'Beauty and the Beast' Star Luke Evans on Gaston's New Backstory and Making People Laugh (Q&A)

Luke Evans first started out on the stage, performing in many of London's West End productions including Rent, Miss Saigon and Avenue Q, but when the actor’s movie career took off after Clash of the Titans in 2010, he left singing behind. Evans' career on the big screen has mostly involved darker roles, starring in Furious 6, 2014’s Dracula Untold and 2016’s The Girl on the Train.

But it was because of his performance in Piaf in London nearly a decade ago that a casting agent thought of Evans for the role of Gaston in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Evans plays the handsome, charming and egotistical Gaston opposite Emma Watson's Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which hits theaters this weekend. Ahead of the release, THR spoke to Evans (who is currently in Budapest shooting his new show The Alienist) about why he took on the role, Gaston's interesting new backstory and what he'd like to do next.

How did you end up getting the role?

It was actually a casting director who was casting out of London and she knew that I sang. She had seen me in a musical I did called Piaf in London in the Donmar Warehouse and so she was very aware, many, many years ago that I could sing. She knew that I hadn’t sung since I started doing movies, and then this came up. She waited for the right time to bring me in to meet [director] Bill [Condon]. It all clicked, it all fell into place.

You mentioned that you hadn't sung since starting work in films. Was it a conscious choice to pass up those opportunities?

There has been offers in the last few years, but they didn’t seem to be the right job and so I didn’t pursue them. It took a couple of goes by my agents to get me in for Beauty and the Beast because I hadn’t really watched the animated movie for a very long time and I had forgotten how great the journey of Gaston is. You see all the colors of the character, from the loveable rogue to the buffoon to the jealous, revengeful sort of monster that he becomes by the end of the movie. So, it actually took me sitting down and watching the cartoon with my godchildren which made me realize how brilliant the role was and that I totally should do it.

How did you come up with Gaston's backstory?

It was something that Bill had spoken about and we ran with it. He was a captain in the army and so at some point he been a military man. His costumes reflect that. He’s very pristine. He always looks dapper. He’s a hunter, he rides a horse, he has a gun. We made a backstory up about this French village that he was brought up in that he protected from an invasion at some point when he was quite young. His happiest moments are in the memories of being in battle because that’s sort of where he gained his notoriety and his heroic status in the village, and he hasn’t really let the village forget this moment. He sort of had his 15 minutes of fame and he’s been hanging on to them ever since. I just felt there was a moment where he suffered possibly from PTSD, he has an anger issue, he has a massive problem with his ego and when he was dented by Belle rejecting him and then finding out she was in love with someone else, the guy loses it.

Gaston was your first singing role in a film. Are you comfortable doing that, or were you nervous?

If there’s one thing I’m comfortable doing in this life it’s singing. It’s like therapy to me. I’ll sing to anybody at any time, at anything, I will just sing. I love to sing. It was a joy for me to finally get to do it on the big screen in such a wonderful vehicle as Beauty and the Beast, playing this character with those songs. It was magic.

The "Gaston" number is such a crowd pleaser.

It’s great. It was very difficult because there’s so much that goes on in the animated version. I think we figured out that there were only about five people in the tavern in the animation — you’d think there’s way more. But obviously in the film there’s about 50 to 60 people in that tavern. It was just so much fun to rehearse it and get to spend weeks and weeks creating and building on the choreography and the special effects. Then going into a studio and recording the track, adding a little flare with my own vocal ability to the song and adding new notes. When I watched it in the premiere was the first time the audience clapped. It was a lovely moment.

There's been a lot of talk about LeFou's (Josh Gad) sexuality since Bill Condon mentioned there's a gay moment in the film. It has perhaps been blown out of proportion, but what sort of direction did he give you on set about Gaston's relationship with LeFou?

I think it has been blown out of proportion. Once people see the movie they’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t even a conversation really. LeFou’s character is probably the most redeveloped out of everybody. In the film he’s just this two-foot-tall punch line, a butt in everyone’s jokes. He has animals sit on his head, cymbals clash on his head, all these different ridiculous things that could only work in animated form. So when they brought that character into human form with Josh, a lot of thought was put into the character of LeFou and his connection to Gaston. There’s a lot of authenticity there, they’re like best buddies, they’ve been in each other’s lives for a very long time. I remember when I was a young kid and I always looked up to my older friends and thought, "Ah. One day I want to be like them. I want to play rugby like them. Everybody thinks they’re the best, I want to be that person." I think LeFou looks up to Gaston in that way — as a hero. I certainly don’t think there was anything more outside that relationship. They’re just good friends. What’s lovely about LeFou’s character is he finds his soul and his identity throughout the movie just as everybody else does. It’s a universal story and I think it’s a wonderful decision by everybody that this was part of the story.

What do you think of Disney choosing not to remove the gay moment for some international markets that have requested it?

I haven’t really been following it at all, but it’s a beautiful film and no one should touch it. It’s perfectly done and I think it should stay exactly as it is. It’s just wonderful and people will be missing out if they don’t watch it.

You've already shot Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, about the man who created Wonder Woman. What was it like to play that man?

It’s not a story many people know of. We all know of the Wonder Woman character, but not many people know the origins of this character and who created her. He was a Harvard professor of psychology who invented the lie detector test. He then went on to have a polyamorous relationship with his wife and another woman and they lived together, shared a life together, had children. They were ostracized from society. They lost their jobs, they moved. They struggled to find acceptance. The story is more about the man, and the women in his life and how those women inspired him to write the first female superhero, Wonder Woman. He was one of the first male feminists in America. By the way, we were shooting all of this during the Hillary/Trump debates. It was like the character was fighting for something in America in the 1930s while we were fighting for it in 2016, so it was an extraordinary parallel.

Now that you've done a Disney fairytale, what else do you want to do?

I have to say it’s quite addictive watching a film with an audience and hearing them laugh at something you’ve done. I haven’t experienced that very much in my career so far and I would have to say it was very enjoyable. It made me think that maybe I should test the comedy waters a little bit more than I have. I really enjoyed what I did on that film, especially working with Josh Gad. I think we definitely will want to work together again.

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