Eve Hewson on ‘The Luminaries,’ ‘Behind Her Eyes’ and Why She Enjoys TV Roles More Than Movies

Eve Hewson has grown familiar with other eras. The emerging Irish actor continues to seek fresh stories and new challenges, but it is the past that keeps calling. Hewson is at the center of Starz’s new miniseries “The Luminaries,” based on the 2013 Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Eleanor Catton, who also pens this adaptation. The story is set in 1865 New Zealand amid a feverish gold rush. Hewson plays Anna Wetherell, who is making her way to Dunedin when she meets Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) on the ship taking them both there. They strike a bond and attraction and agree to meet at a designated spot after landing. But forces in Dunedin conspire to keep them apart. Anna falls under the sway of Lydia Wells (Eva Green), who runs a bordello based on the reading of the Zodiac. Emery is lured away by a scheming businessman. How this all results in Anna being accused of prostitution and theft nine months later forms the mystery of the plot. 

Handsomely mounted, “The Luminaries” is the latest period piece to feature Hewson, who first gained attention in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick,” set in 1900 New York City. Since then she has brought her bewitching eyes and spirited performances to the big screen in period films like “Papillon” and “Tesla.” She is also starring in Netflix’s “Behind Her Eyes,” a thriller allowing her to explore darker terrain. Hewson was never a stranger to the world of performing, being the daughter of U2 frontman Bono and his longtime wife Ali. But Hewson is continuing to chart her own path. She recently shared with Entertainment Voice about the making of “The Luminaries” and her evolving career.

“The Luminaries” is based on this major novel that took the Man Booker Prize. How familiar were you with it before taking on the series?

I wasn’t familiar with it all. I read the script first and loved it. It was so well done. Then I read the book and it was a completely different story, really. It was smart how Catton chose to tell the story of the book but mostly through Anna’s perspective, since the novel is from the point of view of 12 different people. So many of my friends had actually been obsessed with the book, so they were really excited to see it become a show, that also made me feel very proud to be a part of it.

It’s very much an adventure story. Many of the period pieces you’ve been in have been rich dramas where dialogue is a driving force. How do you prepare again for a period piece, but where it’s more about adventure and suspense?

The physicality of this role was actually a massive challenge. We were shooting on farms, beaches and in a studio and I was in a corset (laughs). And you’re doing a lot of stunts and horse-riding and all of that stuff. There was a mud fight at one point (laughs). It was very demanding and I basically just tried to preserve my energy. I drank a lot of electrolytes and got acupunctured on the weekends. I tried to just look after myself because it was pretty draining.

Was there a specific moment in the shoot that sticks out in your memory above the rest?

Definitely a moment in episode six when we shot in the water. It was a scene between me and Eva. I remember it was magic hour and we were on a beach and at the end of the scene I walked away from her. I remember feeling so powerful and thrilling, just feeling the New Zealand air. It was the most beautiful sunset. I couldn’t see the crew and really felt the character and the moment.

Eva Green and Hamish Patel round out a great cast. Share with us about the experience of working with them?

Eva is the most credible, caring, generous, really sweet and gentle woman. She’s so not like her character. So I really loved getting to know her and working with her. Hamish was one of my best friends on that set. Of course it’s kind of funny because we didn’t shoot together for months. That church scene in episode one was actually the last scene that we shot together (laughs). It was a strange thing because I really did get to know him as a friend and we even hung out on weekends. But we didn’t get to act together until three or four months into the shoot.

It is one of those stories like “Cold Mountain” where the two leads bond and are then separated by circumstance for most of the narrative. Yet at the same time this is a story where the women are given a lot of agency. 

It’s interesting. Anna is sort of a blind canvas when you meet her at the beginning of the show and you sort of see how all the men who come into contact with her want to make her into something. They all project their desires on her and try to fit her into different roles that women were expected to fill in society. I found it interesting to play her and watch her navigate that, then at the end come out choosing not to give up on herself. She chooses hope and love in the end. We need more of these kinds of stories.

You also have a Netflix show coming up as well, “Behind Her Eyes.” It’s another venture into this whole Peak TV era. How does working on TV these days compare to working in film?

I’ve done a lot more TV than movies. I cut my teeth on “The Knick” and that’s how I learned character, really. I learned about growing into them and honing them better as the show keeps going and the more you explore. I really love doing limited show stuff because you get to spend more time on it. With movies it’s like you jump on for two or three weeks. You might have a big part but it’s such a small amount of time. I think I gravitate more towards TV because of that and because it feels the characters are more fleshed out. I mean if you look at the movies nowadays it’s so hard to get one made. They just want already-known characters like superheroes or something. But the real true characters are in TV.

What you’re saying almost goes to that idea that’s been suggested by some TV critics that television is the new novel. “The Luminaries” even as TV remains very literary.

And it’s also so cinematic. The kind of work our cinematographer, Denson Baker, does is incredible. Those are the kinds of shots you go to the movies to see. The fact that we can see those kinds of images now on our small screens or TVs is very exciting.

A few years ago you mentioned in an interview that your parents, Bono and Ali, were a bit hesitant about you becoming an actor. Has their opinion changed with all of the work you’ve put out there and with such notable talents?

I think they’re proud. I said that once in an interview when I was 17 and it still kind of haunts them (laughs). But I’ve been doing this for ten years now and they’re very comfortable with it and happy for me. It’s all going well, thank god. Of course, how we grow up can have an influence on the kind of art we gravitate towards sometimes, or the career choices we make. I’m just happy they gave me the freedom to pursue the kind of career that I feel genuinely passionate about.

What would you like to explore next as an actor in terms of projects or genres?

I would really like to do something funny. I want to try something I haven’t done before. You know, I’m really interested in trying many different genres. I love it when actors jump back and forth between all kinds of storytelling. I like to keep it interesting. I don’t want to choose anything that’s too safe. 

The Luminaries” premieres Feb. 14 and airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET on Starz. “Behind Her Eyes” begins streaming Feb. 17 on Netflix.