Chris Evans is well aware of what’s looming. For the next decade (or however long it takes to burn off the six-picture deal to which Marvel Studios has signed him), he is Captain America. This is superstardom. And it’s kinda what he didn’t want all along.
Evans knows no one is going to shed a tear for the loss of his anonymity (such as it was), but he’s utterly sincere when he says he’s going to miss it. This is why he didn’t immediately accept the part of Steve Rogers when it was offered to him a little over a year ago: up until then, he was doing just fine skipping between studio ensemble flicks and independent movies; he could hang back, steal scenes when necessary, and look great even when the movies weren’t quite up to snuff. But when you’re the leading man of a big-time superhero movie – which, no pressure, is integral to setting the stage for the biggest superhero movie of all time - there’s nowhere to hide. It’s your movie. If it fails, you've failed. And if it’s a smash, enjoy being tailed by TMZ for the rest of your life.
Again, Evans isn’t looking for a shred of sympathy here; he’s just being honest about his well-publicized decision-making process. In retrospect, now that he’s finishing up his second go-round with Cap (on that thar AVENGERS movie), he’s incredibly happy he opted to play the determined, patriotic, not-exactly-suave Super Soldier. Steve Rogers is something of a departure for Evans. When he was cast, there was some concern that Rogers would be written as slightly more cocksure to match the actor’s natural jocularity. Turns out no one was more committed to preserving the character’s earnest qualities than Evans. He wanted to play Steve Rogers, not Chris Evans.
And he has. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is Marvel’s most wholly satisfying pre-AVENGERS movie. Though it’s clearly setting up bits of narrative business for next May’s big superhero hoedown, it stands proudly on its own as a movie about a scrawny kid who wants nothing more than to do his part in World War II. And while there are many terrific performances in the film, it’s Evans, with his "Aw shucks!" innocence, who anchors it. Rogers is a good-natured guy, but when the Nazis or Hydra are on the attack, he’s as lethal as they come.
When I caught up with Evans last weekend during the CAPTAIN AMERICA press junket in Los Angeles, I wanted to discuss his initial reticence to take on the role, and how he hopes to keep things interesting for himself as an actor while he’s fulfilling his six-picture obligation. Also, in light of the friendship that develops between Rogers and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) in the film, I was curious as to whether this might color Tony’s dealings with Cap in THE AVENGERS. If you’re looking for hints about Marvel’s massive 2012 tentpole, you might find something worthwhile below.
As always, Evans is a terrific interview: funny, candid and personable. Very little has changed since I met him on the set of CELLULAR eight years ago.
(There aren't any major spoilers below, but if you want to see the film totally clean, you should obviously skip this Q&A until you've seen the movie.)
Mr. Beaks: When the casting process begins on any superhero movie, everyone on the Internet has to have an opinion. That’s just what they do. While this public back-and-forth was going on regarding CAPTAIN AMERICA, you were weighing your decision. It sounds like it was a tough one to make - most notably for the commitment. Did you at any point wonder what the fans were thinking?
Chris Evans: I would be lying if I said no. I don’t know. It’s such a slippery slope, you know? You start reading some of those things, and some people are out there just to be malicious, and… I don’t know. It’s tough. I always wonder what it was like twenty years ago when people made films, there was no Internet, you just had to read like the two or three reviews like in The New York Times, and that was it.
Yeah, it’s tricky. To be honest, for the most part I try to stay away just because I think it is a slippery slope, and at the end of the day no good can really come of it. You know the fans exist, and you know that they are the ones you want to make the film for. I don’t think by not reading their posts online you are in any way betraying them. Like I said, it’s a fine line. You start down that path and you could really end up in a dangerous place.
Beaks: You’ve talked about the commitment. How much of this was just a concern that [the six-picture deal] would take you away from other projects that you might want to do, and how much of that was just getting defined as Steve Rogers/Captain America?
