Irish actress Evanna Lynch talks to us about her gradual transition in to veganism, Luna Lovegood, and launching her own vegan podcast
I’m sitting in a pen with half a dozen eight-week-old baby lambs at Hugletts Wood Farm animal sanctuary in Sussex on a fresh April afternoon. Two best friends sit side by side, little blind white Stevie sips water, while friendly, handsome Douglas, who always appears to be smiling, looks for something to nibble on. Among them, and opposite me, sits Evanna Lynch: the gentle, elfin Irish beauty who captured the hearts of children across the world playing Luna Lovegood in four Harry Potter films, and is now making waves in the vegan community. We’ve just settled down after a BBQ feast of Fry’s vegan food, and it’s the most incredible place either of us have ever conducted an interview.
It’s not without its quirks, but we don’t mind at all. Douglas approaches Evanna a few times until eventually she picks him up for a cuddle. He relaxes into her arms, in total peace and comfort. They make the most photogenic pair.
The actress, now 25, was vegetarian from age 11. She suffered anorexia around the same time, and found any curiosities about veganism brushed off by her cautious mother. Evanna says: ‘She worried it was an eating disorder in disguise.’ But since then, well-meaning Evanna has turned from troubled and confused to a wise and healthy activist we can all aspire to be like, and she’s soon to launch a vegan podcast called The Chickpeeps.
After moving to Los Angeles a little over five years ago she found herself often being asked “Well why aren’t you vegan?” ‘It’s so common there,’ she says. She came across the book Eating Animals around age 20/21 when everything changed. Evanna says: ‘I was so upset and horrified by what I read and found myself agreeing with vegan philosophy.’
Evanna, who loved dairy products, says cutting everything out reminded her of her past eating disordered ways: ‘In the beginning, it felt like restriction, and like I wasn’t eating as much as everyone else. I didn’t like the alienation of it, feeling alone at dinner time and people thinking I was weird. At first it made me quite depressed. I found that I was obsessing about the food too much.’
She couldn’t make all changes right away and sustain it: ‘I had too much of a complicated, emotional relationship to food. I found the best way for me was to be gentle and take it day by day. When I first I tried to go vegan I was angry and upset about the violence, it didn’t stick because it made me unhappy. Anything you do out of guilt is not sustainable. Eventually, it became more about celebrating veganism and life.’
Evanna’s friend Erik Marcus, who runs vegan.com, gave her what she calls the best advice for going vegan: ‘He told me to “crowd out” all the animal-based products in my diet with vegan versions, so I would add things like tempeh and tofu to my meals without necessarily losing the animal-based ones right away. Gradually the animal products just fell out of my diet and I didn’t miss them as much. It made it more about the benefits of veganism.’
Adapting her life to veganism, Evanna says that professionally she’s had to be very organised, but it took her a while to open up. She says: ‘At first I was in the closet. I didn’t want people to judge me or make assumptions, but as soon as I became open about it I found people were curious and accommodating.
‘Now, whenever I travel somewhere or do a convention, I’ll notify the people. How prepared you need to be varies from project to project. If it’s super low budget and indie I know I’ll have to pack my own snacks, such as Ombar and iChoc vegan chocolate. It’s about being vocal.’
What helped Evanna find her confidence in being vegan was getting immersed in the work of Victoria Moran of the Main Street Vegan podcast, who raves about the concept of attractivism. Evanna says the way to do it is: ‘Attract people to be vegan, to your cause, by being so vibrant, healthy and happy that people are like, “I want a piece of that” rather than being guilt-tripped or shamed into it. When you love your vegan life, people are naturally curious.’
Just last month, smiling and vibrant Evanna graced the cover of famous society and fashion mag, Irish Tatler: the picture of aspiration.
Evanna, who’s a huge fan of Beyond Skin shoes, Vaute coats (‘sorry for telling you because you’re going to go broke!’), and Angela Roi bags, says that often, on glamorous fashion shoots such as this, stylists will need a crash course in cruelty-free: ‘I’ll always say, no feathers, no leather. But it’s amazing how many people don’t know what vegan shoes are. They’re like: “What, you eat your shoes?”
‘Beyond Skin loaned gorgeous shoes for the Tatler shoot. What I’ve noticed is that in the vegan community, everyone loves to support each other, rather than compete. It’s because their work is for the benefit of animals. But initially I was afraid of being vocal about it and being judged.’
Now she’s turning her fear on its head and being more vocal than most by launching a vegan podcast.
Evanna says: I’ve always loved listening to vegan podcasts, while I travel or when I’m cooking. I learn so much from them, but there is a shortage of them.’
Having lived in the States for five years and for the beginning of her vegan journey, most of Evanna’s vegan influences are American, such as the Main Street Vegan podcast which she loves. But she’s been back in London since November and she’s ready to help vegans and the veg-curious in Britain and beyond with her new venture.
She says: ‘I found [Main Street Vegan] was so helpful in my transition from vegetarian to vegan: to have someone to check in with on a weekly basis. I think at first when you go vegan, you’re really excited and fired up but don’t have the community yet or constant inspiration. And I think that’s why it helped me to listen to podcasts, follow Instagrams and subscribe to Vegan Life magazine.
‘I was really inspired by those things but felt like there was pressure to be perfect right away, especially as someone in the public eye. People would be like: “Well do you eat honey? Are all of your beauty products vegan and cruelty-free?” I was just like… “I don’t know! I can’t learn all this stuff right away.” I wished I could go to Vegan University.
