Chris Evans is eight days away from wrapping his third of six contractually-mandated appearances as Captain America, and he is relieved. When the role was first offered to him, Evans had second thoughts; he'd recently done two stints as Johnny Storm in Tim Story's FANTASTIC FOUR movies, and, being a serious actor with serious aspirations, the notion of a long-term commitment to another superhero franchise seemed like a lateral move at best. Sure, Robert Downey Jr. had transformed his career as Tony Stark, but Steve Rogers wasn't exactly a supernova of charisma. In almost every iteration throughout the history of the Marvel Universe, he was a boy scout and, truth be told, a bit of a bore. Evans certainly looked the part, but would it be any fun? And could he stand out when it came time to share the screen with Downey and the rest of Marvel's tentpole bearers in THE AVENGERS?
"I'd really be kicking myself if I hadn't done this," laughs Evans. "Oh man, I'd really be kicking myself." Though I'm not convinced he's as comfortable as he claims he is in his new Captain America costume, there's no doubting his gratitude. He's had a tremendous two years since taking up the shield in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Aside from the runaway success of THE AVENGERS, he's starred in a critically-acclaimed science-fiction movie from world-class filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (SNOWPIERCER) and wrapped his directorial debut (1:30 TRAIN, written by Academy Award-winner Ron Bass). Having to suit up as one of the most recognizable superheroes once a year is hardly a chore; that the films have turned out to be pretty damn good is a bonus in this by-committee part of the business.
So Evans is having something resembling a blast as he chats up a dozen or so online journalists on the set of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. It's mid-July 2013, and he seems to be using us as a warm-up crowd for his San Diego Comic Con appearance the following week. He's also figuring out how to talk around every clandestine plot point of the sequel, which evidently includes the identity of the Winter Soldier. Marvel loves its secrecy!
During our day at Marvel's Manhattan Beach studios, we'd also talk to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and a few other Marvel folk. We'd take a gander at a greenscreened portion of one set, and make the acquaintance of a new addition to the Marvel movie universe. Most of this will be detailed in a second set visit report to be published closer to the April 4th release of the film. For now, we're just talking to Cap (and debuting some new images from the film along the way, including your first look at Batroc the Leaper)!
Q: Kevin says your suit has a thematic arc.
Chris Evans: Okay. That still doesn't tell me what I can tell you!
Q: Kevin said you could tell us everything.
Evans: Yeah right! "Kevin said just spill the beans!" But I don't know what I can tell you.
Q: Tell us how you like the new suit.
Evans: I do like the new suit a lot. I think a lot of people like the old suit as well after THE AVENGERS. Not to say anything bad about the old suit: THE AVENGERS suit was wildly comfortable. But I think a lot of people enjoyed the old suit. I think a lot of people enjoyed the World War II aspect of the first movie.
Q: Are you glad your ears are getting some air?
Evans: They're getting some air in the new suit, but I've always liked the ears inside. I've always felt like I had big Dumbo ears. Whenever they tried the helmet with the ears out, I was like, "Please don't make me do this. That looks so silly." But it looks a lot better. The new suit has the ears out, and it actually looks okay.
Q: Where do we find Cap when the movie begins? We were talking to the filmmakers about how he's been around for a while now, so he's somewhat acclimated. Does he feel comfortable?
Evans: He feels comfortable within the structure that he's given. He likes to serve and take orders. He's like a herding dog: he needs a task. I think the issue in [CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER] was about giving him the opportunity. Then he got the opportunity and was thrust into a different world. In THE AVENGERS, there were so many characters that it was tough to spend time with any one. In this movie, it's about him not just acclimating to the modern world, but it's always been Cap's goal to do what's right and be of service where he can. In this movie, I think the question is "What is right?" I think it was a lot easier to know in the '40s to know who was evil: there's no disputing Nazis are bad. Now it's become more difficult to answer. There's a lot more of a grey area of what is the right thing, and are you of service to that cause. That's where it becomes a tricky dispute for Cap, because things were just done differently in the '40s. Threats are different now, and precautionary measures that are taken now can be questionable and somewhat suspect in his eyes. It's a tough hurdle for him to jump.
Q: In this film, you get a lot of new relationships and get to build on old relationships. What direction is the character brought in with regards to those relationships.
