Evangeline Lilly Tells Us About Writing 'The Squickerwonkers' and Her New Passion for Directing

Evangeline Lilly Tells Us About Writing 'The Squickerwonkers' and Her New Passion for Directing

Jul 24, 2014

Two weeks ago we posted the first part of our interview with Evangline Lilly that was all about the acting side of her career. But being in front of the camera is not her sole passion. She's also a rather talented writer and burgeoning producer and director.

In fact, the entire reason we spoke with the Hobbit and Lost star in the first place was to hear about her book The Squickerwonkers. It's the rare kind of kids' book that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, and as it turns out, that was actually a pretty big obstacle to the book getting published. That's why Lilly spent a year self-publishing the book, during which she realized she may actually be more interested in directing and producing than acting.

Thankfully a smart publisher, Titan Books, eventually came on board to pick up the book. It'll hit store shelves on November 18, 2013. But if you're at Comic-Con this week, you can get a signed copy directly from Lilly. More info on that below the interview.


The SquickerwonkersMovies.com: The Squickerwonkers is much more sophisticated than the average title you're going to pull off the shelf. How'd you pick an age to calibrate it to?

Evangline Lilly: Well, God bless you for such a smart question and recognizing what Johnny and I were after when creating this book, which was first and foremost to create a book we would have enjoyed as children and can still enjoy as adults. And to do that, you have to have a certain level of sophistication. Johnny [Fraser-Allen, illustrator] and I were both strange little kids who didn't enjoy the spoon feeding. We liked things that were more challenging.

One of the great challenges in doing this book is the publishing world kept asking us, "But who is this for? Is it for adults or kids? We're confused, because it's kind of sophisticated for kids, but then it's kind of childish for adults." For me and for Johnny that was a great affirmation because it meant we did exactly what we were trying to do.

In the end, the question of age became the greatest conundrum when publishing. We went to some who said they'd publish it, but only in the adult world in sort of the realm and format of Tim Burton. Or they'd say they'd publish it, but only if we dumbed it down for an even younger age group. So we just kept pressing on saying, "No, we believe that children do have a palette for this kind of material." It's lacking in the market right now, so we needed someone who was willing to challenge the audience with us, because I do believe there's a big demographic of parents out there who are actively looking for this stuff for their kids.

Movies.com: Is this a story you felt you had to tell, or is it a story you felt kids needed to hear?

Lilly: That's a very, very good question. I wrote this story when I was 14 originally and my mother has been bugging me for 20 years to get me to publish it. I think there was an unconscious but very good reason that I never attempted it until now, and that's because this story had to incubate in my heart and mind for long enough that I actually understood the message I was trying to send out. I think that required me to grow up and mature and understand my own world view better.

That's a roundabout way of saying I think it's the book that I needed to write, that I needed to put out into the world because I look at the stories we tell our kids and I see a world view that we are socializing our kids into believing there are good people in the world and bad people in the world, and you want to be on the good side so that you can judge and punish the bad people, and I don't believe that's the reality.

It'd be really nice if it was. I'd like to live in Star Wars and just fight the ultimate bad guys, but life is so much more nuanced than that. And for children, I think the result is that when they do something wrong, they innately feel like, "Well now I'm one of the bad people."

I think we're all good and we all have behaviors that result in unfortunate consequences and that's life. So we start with a clever and passionate girl, not a naughty, bratty, spoiled girl. We start with a passionate girl we all relate to and go, "I'm this person," and then she makes some unfortunate choices that have unfortunate consequences, and to me that's kind of okay, that's what brings color and spice to life. And so the Squickerwonkers are our protagonists because they're flawed but lovable.

Movies.com: Considering that is a pretty insightful world view, is that actually what you wrote when you were 14? How much has it changed since then?

Lilly: It was always a story about a spoiled little girl who has her balloon popped by a motley crew of outcasts who ultimately inherit her intended fortune. That was always the story, so the through line has never changed. The execution of that story has changed so drastically that there isn't a single word, other than Squickerwonkers, that exists in the published version that was in the original poem. I probably rewrote this story at least 30 times, maybe 50 times in the last few years. It wasn't until the final rewrite for Titan Publishing that I'd felt completely content with what I'd created.

I self-published a limited-print run for Comic-Con 2013, and I probably shouldn't admit this, but even that version wasn't entirely satisfying. I felt it wasn't quite there. It was so close, but wasn't quite there. So I was really happy to throw that version away for this new, actual print run for a final mass release. Now I really feel confident that after 20 years of incubation and constant rewrites, it's finally the story it needs to be to start this series of 18 books.

