After graduating from drama school, he worked solidly throughout his 20s in musicals from Rent and Miss Saigon to the Boy George show Taboo. The Welsh actor had dreamed of London’s West End and making it big. But frustration built after he wasn’t taken seriously for straight theatre roles, let alone TV. “I couldn’t even get seen for an advert”, he grimaces. He finally snapped when a new show, Small Change, was announced at the Donmar Theatre and his agent, yet again, couldn’t get him an audition.
“It wasn’t fair, every door was closed and I knew I could do this. The character was a boy from Cardiff! I wrote a personal card to the casting director. She called me and three weeks later I got the job that completely changed my life.”
Agents came to see him in the show. “One day I was taken to lunch and dinner, both times at The Ivy, by William Morris and Creative Artists, two of the biggest agencies in Hollywood. It was crazy.
“They were courting me. I’d never experienced that before. In musical theatre, you flog yourself for a shred of attention and you’re only as good as your last show. Suddenly I had a manager and I’d never been to LA. Within a year I had my first movie.”
At 30, he hit Hollywood in 2010’s Clash Of The Titans as Greek god Apollo. “It was bizarre. I was with people like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes and they were like, ‘Where have you sprung from?’ I said, ‘I’ve been around but nobody wanted me!'”
These days things are very different. He’s just back from filming series two of Netflix thriller The Alienist in Budapest and stars in new Second World War movie epic Midway.
Previously he’s shared equal billing with the likes of Dame Helen Mirren who plays his gangster mother Queenie in the Fast And Furious films, with Jason Statham as his hell-raising brother.
Luke singing on Strictly last Saturday
“I love Jason. On set, everyone is so LA, everything is ‘totally awesome’. Then Jason turns up and he’s like [does a broad London accent], ‘Aw’right, son, wass goin’ on? Wass for lunch?’ He doesn’t let anything change him. He’s done extraordinarily well.” Luke is also keen to redefine his career beyond blockbusters with the likes of 2016 mystery movie The Girl On The Train: “I want to explore deeper roles, work on independent films,” he says. “It’s hard when Hollywood wants you to repeat what works.”
That said, vain, preening Gaston in Disney’s live-action Beauty And The Beast was impossible to resist. “I told my agent no three times. Then I decided to humanise Gaston, make people like him even as they hate him. It was wonderful. He is a total idiot and quite cruel, but there was a joy to just letting go. It was the only film where the crew was laughing during my scenes.” It introduced a global audience to the fact that Luke can belt out a tune, which he does with gusto on the new album, At Last. Instead of the expected musicals collection, it is a homage to the bombastic tracks that fuelled a young boy’s dreams of escape.
The songs are all ‘hairbrush epics’ to sing in the mirror, lots of drama and a big finish. A bit like him, perhaps?
“Maybe,” he smiles. “I love power ballads and rock epics but I wanted to reimagine them. So I take Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, which has surprisingly melancholy lyrics, and change it.” He burst out laughing: “But it still has drama and a big finish. You’re right! I can’t help myself.” There are already plans to tour: “We are working out a window for next year. It will definitely happen.” Time to bring that voice back to the Valleys. How does he feel about home these days, as national sentiments rise?
Luke Evans had dreamed of London’s West End and making it big
“People naturally see me as the ‘Welsh actor’ which is lovely. We’re such a small country, but culturally we’ve done a lot. I’m proud of my heritage. I love the people. But I also feel British and European. I think outside the cities, these issues are somehow less important. Not everybody is talking about Brexit back home. But I will never not feel European even if we are cut away.”
Luke delights in astonishing people with his singing but remains perplexed people are surprised by his sexuality. He has never hidden being gay, but nor does he publicise it. Perhaps, I suggest, it is because he plays stereotypically hyper-masculine roles? “I don’t know why anyone would be surprised. There are many ways to be gay.
If it’s because I make action movies that says more about them than me.
“We are not all the same. All I see is myself, a gay man. There shouldn’t be any fuss made about it. I don’t feel any part of my career has had anything to do with my sexuality.
“Nobody should be given or denied a job because of what they do in bed.”
Luke with Ian McKellen in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)
Luke in The Three Musketeers (2011)
Early frank admission in interviews gave way to much more carefully vague pieces when the Hollywood machine took hold. Was he advised to ‘hide’ it? “Never! I never had a problem or lost a job over it. In fact, I think I have a lot of respect in the industry because of how I have carried myself. You can choose to be very vocal and if that is your identity, then great.
“I’ve always been very private, way before I was famous. That’s how I was brought up. That does not mean I’m ashamed or embarrassed.
“But I represent a big part of my community who are private, who carry on with their lives, have families, don’t necessarily want to go to bars and clubs. That’s OK, too. I’m true to my own self, my own voice.”
Family plans are still for the future, but he is in a new relationship.
“I’m very happy,” he smiles. “It’s hard to go out with me, I travel and work all the time. But I’m in a really great place. I’m able to look after my family. I’m jumping hurdles I was always too scared to face, professionally and personally. I’m doing things I only ever dreamed of. It feels really good.”