Evans: I think it's brought in more of a human direction. Cap is such a good guy. It's hard for him to bleed, literally and figuratively. He doesn't want to burden anyone with his struggles, and, unfortunately, that's what makes characters dynamic and interesting. So anyway we can push him in a more human direction, where he does show weakness and does show struggle and does connect with people and does show vulnerability, I think that grounds him a little bit. It makes him more interesting. With Natasha and [Sam Wilson aka The Falcon]... even though we have Winter Soldier... we're doing third act stuff now. So for the meat of the film, the connections that he makes that really bring him to life are with Natasha and Sam.
Q: At the junket for the first CAPTAIN AMERICA, you talked about how it was a big decision for you to commit to this character and the amount of movies you'd be making. Three films in, how do you feel about Cap and your relationship with Marvel?
Evans: I feel really good. I'd really be kicking myself if I hadn't done this. Oh man, I'd really be kicking myself. (Laughs) It was just a matter of adjusting to lifestyle changes. My team told me this in the beginning, because they knew I was apprehensive. They said, "It comes in waves. You've got to respect the fact that when a movie comes out there's going to be a surge, and there's going to be some changes. But then it's going to go away and die back down." It's like any type of actor: when a movie comes out, you get a little more of a spotlight on you, so you can monitor it. It's not like once these movies are out, your life is forfeit and you can't have any more control. You just have to take those periods of time in stride, and understand that it will die down eventually and things will go back to a relative level of normalcy.
Aside from that, I love doing these movies because they're good. It's been one of the tricky things in my career. I'm sure you've seen some of my not-so-good movies. It's disappointing when you put a lot of time and sweat in, and... "Aw, it sucks!" When you see the movie, and you're like "That is now what I read. That is not what I wanted to be a part of." With these movies, you don't feel that. I mean, you feel that, but I've begun to just put my trust in Kevin Feige and all the guys at Marvel. They're so good at what they do. Their internal barometer of what is good and bad is pretty on point - not just from the standpoint of the movie, but the marketing and trailers and wardrobe. It's scary diving into such a big endeavor where if it doesn't work, it doesn't work on a massive scale. But you feel a little more comfort in that you trust the people who are making these movies. That's what acting is about: trust. If you don't trust someone every single take, you're going to be holding back. It's nice to let go a little bit.
Q: The Russos characterize this as a reboot in tone, but Captain America was kind of the only superhero in the last decade or so who was really resolutely heroic. How does that change in tone affect him? Is there more of that identity crisis that other superheroes have gone through?
Evans: He is a really human superhero. He doesn't shoot lightning or fly. It's very meat-and-potatoes type powers, so I think it's only appropriate that the tone and the theme fits more of the human element. It does have kind of a grounded, political-thriller tone to it, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with the character. It just works. And they're trying to infuse more human conflict that doesn't have to do with fighting monsters and doing giant stunts; it's just about him coping with moral issues, and right and wrong. That's stuff we can all relate to.
Q: But he's not necessarily questioning his identity?
Evans: No, I think he's fine with that. I think his question is how he fits into the world around him.
Q: In THE AVENGERS, there was that seed of distrust when Cap found out what they're using the Tesseract for. Does that get expanded on in your relationship with Nick Fury?
Evans: It certainly does. (Looks over to assembled Marvel brass and publicists.) Am I in trouble? I'm just going to say you said I could say all of this shit. (Laughter)
It does. I mean, that's no secret. It's coming out now in America: how much can we monitor internet use and phone records and text messages, and where do you draw the line? Is it okay to spy on someone before they've committed a crime? Do you take the world as it is or as you'd like it to be? That's a tricky question, and I think Cap comes from a time where there was a little more trust and a little less access. You couldn't do that in the '40s, so you didn't have to worry about that. But now you do, and where's that line? It's a tricky conversation for me, and I was born in this era. I can't imagine coming from a different place and swallowing the pill of where society has gone.
Q: Could you compare working with Joe Johnston on the first one and the Russos on this one?
