Emily for the way she so boldly expresses her emotions, so freely, even though she’s only sixteen.”
Lynch never had a formal audition for the role, instead having a Skype conversation with writer and director Simon Fitzmaurice. “I didn’t actually get an audition for it. I remember pestering my agents to get me an audition, and didn’t hear anything back, so eventually I just did some Googling and found the producers’ email addresses, and I had the script so I made a self-tape and I sent them an email just begging them to show it to Simon, and that was it.”
After five weeks of shooting the film in Wicklow, My Name is Emily was eventually completed and released – although this was not without its challenges. The film had a highly publicised crowd-funding campaign a few years ago that raised €120,000 in 30 days. It looks as though the efforts have proven worth it. Since its release, My Name Is Emily has been the source of acclaim from critics, something that Lynch is proud of. “Everyone takes something different from it… there’s so many layers to it,” she says. “Personally I’m so drawn in by Emily and her Dad’s relationship, and the sadness around it in the sense that what they had can never be again. It isn’t usual that movies will portray that, they’re not so blunt about the sadness and the grief, and I love that about it. I love that everyone has something different about it. There was one reviewer who pointed out all the shots of pots of tea, and I just love that!”
While the film is firmly Irish based, Lynch herself isn’t. She’s been living in LA now since she was 19 years old – a decision that seems to have come about organically for the actress. What prompted this move across the Atlantic?
“It was kind of on a whim to be honest with you,” she says. “I repeated my Leaving Cert because the first time I was more focused on the last Harry Potter movie… I really just wanted to act. I applied to a university, but very half-heartedly. I didn’t want to go to school at that point, because I felt like I knew what I wanted to do and I felt like I had a bit of a leg up, so yeah, I met a manager, and I met some people who were all really nice, and I wasn’t getting opportunities out here or in England, so I just wanted to try it. I think I wanted an adventure… like my parents travelled when they were really young, and just the crazy stories you hear. I wanted to be able to say ‘when I was in LA’, ‘I went on this road-trip’, that kind of thing.”
Before she decided to move to LA, there was a moment after repeating her Leaving Cert where she considered studying art history at Trinity.
“I wanted to go to Trinity, I had my art history teacher in the Institute, she taught there and I really loved her. I got in! But I just…” she trails off, seemingly unsure of exactly what prompted her to turn down the offer. Her art history teacher at the Institute of Education was left disappointed. “I met her recently and she was like ‘I saw your name, I expected you to be there!’ and I was like ‘damn, I took the wrong path!’”
It seems to have been the right path after all, though. As she is quick to point out, living in LA has provided her with valuable opportunities, as well as the industry expertise she was missing in Ireland.
“It’s not often that you’ll get a script like that that’s so beautifully written, and the characters are so clearly defined, and I really admired Emily for the way she so boldly expresses her emotions, so freely, even though she’s only sixteen.”
“It’s just made me more knowledgeable on the industry,” she explains. “When I first got into movies and I got into Harry Potter, it was purely for the love of story and the character, and that is always at the heart of what I do, that’s why I do it. But you have to be quite savvy about the industry, and some people, they’ll go to drama school, or some people will have parents or agents that’ll coach them on that stuff. But I just didn’t really, I was very naïve on it really, on the business side of it. And in a way, you can’t just go into rooms and hope that people will pull whatever out of you, which to a degree… they did that on Harry Potter; they saw something. I was shy but they would help it come out of me. And I think in LA they don’t really have time for that, they don’t have time to nourish your creative spirit. They just want you to be there and show them what you’ve got. So I’ve got more comfortable with expressing myself and not being afraid of myself.”
