Always searching for new experiences, Evangeline Lilly has way more going on than just acting. Here, what keeps her driven, curious, and deeply satisfied.
When Evangeline Lilly was 20 years old and juggling two jobs to make ends meet, she totaled her car. With no money to replace it and no way to get to work, she entered a bikini contest; first prize was a one-year lease on a pickup truck. The contest was in just two weeks. She had never modeled and considered herself a serious young woman (she studied political science and international relations at the University of British Columbia) and had no clue what was in store. “But I figured that if I was going to do this, I had better win,” she says. So she hit the gym “like a maniac,” self-tanned her alabaster skin into a deep golden tone, subsisted on protein shakes and egg whites—and triumphed. Though she returned to her studies, jobs, and healthy (meaning more sane) eating and exercise habits, to this day she’s not averse to pushing the limits of her body and mind. (Related: Blogilates' Cassey Ho Reveals How a Bikini Competition Totally Changed Her Approach to Health and Fitness)
“If I had gone on like that for another two years, just imagine how I might have transformed,” Evangeline says.“I could have turned into Spider-Man.” Almost. Currently starring as the Wasp in Ant-Man and the Wasp, she has again whittled herself into superhero shape with a self-designed regimen that includes sprint workouts and sensible eating. But she wants you to know one thing: “I’m wearing a corset! People don’t look like that.”
Photo: Max Abadian
On the brink of turning 40 (in 2019), Evangeline has two kids and multiple careers. And that drive that led her to win the truck for a year is still very much present. In addition to starring in the Marvel blockbuster, she’s learning how to play the piano for an upcoming role, writing an 18-book series for “reluctant readers” (children who don’t naturally gravitate to books) called The Squickerwonkers, and producing the audiobooks of that series.
She’s also having a reflective moment: “I don’t want to reach the end of my time and feel as if I had all this potential and didn’t use it.” So she’s taking stock of everything that life has taught her and adjusting the future accordingly. Here’s how.
She Stretches Herself
“In my 20s exercise was about reaching goals in strength, speed, agility, and capability. But the stage I’m in now calls for balance, so I’ve begun stretching a lot more. Stretching relaxes you and keeps your muscles from tensing up, but it also strengthens you. I don’t think I was aware of that before.” (BTW, here's the deal with assisted stretching classes)
Photo: Max Abadian
She Keeps the Faith
“I was raised in the Mennonite/Baptist world and became extremely devout. But as I’ve met different people and broadened that spiritual foundation, I’ve come to realize that faith of any kind really does move mountains. It doesn’t matter what label you put on it.”
She Knows What She Wants
“I’m a strange mix of someone who is quite reclusive [Evangeline and her partner, the father of her two young sons, live off the Hollywood grid, in Hawaii] and comfortable with very little but driven professionally. I don’t need to be famous, but I do have an enormous desire to influence people and connect with them. It gives me satisfaction to know that I’ve touched others.”
She Stays Grounded
“I think this is the hardest time in human history to keep your spirit in your body. We have constant distraction and choice, which can be very destabilizing and get in the way of experiencing life. So it’s important to engage in activities regularly that reunite you with yourself. For some people it’s prayer, reading, meditation, or a breathing practice. For others it’s a dinner party.” (Related: Why One Woman Considers Fishing a 'Spiritual Workout')
Photo: Max Abadian
She Writes Her Own Rules
“My book series, Squickerwonkers, is what I wish had been around when I was little. [Evangeline has released The Prequel and is releasing The Demise of Selma the Spoiled later this year; for information, go to thesquickerwonkers.com.] What these books say is that if you let your problems define and control you, you’re going to have a hard time. But if you face them, you’ll be free. Bad moments will happen. It’s how you react to them that matters.”
She Does Meaningful Work
“I’ve done NGO work in Rwanda for 13 years. Writing a book or being in a movie are great, but no one is going to die if I don’t do them. If I drop the ball in Rwanda, it has consequences. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve taken on too much, but I just want to live out as much potential as I can.” (To make a difference and stay active, consider booking a fitness-meets-volunteering trip.)
She Listens to Her Body, Always
“When I feel my chest constricting, that’s my body telling me to stop whatever I’m doing. It’s always right.”