Evans: It's a tough call. I love Joe and I love the Russos. It's probably tougher... well, that's not fair. I was going to say it was tougher for Joe because they don't have as much information. The Russos can reference the first film and THE AVENGERS, and it's another link in the chain; characters have been laid down and certain things have been established. But those films did very well, so the expectations are at a level where there might be more pressure on the Russos. I don't know. With Joe, it was all brand new, and we were trying to feel it out together. I loved working with Joe, but he's got that nostalgia; he loves the '40s and '50s and has that look down so well. I think Joe liked a little bit more of a grounded Cap in terms of powers and abilities, like a really impressive olympic athlete as opposed to someone who's ripping through cars. I think we're trying to push it a little bit more in this one. I wouldn't mind pushing it a little more in this one. You guys saw THE AVENGERS. Those guys are good! I've got to have a reason to be on this team!
Q: We were talking to the Russos about how this is a new fighting style for Cap as well.
Evans: Has anyone played the Captain America video game? (A few people say they have.) I love it, and I don't like video games. (Laughs) I love the way Cap moves. He moves so well. He just beats ass. That's how this guy needs to be moving. This isn't just a guy who was given the ability of speed and power. He's been training. He's got the frame of mind to absorb this information, so you can only assume that with training and his ability the guy should really be dangerous, and we should show that. If Jason Bourne can do it, Cap should be flying through these things. We've had a little bit of fun turning up his power, turning up his speed, and so the fights are a lot more grisly, impactful and, in my opinion, cooler.
Q: What I loved about the video game was the hand-to-hand combat and the shield.
Evans: Yeah! Absolutely. Shield-use and acrobatics, too. He's flipping off things and spinning and jumping, and just using his environment. It's not just punch-punch, kick-kick. That's fine, but this has to be more than THE BOURNE SUPREMACY.
Q: How much of a challenge was that for you?
Evans: It was a bit of a chore, but it was fun. I was excited. They put me in gymnastics classes, and we were doing combat stuff every day for a few months. When you get the dance down - and all it is is a dance, really. It's choreography. When you get the dance down, you can start working on the acting. When it's sharp and neat, it just feels so good. It feels like dancing. We have such good stunt coordinators and choreographers. The Russos really have a handle on how they want to shoot this. Sometimes you watch the stunt guys do a little playback in the stunt warehouse, and it looks okay. Then the Russos get in there with these great angles and camera movement, and some of the films they referenced in those first meetings, of how they want the fight sequences to look, were spot on. The footage that I've seen was awesome.
Q: How about the relationship between Steve and Sam [Wilson]? What do they make of each other when they first meet?
Evans: Sam is mostly an outsider that I meet in this movie, and certain things happen that require me to turn to some outsiders, some people who might not be in my inner circle. Sam works at the VA, and is like a therapist for [soldiers] who have come back from overseas and who are struggling. In that regard, Sam and I connect. Sam and I kind of have an understanding. Cap doesn't have that many friends. His life is his work. Natasha gives him a hard time about that, too, about getting into dating and having a social life outside of work. So Sam extends an olive branch, and just tries to be a friend. And then later on when things happen, that friendship proves to be invaluable.
Q: The writers were talking about how Black Widow brings out these vulnerabilities in your character in this movie. What was it like to have that interplay with Scarlett, and what did it bring out in Captain America that we didn't see before?
Evans: I like being human. I like laughing and telling a joke. I didn't really get any jokes in THE AVENGERS, and if I did it was a joke at his own expense. I'm not really zinging people. That's fine, but I really loved that aspect about Johnny Storm: I got to tell the jokes and I got to be funny, and I don't get any now; there are so many funny people in these movies! So with Scarlett, some of the dialogue just feels like the way people speak. It's so nice because it's human, and there's a lot of that in this movie. My favorite scenes are the scenes with Scarlett. The Russos could be blowing smoke, but it sounds like they agree. It's just nice. They're nice moments. Our characters both have issues in this movie, and it's such an odd pairing. We're such different people. Her moral compass is for sale, and Steve is a boy scout. It's interesting what they find in each other. And outside of the movie, Scarlett and I have known each other for a long time; we constantly make jokes about how many movies we've made together. It's very effortless. We get along very well, and I think that shows onscreen.
Q: You say Captain America is the ultimate boy scout. Off-screen, do you feel a responsibility to be [like him]? You can't go the strip clubs?