Evans: To be honest, neither one of those things were really the driving force. I was never really worried about losing other jobs because… that’s just the way it is. A lot of careers are created that way: someone had the job, then they lost it because of scheduling, and someone else took it. Plus, Marvel is fantastic about affording actors the opportunity to do other projects. I mean, you’ve got Downey doing SHERLOCK HOLMES and DUE DATE, and you know there are plenty of people committed to the Marvel universe who manage to find a career outside of their character.
As far as being defined by the character and potentially pigeonholed, it’s up to me to make some choices that show some contrast and range. The real apprehension for me was… usually you do movies one at a time, and if one of those movies hits? My struggle has always been with loss of anonymity. I like doing regular things. I like going regular places, and I really hate feeling like I can’t do things. I hate that if I want to walk down the Venice Pier or something, I feel like “Maybe I can’t do that. If one person notices, it’ll catch like fire, and this could turn into a photo shoot.” The worry is you do movies one at a time; if one of them hits and finds success… if all of a sudden I realize that I’m struggling with it and I don’t handle it well, I can stop and take a break. The problem with [CAPTAIN AMERICA] is, if it comes out and it’s a success and my private life is affected, I don’t have the opportunity to say, “You know what? I need to go escape for a year. I just want to step back.” “No, we need you back on set in three months.” It was terrifying that I wouldn’t have the control to stop that wave if it happened. Obviously, the flipside is if the movie is terrible, there’s just as much of a ripple effect.
Beaks: And then you are “The Man Who Killed CAPTAIN AMERICA.”
Evans: Yep. Then I’m the guy who is responsible for killing one of the best Marvel characters of all time.
Beaks: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.
Evans: (Laughs) Let’s knock on some wood.
[We both knock on the nearest wood table.]
Beaks: But I think one of the really smart things that you guys did with this character – which, in talking to the writers, it sounds like you were very involved in this - was to make Rogers not a wisecracking kind of guy. They’ve been doing this with so many superhero characters. They keep trying to capture what Downey did with Tony Stark. But Rogers in this film is a very earnest, very serious guy.
Evans: That’s just it! I was worried when they were pursuing me. I was like “God, they know my shtick. They know what I do. They know I crack wise. I hope they’re not going to do that because every [CAPTAIN AMERICA] comic book I’ve read, he doesn’t make wise-ass remarks. He is not a fucking wise-ass. He’s a leader. He’s a soldier. This is the guy you want taking you into battle.” And they were really good this. They never tried to slip jokes in there. We did find a way to get humor in the film. Tommy [Lee Jones] has some great lines, and Dom Cooper has some great lines; they do a good job of adding humor. But they never really let it bleed into Steve. The one worry was, “How do we make someone who is not cracking wise all day, who is just noble and honorable and good… he could be boring. He could just be a boring guy.” I think there was enough depth to who he was before [the Super-Soldier procedure], and his desire to do good and be good just because it’s the right thing to do… I think that’s interesting. I think it’s complex enough to keep a movie entertaining.
Beaks: Keeping it in the WWII era was such a great idea.
Evans: I hope if the movie does well, and if we do a sequel, I really hope they keep doing little flashbacks. I hope they do like a whole subplot. The WWII is just so cool. I love movies like that. I love period pieces. I love walking on set, and like the whole street, the cars, the signs, the wardrobe… I mean, man, that’s great! It’s so easy to play make believe when all of this shit is happening, and I think it meshes well with Steve’s character. His persona is one that really is a fish out of water in modern day. Modern day is a flash. It’s impersonal. It’s Tony Stark. And Steve comes from a place where its much more wholesome and earnest and human and direct, and I think that the character just fits so perfectly in that time period. I think they would be fools to not try and have it live there in the sequels - if we do them.
Beaks: I’m not fishing for stuff, but… (Evans laughs) I feel like this is the emotional backbone to THE AVENGERS. Howard Stark loves Captain America. He believes in him. That’s something I imagine a young Tony Stark would hear a lot about.