‘So many people are put off veganism because it’s intimidating and seems overwhelming and they start and think: “It’s too hard to do this.” At first it feels like your whole life is revolving around this, as it does any time you make any lifestyle change. I want The Chickpeeps to be non-intimidating and not about being a perfect vegan.
Evanna also sees the benefits of being a famous actress with many contacts. She says: ‘I have such great access to experts. I’ve been interviewed by a lot of amazing publications and come to a lot of sanctuaries where people are always willing to talk to me. But I just want to sit there and pick their brain and find out how they did it! For example Wenda who runs Hugletts: she’s been vegan for 23 years. I want to know what it was like to be vegan back then.
‘I just want it to be inspiration for new vegans and veg-curious people – people like my mum – who are very kind souls but have not grown up around veganism. My mum is such a compassionate person and so loving, but she still sees veganism as such an alien concept.
Evanna will have several co-hosts, each with their own specialist subject, one of whom will be her friend, fellow actor and activist, Robbie Jarvis. She says: ‘Robbie is good with nutrition and science whereas I am not! I’m more about animal love and ethics. He’s very good with technology and is teaching me loads about the recording equipment we’ve installed at my house. It’s taken longer than anticipated but it means we can Skype guests in from abroad, which is awesome.’
Evanna, who is busy preparing for a play, is planning on recording The Chickpeeps one season at a time, starting with the first next month. She says: ‘I’m not sure if I can keep up that much other work while I’m doing that.’
Season One will be around 15 one-hour episodes, released week by week. Evanna says: ‘Each episode will be on a different topic or common question. I want to investigate veganism, because I always wished there was a religious text how to be vegan. But you need to figure it all out on your own.
‘When I was asked: “Are you ok with honey or not?” I was like, I know nothing about honey. It’s one of the more obscure aspects of veganism and people give you vague answers on it. You have to go digging and decide what you feel about it. I like to question everything I don’t like to accept blanket information just thrust upon me. So honey would be the topic of one. One would be about wool…
‘There’s always a question I get from non-vegans which really annoys me: at dinner when they’re eating meat, they’ve already ordered it, and they say: “Oh sorry do you mind?” It’s like, of course I mind! I’m not going to slap it out of your hand but if you’re going to ask me, yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be vegan. I want to do an episode on that: How do you address that question diplomatically but still get your point across?’
When she’s done recording Series One of The Chickpeeps, Evanna will be on stage in the West End in the most diverse role she’s ever taken on – a meat-eating wild child with a questionable moral compass and a Cork accent. And she couldn’t be more excited. Disco Pigs opens in London’s Trafalgar Studios on July 11th for five weeks.
Evanna says: “It’s actually got nothing to do with pigs. It’s about these two characters who call themselves Pig and Runt (she’s runt) – who are actually not vegetarians. When I first read it I wondered might they give pigs a reprieve the way rabbit lovers are horrified at the idea of rabbit meat… but they talk about sausages and everything. Interestingly, it’s probably the first character I’m going to play who I hadn’t made the decision that she’s a vegetarian. I play a lot of alternative types; outsiders who I feel will connect with animals. But this girl I’m playing… she just has no moral compass. These two reckless teenagers live inside their own imaginary world. It’s a play written by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh – just an hour – and it’s vivid and vibrant, full of energy and romantic teen passion.’
Evanna says of her Luna Lovegood past: ‘I understand how many doors Potter has opened for me, and she is a character I admire and respect. But it can be damaging as an artist to see yourself as one character. She is just one part of me and I need to explore others. I do blame myself when I retreat to Luna when I try to please others. When I do comic cons I’m there to appeal to Harry Potter fans and feel pressure to be her.
‘The fear is that: If I am myself, will anyone like me? People like me for that character, so how do you be yourself and not disappoint people?’
Her exciting new chapter aside, Evanna will continue to attend select Harry Potter-themed events. She says: ‘Acting is an unsteady job, and I’m reluctant to monetize my activism work. So [Potter is] a blessing. But putting myself too much in that role; I won’t grow.’
Sitting here with Evanna in the pen of lambs at Hugletts, I can see growth as an actor and a person beaming from her sense of purpose; now less worried about people’s expectations. I imagine that makes life a little less of a burden while heightening the urgency to live it fully and properly all at once. And she wants to help others find that shift in focus, that liberation, through her ‘support system’ podcast.
She says: ‘You get so involved in the vegan community and think it’s all about having arguments with people on Instagram defending your lifestyle, then you come to these places and realise it’s about love for animals and protecting the innocent. It’s really as simple as that.
‘They are not asking for one thing except to be left alone, they’re just trying to be and I love that. Animals just exist and they’re happy and perfect and beautiful. It’s something I find inspirational in Luna Lovegood: she’s so weird and eccentric and she’s not trying to be it or defend it. It’s so inspiring to be around that energy.’
With thanks to Fry’s Family Foods.
At Hugletts numbers are constantly increasing. Since January the sanctuary has given a home for life to 20 new arrivals including calves, cows and sheep. This summer they are hosting a series of events for supporters from musical evenings with a three course vegan meal in the cherry orchard to a ‘Hugletts Whodunnit’ Murder Mystery afternoon with cow hugging to help guests think. All events are ticketed and numbers restricted to ensure everyone enjoys their time at the sanctuary. For more information see the Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary Facebook page.
Click here to read one of our previous articles about Hugletts.