Evans: You just can't get caught. (Laughs) No, absolutely. It's a strange thing to funnel through your brain. Any time you have to make a decision, you're like... it's so interesting when you meet little kids, and that resonates. It hits home. It's easy to think it and assume it, but when you meet a kid and you're like, "Man, this kid really looks up to me! What a strange thing! You don't even know me!" That's so funny, but I remember feeling that way when I was a kid about certain things. Not to sound cheesy, but it's a beautiful thing. It's really cool. And you owe that to them. That's part of the responsibility of this job, and that's a tricky thing that I always question. It's interesting the parallels of Steve's character and me in life, the parallels of what you owe. As an actor, where's the line? What do I owe people? I chose to be in a profession that compromises my anonymity, but does that mean you need to know where I go on vacation or what my dog's name is? Where's that line? I categorize the way kids view you as something you owe. It's your responsibility. If you make stupid mistakes, and it tarnishes their image of you, that's on you. You're not free to go be a jackass - because I was before. (Laughs)
Q: How does the Winter Soldier's presence affect Steve, with his past coming back to haunt him?
Evans: Now it's going to get tricky. I don't know how to answer these. The stakes are high. That was one of Steve's biggest sources of guilt, the fact that out of his whole crew of Howling Commandos that he convinced to come to battle with him, he's the one guy who didn't make it back. That was the one guy who was always there for him. Then to find out that he did make it, and was subject to some of the things he was subject to... that's a lot for Steve to process, and he takes full responsibility because he wouldn't do it any other way. That was a political answer. I didn't give anything away, right?
Q: How much is Steve thinking about the past versus looking towards the future and trying to adjust?
Evans: That was another thing we tried to figure out in this movie. Again, a lot of people really did like the '40s aspect of the first movie. Even those characters, all those guys in the Howling Commandos were so great, and you try to figure out how you could work them back in. Eventually, I think that could get tired if it's always, "Well, it's not the '40s..." You're like, "Shut up. We get it. You miss the '40s." We try to strike a balance, but it's not like every other scene he's having flashbacks.
Q: Did you have any scenes with Robert Redford?
Evans: I did. Sundance! It was great! He's so good. I was so nervous the first day, and within ten minutes I was like, "Thank god." Because you never know how these people are going to be at that level, but he's just the nicest guy in the world. It's not like he can't direct. He could've very easily come on set and made it his set, but he didn't do that. He has immense respect. The first day we shot together, it was like a fifteen-hour day - the Russos like their coverage. And at the end of the day, it was a lot of my stuff. He didn't have a lot of lines, and he could've left. I know a lot of actors who would've left, and been like, "You cool doing this with someone else?" - which I think kind of sucks when actors do that. But he didn't do it. He stuck around. It's past midnight, and this guy is here doing off-camera for me. It's classy. He's just a classy, talented guy. He classes up this whole project.
Q: How protective are you of Captain America. Do you feel it's okay to be vocal if you disagree with something.
Evans: I am now. The first movie I just felt like I was lucky to be around, and the second movie you just don't want to piss anyone off. Now you start feeling like, "Well, I'm throwing this barbecue, too." (Laughs) It's a strange feeling being like, "Hang on, what if we did it like this." It's a nice feeling to come into your own. I think the first movie, I'd see myself in the suit and be like "Who's that idiot in the suit?" It's starting to feel more like real or home or something. You do start caring a little bit more. You do run into those kids, and you do have this impact. It's a responsibility now. I don't want to make it sound like it's going to my head or anything, but you just care a little bit more about making this good, quality stuff. Because we're going to run the contract: we're going to do THE AVENGERS 2, and we're probably going to do THE AVENGERS 3. These things will happen. So you want to make sure it's pointed in the right direction. You don't want to step on toes, but there's room to be vocal. That's the best thing about Marvel: you could be stuck under contract at a lot worse places. Marvel's very collaborative. You feel the love from Marvel.
Q: Are you officially the guy who's been in the most superhero movies, or is it Sam Jackson?
Evans: I don't know. How many has he done? Let's do the count! What does he have? I only have the other two FANTASTIC FOURs.
Q: I think Hugh Jackman might have it.
Evans: Yeah, Hugh Jackman might have it. That's right. Fucker.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER hits theaters April 4, 2014.