Before Sunday, March 20, Evanna Lynch had never run in a half-marathon. But after the Harry Potter actor ran a few 5Ks with her friends — with the knowledge that a full-fledged marathon would "kill" her — she decided to run in the New York City Half Marathon in the name of animal rights.
Evanna Lynch works with the World Animal Protection organization, an international nonprofit that aims to create "a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended" through different charity endeavors. Her interest in fighting for equality and desire to make people think differently about important causes isn't exactly a far stretch from similar personality traits of one of the most beloved, eccentric characters in the wizarding world: Luna Lovegood.
Luna Lovegood is a lovable character for many reasons — not only does she have a generally cheerful attitude, kind soul, and curious spirit, but Luna also cares deeply about what's going on in the world around her and, despite her gentle approach, she isn't afraid to go against the grain and stand up for what she believes in.
Lynch admires this about the character she played in the last four installments of the Harry Potter films, and sees how they're both similar in that way. The actor spoke to BuzzFeed in a phone interview about her passion for animal rights and equality, Harry Potter, and how the seven-book series relates to larger ideas and themes about social justice. Here's what she had to say:
Why are animal rights and the World Animal Protection organization important to you?
Evanna Lynch: It's something that I was always interested in and it always felt like a natural impulse for me. When I see an animal in pain it really upsets me because they're innocent and they're the outsiders. I think that's why I resonated so much with the character of Luna in the Harry Potter movies; I feel for the oppressed and I want to stand up for them. In a way, animals are so different and we as humans think we're better than them, but I really think we just don't know them very well. I had lots of pets growing up and there were sheep in the fields behind our house. We were just surrounded by them, and I just felt that I wanted to protect them. I just think they have a lot to teach us. I feel like they already teach us so much about trust and always having compassion for people. Animals are just waiting for us to catch on.
Luna Lovegood was also sensitive to magical creatures and loved to help fight for causes. Do you relate to her in this way?
EL: Definitely. I see Luna as extremely spiritual; she doesn't fear death, she feels that there's a very thin divide between those two worlds, and I think that's why she feels this connection to the spiritual world. I think that relates back to animals too, kind of like the message in Pocahontas about how everything has a spirit in it. I think that's why Luna doesn't get so caught up in the minutiae of everyday life and teenage angst. She doesn't get worn down by bullies because she really sees the big picture; she sees people's spirits and their energies, and she sees that with animals. Just because they can't speak to us or communicate with us in the same ways [as humans] doesn't mean that they're not worthy or that they're not able to offer us anything.
Are there any other similarities between you and Luna?
EL: There are lots of similarities. She's someone I really look up to, especially because of her outlook on the world. She doesn't judge anyone and is curious about everything, and I'd like to have that [outlook]: not to take life too seriously, especially in the industry I'm in. In acting, it can get so competitive because everyone's trying to make it. I think Luna reminds me that that's not what I want, you know? Not to sound cheesy, but I just want to follow my heart and do things that make me happy. We share that outlook and appreciation for art and nature; she doesn't look at something and try to understand it or try to claim it, she just appreciates it. I'm always striving for that outlook on the world.
What did you learn from working on the Harry Potter films?
EL: I was always encouraged to give my opinion on things and to not be a perfectionist; just to get in there and play and talk to people. My perspective on film and movie-making before I joined the Harry Potter films was that I have to be a total pro and I have to do everything perfectly, and you have to just do exactly what the director says. But on Harry Potter, the filmmakers always invited me and all the younger actors to collaborate. They got me to make some of [Luna's] jewelry and just put my take on it, and that's what people liked. Initially, I was just waiting for people to tell me what to do or tell me I was doing something wrong, and instead they just encouraged me to express myself. Every time I do a movie I tend to get nervous in my head and I always have to remind myself, "Just be yourself. They just want you to add something to it. They don't want you to just be exactly what you expect it to be."
What does Harry Potter teach readers and fans about social justice?
EL: Absolutely, I think especially in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that whole idea that the media is not telling you what's really going on and that you can't trust the government — J.K. Rowling really drove that message home. The government was so corrupt, they were trying to get Harry to be their poster boy and their actions actually become interchangeable with the dark side. And I know it's a magical world, but there is a lesson to learn from that: to question everything, to use your voice, always be striving for your ideal world, and not just accept a world that's what the papers say or that's what the government is telling us. J.K. Rowling is very aware of that. Even the fact that she's tackling diversity issues in the film industry with the new play [Harry Potter and the Cursed Child]. They cast Hermione as a black woman, and that's something that people just didn't expect. It just gave the stories a new resonance and new power. That's what the Harry Potter books definitely instilled in me: to question everything.
If you want to learn more about the World Animal Protection organization, check out their website.