While a substantial amount of her time in LA is spent trying to further her acting career, Lynch isn’t short of hobbies. When she’s not going to auditions, her average days sound nothing short of blissful. She is woken by her cat in the morning, does some yoga, reads scripts and does work for the animal charities she’s involved with. Perhaps most interesting, however, is that she spends a significant amount of her days writing fiction. She likes to write about “weird people, people on the outskirts who aren’t noticed. I’m interested in just awkward feelings I think. My stories, they’re not big on plot, they’re big on moments, things that happen to you that will completely affect you, or can change how you see things, but it might just be a passing comment or something. I just love exploring those kind of things. I know I’m being vague but I don’t like to talk about my plots because I’ll just lose interest in them.”
This fascination with characters on the outskirts extends beyond her writing, of course. Evanna Lynch famously began her acting career playing one of JK Rowling’s most unusual characters, Luna Lovegood, in the Harry Potter series. The story of how she got the role has been highly publicised in the intervening years. She got the role at just 14 years of age for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, signaling her break into acting. Lynch had been following the Harry Potter books closely for years, and had even exchanged letters with JK Rowling. While most 14 year olds are still trying to figure themselves out, Lynch was tasked with the challenge of also trying to figure out one of JK Rowling’s most challenging characters. What was it like landing that role at such an early age?
“It was really exciting,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to act, I just didn’t have a way into it. I think I was really frustrated at school because I was doing so many things every day that I knew I would never use again when I left school, and I felt so much of that was getting in the way of my calling. So it was brilliant to have that, and to have an excuse to go and do the thing I wanted to do.”
Being thrust into the spotlight at such a young age has had negative effects on many in the public eye, but this wasn’t the case for Lynch. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It offered a chance to prove herself, but also to grow into acting. “It was a boost of confidence,” she says. “Obviously it’s unusual, it’s not like you go into school, the way they say, ‘here’s how to be a teacher’, ‘here’s how to be a doctor’ – they don’t say ‘here’s how to be an actor’. So I needed that, and I think getting the role so young, it showed me that path and it gave me confidence in my dreams.”
The role was a defining one for Lynch, and getting to develop and grow into the role of Luna Lovegood was an invaluable experience. She is still in touch with much of the cast, and Rowling herself. “We keep in touch,” she says of Rowling. “Not all the time, because it doesn’t take more than a Google search to see how busy that lady is! But yeah, we do write letters every now and then.”
Much of Lynch’s youth has been highly publicised as a result of her time on the set of Harry Potter. Among this is her experience with anorexia. When we move onto the topic, however, she makes it clear how unhappy she is at the Irish media’s handling of the topic in recent weeks. “I don’t like that it’s being used as a clickbait topic, because it is very personal,” she says. “It is something that I’m happy to write about, and I’ve only spoken about it because I think it needs awareness, but I’m a bit unhappy with how it’s been handled.”
In most interviews, her experience with anorexia has been the focus, whereas her acting – and most particularly, her performance in My Name is Emily, has been overlooked. “It’s annoying because it’s not like I rock up to these interviews for a therapy session, which is what it looks like,” she explains. “The only reason I talk about it is because I want to help people feel like it’s not just you, everyone deals with this. But they do, they use it – they abuse it, rather, to get people to click on it, to show something shocking, and it’s not that, it’s very delicate, and it should be treated that way.”
On what’s next for Lynch, the answer isn’t entirely clear. She’s always auditioning for roles, but her outlook has changed since My Name is Emily. “Ever since I took My Name is Emily, I have been a lot more picky, because that project changed me, and that reminded me why I’m doing it. It’s not about making it, or outdoing yourself, it’s just about finding the things that move you. So after that I was like, ‘I’m going to write until something amazing pulls me away from my desk.’”
Becoming quite as recognisable and prominent in the film industry at such a young age is a difficult accomplishment for any young actor. For those who want to follow in her footsteps and break into the industry, Lynch says that you need to stay rooted in your love for what you do.
“Stay connected to the love, why you love it,” she says. “There is an industry side to it, and that side can weigh you down. But when you take all that away there’s a very pure, innocent, beautiful reason why you do it in the first place. And I think the way to stay connected to that is just be surrounded by people who inspire you – who light you up.”
My Name is Emily is in cinemas now.