Movies.com: Since you came up with the idea of this ensemble of characters when you were a kid, and as an adult all of your acting work tends to be in giant ensembles, is there a connection there? Are you obsessed with ensembles?

Lilly: [Laughs] I never thought of that, so I'm just going to answer the first thing that comes to mind: I was a complete and total loner as a child. Completely! I never had a friendship group. I had a friend. I never felt comfortable in cliques, never felt comfortable really in any kind of group setting. I believe that life always throws at you the things you need to grow into the person you need and want to become.

I know for a fact one of the reasons I got stuck on an island in the middle South Pacific with a cast of 16 people that I could never escape from was partly because I needed to grow and learn how to be a part of something and not always stand on my own two feet. That theme may be reoccurring in my life because it's always been a lesson I've needed to learn.

Movies.com: Since these projects do trap you in one spot for a very long time, is there something on set you gravitate toward? Is there a department you like to shadow or anything like that?

Lilly: The truth is that for the first few years of Lost I spent my downtime in my trailer responding to fan mail. For the most part, recently my downtime has been spent writing, which is a gift that my job enables me to do one passion of mine while at work getting paid to do another passion. Since I've started working on Squickerwonkers, for a year I was self-publishing and it wasn't until about a year ago that Titan came on board and we started having discussions about them taking on that role. So before they came along, one of the things I had to do was do a lot of directing.

I directed Johnny and his illustrations, I directed the printers, I directed the digital creation of all of the different elements of the digital book. Today I'm going in to direct the voice actor who is doing the voice-over work. I've directed the composer who did the Squickerwonkers soundtrack. I've just inadvertently had to step into the role of a director and a producer and I've really enjoyed it, and have actually had more satisfaction doing that than I have as an actor. So that was actually a real eye opener for me. I've never thought of directing before, but this experience has taught me that either directing or producing might be something I have a knack for in the future.

Movies.com: Is there any talks or progress on a movie version?

Lilly: Yes, there are. I've had one production company who has said they're interested in the material. The head of Weta Workship, Richard Taylor, has said he is dying to do the stop-animation version of The Squickerwonkers, but of course we need to find someone to foot the bill for that because stop-motion animation is very expensive. And really, now there's an incredible revolution happening in the industry where everything has turned away from film to television.

Television is where everyone is, first of all, making their money, and second, spending all their creative energy. You're seeing better material on the small screen than the big screen, so everything is flipped on its head right now. Because The Squickerwonkers will be a series of books, I see it being better as a television series than film, but there's no reason that it couldn't be both.

Movies.com: What was your plan with all the serialized entries that will follow and how far along into creating them are you?

Lilly: I'm grateful to Johnny for how much preparation I have put into the series. When he and I started working together, I had the first book in mind and thought maybe it had the potential to be a series but hadn't really thought that through. And then he started illustrating the characters, and he wanted to know who they were so he just started doing these sketches and I realized that if I didn't give him very, very specific direction he was just going to go to the races and create whatever he wanted to create. And so I realized that if I didn't lay these characters out in very specific ways with Johnny, I would lose control over my own story. So he kind of forced my hand.

I knew it would be about these 10 characters, but I hadn't really laid them out on paper and so I had to do that for Johnny's sake so I could say, "Here are the 10 characters, this essentially who they are and what their stories will be," so that he would know how to illustrate them. And that started the creative wheels turning and that's when I couldn't shut them off. That's why I know how many books it will be, because I've essentially already blocked out the entire series.

Here's Evangeline Lilly's The Squickerwonker's Comic-Con schedule:
Friday July 25
San Diego Comic-Con official Panel with Evangeline Lilly presenting her new book Squickerwonkers.
Moderated by Tara Bennett
10:30 a.m. room 6A
San Diego Comic-Con official Signing
12:00 p.m. for 1 1/2 hours at AA20
Signing event at WETA's booth #3613
2 p.m. for 1 hour
Panel and signing at Nerd HQ
Panel at 4 p.m. for 1 hour with a signing to follow immediately after
Saturday July 26
Nerdist Podcast Live recording
Balboa Theatre
7:30 p.m. for 1 hour
Signing right after the show for 1 hour
Sunday July 27
Second Signing event at WETA's booth #3613
11:30 a.m. for one hour
If you can't make the event, but you're a parent who is always on the lookout for something smarter to read with their kids, you can preorder the book on Amazon now.




Categories: Features, Interviews, Animation
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