The Dec. 13 opening of part two in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is still weeks away, but some die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien devotees have already been grumbling for more than a year about the invention of a brand-new character for the film: a female elf warrior named Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. At least one person involved in the film totally understands how they feel: Lilly herself.

As a kid growing up in Canada, Lilly tells EW in this week’s cover story on Smaug, she fell in love with Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel The Hobbit (the elves were her favorite characters) and became a true-blue Tolkien purist. In fact, she was such a hard-core fan of Tolkien’s books that when the first film in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy opened in 2001, she refused to even see it at first. “I was like, ‘Nobody is going to bring to life the books that I read in the way they came to life in my mind so I don’t want them touched,’ ” she says.

When Jackson offered Lilly the newly created role of Tauriel, who is the fierce, slightly reckless head of the elven guard, she braced herself for some fans to regard the character as a betrayal of Tolkien’s vision. “I did have to hesitate and go, ‘Whoa, people are going to hate me,'” says the actress (who, for the record, eventually watched Jackson’s Rings films and loved them). “But I really couldn’t refuse. It was just too good to say no to.”

Jackson knows there will continue to be debate among fans over the addition of Tauriel to The Hobbit as well as other eyebrow-raising decisions like bringing back Orlando Bloom’s Rings favorite Legolas despite the fact that the character isn’t in Tolkien’s original Hobbit book — and he welcomes the dialogue. “To talk with like-minded people about stuff that really matters to you, that’s the essence of fandom,” the director says.

For her part, Philippa Boyens, who co-wrote the film along with Jackson and Fran Walsh, is a bit more trepidatious but still optimistic that Tauriel will ultimately be embraced. “The reaction will be the reaction,” she says. “It is scary. I’m touching wood right now, but I actually believe she’s going to become a favorite. She is a bit of a breath of fresh air in many ways. And I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing in any story.”

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Movie
  • 170 minutes