Evans: They do reference that.
Beaks: On one hand, I think the movie stands alone, but I think it’s also setting up THE AVENGERS in a really organic way .
Evans: It’s great. Like I said, he’s a fish out of water; everyone in the world he knows [in the present day] is dead, and he has to go work on a team with [Tony Stark], who is the epitome of modern day, of flash, of style, of this kind of indirect and impersonal sarcastic, selfish behavior. [Steve Rogers] comes from a world where the sacrifice play is the only play, so it’s a great dynamic between the two of them. And you throw Howard Stark in the mix, the fact that this is a guy that Tony has heard about his whole life, and now he’s sitting in front of him. I don’t think Tony is going to respond too kindly to that type of guy.
Beaks: Probably not. He’s got some daddy issues.
Evans: He’s got some daddy issues… (Laughs)
Beaks: You’ve said that you’re going to move back to Boston. I did an interview last week with [Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon], and they likened living in Los Angeles to being on an oil rig. They said it’s where you go to work. They were like, “It’s not really pretty, and the air is bad. It’s just where you come to work.”
Evans: That’s it. There is life somewhere else. This isn’t like life. When I’m [in L.A.], I don’t feel like “Oh, I’m just living my life.” I couldn’t imagine just living here for family and children. I just couldn’t do it, you know? I’ve got great friends here, and I’m forever in debt to everything that’s gone on for me in this town, but, man, it’s tough to unplug here. Do you know what I mean? It feels like just the heartbeat of bullshit to me. It feels like this is where it starts, this is where it pumps, and the rest of the country just gets the runoff. “This is the fucking trend!” It’s just like, “Ugh, God!” It’s cool to jump on board with those things here, but in Boston if you are super trendy they’ll knock you out. It’s like they buck that system. LA just kind of feels like… I don’t know. It fucks with my head.
Beaks: You’ve mentioned that you’d like to direct. What fired your interest in that?
Evans: It’s the love of movies, man. I just fucking love movies. I think I’m a relatively emotional guy. I like going to the movies, and I like crying. Even a good commercial can get me. You get the editing and the music and the performance and the lighting… you get these things together and make this little art piece, and somehow they get you feeling things that I just don’t feel other places in my life. Somehow, film does that, and I love that.
When I read scripts, in my head I know what I want to see; I know what I think would look right and look good. I’ve been on so many film sets where I’ve just sat there and been like, “Goddamn it! I know where he’s putting the camera, and you shouldn’t put the camera there, the camera should be over here… He’s not going to cover it from this angle… Fucking goddamn it, it’s going to ruin this fucking scene!” It’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you don’t have a good director, you don’t have a good fucking movie. You just don’t. I’ve seen movies with the best scripts and the best actors on the planet, and they make shitty movies because they’ve got shitty directors. Something about having the responsibility to tie all of these pieces together, and being able to speak coherently to all of your different artistic people and all of these different departments… I just want to do it so badly.
Beaks: Is there a movie you can look to and say, “That’s what made me want to make a movie!”
Evans: I like Ed Zwick movies. I like LAST SAMURAI, you know? I liked LEGENDS OF THE FALL. I like movies that have a sweeping, epic feel. I like things that carry over a long period of time. I think the theme that I like is human connection, like AMERICAN BEAUTY or something - things that can be a really beautiful, grand visual or concept. I think, at its root, I like the relationship between a brother and a sister, or a mother and a father… it’s simple stuff. Cameron Crowe is so good at taking these little moments that happen to people all of the time, and in their own personal lives these moments are huge. But if you try to explain them to someone else, it would mean nothing to them. Cameron can take those little moments, shoot the shit out of it, put some music in it, and that little moment gets you. It just gets you. These are the moments that life is about, and if you can capture it, it’s fucking magic.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER opens this Friday, July 22nd.