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Luke Evans on fashion, marriage and body image: ‘I wasn’t pretty or flawless – I looked like a bloke’

‘We’ve seen the celebration of being gay, of gay marriage, of having children and all of those wonderful things, but not so much the splitting up’  (Shutterstock)
‘We’ve seen the celebration of being gay, of gay marriage, of having children and all of those wonderful things, but not so much the splitting up’ (Shutterstock)

Luke Evans would like to clarify something, as I’ve made the mistake of calling him hench. “Firstly, Dwayne Johnson is hench,” the actor says, cheerfully yet firmly, in his mellifluous Welsh growl. “Chris Hemsworth is hench. Put them next to me and I look like a matchstick.”

The decidedly un-hench Evans may not feel particularly stacked in the upper-arm department, but he’s certainly played a lot of muscly men. In the live-action Beauty and the Beast he was Gaston, a throbbing vein of musical machismo. He was a swashbuckling archer in the Hobbit trilogy, the Greek god Apollo in Clash of the Titans, and a surprisingly tender Zeus in the action thriller Immortals. He’s even been a villain in a Fast & Furious movie, that practically annual convention of the square-jawed and bountifully burly.

Finally, there’s Evans’s Instagram, which suggests he leads a blissful, sun-kissed life of topless reclining and international adventure. The imagery for his new lifestyle brand BDXY follows suit, showcasing yachts, supermodels and immaculate tailoring. Maybe “hench” isn’t the right word. Maybe it should just be “envy-inducing”.

Anyway, the 44-year-old is video-calling from his home in London, a temporary abode whenever he’s not living between Spain and Portugal, where he spends most of the year. I’ve asked about Evans’s physique because it’s been essential for a substantial chunk of his CV – along with his agility, his deftness with a sword and/or gun, and his musical-theatre-honed pipes. But dig beyond the big, expensive stuff and you find a raft of quieter character roles, as in the polyamorous love story Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – which saw him play the sensitive, kinky creator of the DC Comics character – and his new film Our Son, a bluesy drama about a couple on the outs. He gets to yell, and cry, and grieve. You spy not a single ab.

“It was the first time I’d read a story like this from two gay people’s point of view,” he explains. “We’ve seen the celebration of being gay, of gay marriage, of having children and all of those wonderful things, but not so much the splitting up.” He thinks it’s been an oversight. “When gay people were given the right to marry, we were also given the right to divorce. And [these stories] are important. They allow everybody just to go, ‘We’re all the bloody same – we’re all dealing with the same things.’”

Evans and the Pose actor Billy Porter are Nicky and Gabriel, a pair of moneyed New Yorkers and the picture of progressive perfection: gay, married, successful, and raising an adorable eight-year-old son. Nicky, though, has grown distant, consumed by work at the expense of his family. Gabriel, meanwhile, confesses to a fling that the couple hadn’t discussed in advance, then he files for divorce. A custody battle ensues, surfacing all the unspoken resentments in Nicky and Gabriel’s marriage.

Our Son is most impressive for its sheer novelty: we see groups of gay men talking to one another; we see gay relationships in all their nuances and distinctions, and gay characters who are flawed and believably chaotic.

I once gave birth in a stage show, as a man – that was probably more surreal than having Octavia Spencer try to chop off my manhood

For Evans, too, it was a novelty to work with an actor like Porter. “We’re both proud gay men in an industry where there isn’t so much of this going on, you know? Gay men playing these roles and telling these stories... I thought that was very powerful and important.”

Evans left his hometown at 16, moving to Cardiff, then London, where he studied acting at the London Studio Centre. “You could almost disappear,” he explains. “That’s the reason London appealed to me when I was a young man. You want to find your community, and often where [gay people] are brought up, there isn’t one, or there’s shame, or there’s secrets. To feel free, and to feel part of something, you go to a big city where you’ll find people like you. It’s what gay people have done for decades and will keep on doing. Though I do hope that these smaller villages and cities are a bit more accepting now.”

His breakthrough came at the age of 22, when he led the Boy George musical Taboo. Roles on stage – in Miss Saigon and Rent – followed, before he broke into film. His work has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, notably the cult 2019 horror movie Ma, in which he is strapped naked to a bed and injected with dog blood. “I’ve had stranger roles, believe it or not,” he says. “I once gave birth in a stage show, as a man – that was probably more surreal than having Octavia Spencer try to chop off my manhood.”

Impending acrimony: Billy Porter and Luke Evans in the family drama ‘Our Son’ (Universal)
Impending acrimony: Billy Porter and Luke Evans in the family drama ‘Our Son’ (Universal)

The diversity of Evans’s work, coupled with his sexuality, makes him (depressingly) a bit of a Hollywood anomaly. There has been no pigeonholing, no typecasting, and no attempt to make him a vaguely asexual pin-up – fates typically inflicted upon out actors in the American film industry. Films like Beauty and the Beast or the Emily Blunt vehicle The Girl on the Train very much trade upon his desirability. He credits all of this to his slight ambiguity as a public figure, and his good fortune when he first stepped into film acting.

“Even in my late twenties, I looked like a 35-year-old man,” he laughs. “And at the point of my career starting in movies, Twilight had just started, remember? It was all about looking perfect and pretty and flawless, and I was none of those things – I looked like a bloke. I could look scary. I could be kind. I could be a leading man. I could do action. All these different things. So I fit into quite a large casting category, and people were able to see the spectrum of ability that I have.”

Warrior: Evans in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Shutterstock)
Warrior: Evans in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Shutterstock)

Added to that has always been the sense that Evans has, well, lived a little. He was raised in Aberbargoed, a small town in Caerphilly in Wales, by Jehovah’s Witness parents. A few days before our conversation, he posted a photograph on his Instagram of himself as a child. Today he describes that boy’s “giant ears, on that strange little head, on that skinny body”. It’s still him, though. “Yes, I’ve changed through the years, but I’m that young kid, too. I have to look after him a lot in life – you never get rid of that, and you don’t want to.”

On top of acting, there have been Evans’s second and third careers – the two albums he’s released, where he’s covered hits such as Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” and duetted with Nicole Kidman, and now his fashion and lifestyle brand, BDXY. Its name is a semi-portmanteau of “bold” and “sexy”, and it produces swimsuits, bags, underwear, and even scented candles. “I’m guilty of it myself, but a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that,’ but then it doesn’t go any further than that – a thought,” he says. “But imagine getting old and thinking about all that you wanted to do when you were younger, and you never did. I’m all for trying something, and I’m all for giving it everything – then seeing if it works.”

He has, after all, been a grafter since the very beginning. Just don’t call him hench.

‘Our Son’ is on digital release from 25 March