By David Hennessy
“I’m feeling a bit panicked to be honest because there’s still so much to do,” says Louth actress Evanna Lynch when asked about preparations for her first stage role, playing Bess in Houdini. “We’ve been focusing on the dramatic parts of the story and it was only yesterday they started talking about all the magic tricks and the illusions. I was like: ‘Oh my God we have to learn all these in two weeks?’ It’s good but it’s definitely at that stage of the play where you’re like: ‘This is never going to come together!’”
Remarkably down to earth, Evanna is happy to chat at length despite it being her well earned day off from rehearsals and this is why it is so easy to forget she features in one of the most recognisable movie franchises ever. This play will be Evanna’s second magical role as she rose to prominence playing Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, a role she was cast in at the age of 14. While her CV includes four features films from the world famous series, The Irish World asks the 22 year old actress who is two weeks into rehearsals if there are any nerves about moving into the live medium? “I don’t feel that nervous, I’m more just thrilled and excited. I’m really enjoying it because obviously I would have only done film and a bit of TV and you don’t get the time to rehearse and to practice. There’s no scheduled time for you to get to know a character or get to talk about it with the other cast. Often I’ve been on projects when the first time you’re running the lines with other actors is on camera on the day. I’ve just enjoyed this process so much of taking a few weeks to get to know the characters.
“Especially with the fact I’m playing- She was a real character. Her life is well documented. There is a lot of material on her. I love stories, I love learning about people’s biographies and how they got to be the person they were. I think the more you prepare, the less nervous you can be. As well as rehearsing together, we’re all living together so at the end of the day, we go home and we don’t really stop talking about Houdini. I feel like I’m doing as much preparation as I can and that will help.”
While everyone will recognise Houdini’s name, less is known about Bess who, as stage assistant as well as wife, was his muse and sacrificed just as much for Houdini’s legacy: “I admire her. She devoted her life to this man. She had dreams of performing herself and she gave it all up for him and was really happy to play second fiddle and be on the peripherary. She worked so hard and did so much for him but didn’t get the recognition he got. I do often think the muses, in the case of some artists, the people wouldn’t have made it without having that influence in their life.
“I don’t think I could ever do that. I get my drive from doing my own stuff. My mum is kind of like that she has kind of given up everything for her family and I appreciate it, it’s amazing. It’s really interesting to play a character whose motives are different.
“Even though he is calling the shots, she is strong in her own way. There’s a funny story about how Houdini one time stood up to this huge guy at his show and they had an argument and Houdini was really laying into him and he said he was scared to turn around and face his wife because she was the only one who scared him. The huge guy didn’t matter but this small five foot lady who was really fierce and strong minded put the fear of god into him. I like that. I really enjoy playing it.”
Performing opposite Jamie Nichols as Harry and Stuart Brennan in the role of Theo, Evanna explains the preparation for the play has been an immersive experience going back further than the two weeks of rehearsals they have completed: “It feels like longer. It’s clear that the other actors have been reading up on Houdini for the last couple of months and been really excited. I think that’s pushing everyone. Someone will come in everyday with a new anecdote that they’ve learned about Houdini or Jamie will have a new trick that he’ll practice on me, so it pushes you to up your game.”
Asked for her favourite Houdini story, Evanna begins: “My favourite story between him and Bess: The relationship was so unique and funny. They just had ways. All he wanted from her was complete loyalty and all she wanted was his love. They were travelling and performing one time when he was very famous and there was a show that she wanted to see but he wouldn’t let her see it because he said they were the competition and he didn’t want to give money to that show and also they had to work practising.
“She went to see this show, she decided to disobey him. He found out and halfway through the performance he stormed in, picked her up and he carried her out of there and brought her straight to the train station. He said: ‘I told you if you disobeyed me, I would send you away. Goodbye Mrs Houdini’. And he put her on the train and she was hysterical and screaming and crying and couldn’t believe it. He sent her back to her sister in New York. Then the next day, he turned up at the door and he had flowers and he said: ‘I told you I would send you away but I didn’t say I wouldn’t come back for you’. I think it’s funny. They had their ways and that was it: That’s all he wanted from her.”
After making their names as Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Potter films, its stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are now, like Evanna, forging careers of their own. How hard is it to break out of the Harry Potter shadow? “My character Luna was so eccentric, it’s kind of given me the chance to go in completely the opposite direction. Will anything ever be on the scale of Harry Potter? Probably not but there are more challenging roles for us in indie films. Now that the pressure’s off, we can explore a little bit.
“I really don’t think of it as a shadow. I don’t think it’s restraining me in a bad way. It’s opened so many doors for me.”
So what is next for Evanna? Well actually, she hopes to be playing Bess beyond the end of its current tour: “Actually if it goes well, we’re hoping it will transfer to the West End and if it does, I am 100% on board. I’ve always wanted to do West End.”
For the full feature, see the August 31 print edition of The irish World.
Houdini can be seen at Stoke on Trent Repertory Theatre September 9-14, Blackpool Grand Theatre September 16- 21, Swansea Grand Theatre September 24- 28, Windsor Theatre Royal September 30- October 5 and Dublin Gaiety Theatre October 7- 12. For more information, go to: http://www.houdinitheplay.com/.
Six more Irish stars of Harry Potter
Fiona Shaw played Harry’s maternal aunt in five of the films
Other Irish stars of the wizard series include Michelle Fairley, Jim Norton, Kenneth Branagh, Brendan Gleeson and Ciarán Hinds.