Actor Chris Evans knew that playing Captain America would be the role of a lifetime — in fact, that’s why he kept turning it down.
“I would have been fine playing a superhero if it was one movie, and I’d be fine playing a superhero if it was my first time around. The reason I was scared [of doing ‘Captain America’] was because it was six movies — that’s ten years. I could be doing this ’til I’m forty,” said Evans as he and fellow cast members Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan spoke with CBR News and members of the press days before the July 22 release of Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures’ “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Evans, who previously starred as Johnny Storm in “Fantastic Four,” Jensen in “The Losers” and Lucas Lee in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” told reporters that he had to think long and hard about taking on this latest role as it would greatly restrict his ability to choose his own projects or pursue his own passions.
“I don’t know what I’ll be passionate about tomorrow. What if it gets weird or too much or I fall in love with writing?” said Evans. “My freedom is gone if I do this movie.”
More than anything, the actor worried about the implications of becoming a recognizable movie star, saying he already struggled with the fact that he could no longer go to the gym without being recognized.
“If I lose anonymity and that’s something I can’t cope with — guess what, too bad, you better figure it out because you have to get back to work in six months,” said Evans, confessing that the unceasing work schedule was another reason why the role “scared him so much.”
A smiling but serious figure, Evans seems much smaller than the 200-pound Captain America, though, like his character, he speaks earnestly about the need to stay humble and grounded in reality, something his recent move back to the east coast helped provide.
“I just moved back to Boston, I just moved back to where I’m from, and that’s a big thing for me. There’s something about LA where, even if you’re not working you feel like you’re working. It’s the heartbeat of this industry, and anybody you run into or talk to, it feels like work,” said Evans.
With a laugh the actor added, “And then you go back to Boston and my buddies hate my movies — they think I’m the worst actor on the planet! I’m very quickly reminded of who I was and who I am.”
All doubts and fears taken into consideration, after speaking with director Joe Johnston about the role, Evans made up his mind to take on the red, white and blue mantle. At that point, the actor’s main concern shifted to the “Captain America” comic book fans.
“At the end of the day, we are making the movie for the fans, and especially the hardcore fans. They’re the ones I’m most concerned about and they are the ones I want a response from,” said Evans, stating that he welcomed the chance to hear what people thought of the movie, especially those who loved the comic books. After all, “We wouldn’t be making them without them,” said Evans.
Hayley Atwell, who plays Captain America’s love interest Peggy Carter, had no such hesitations about her role. After her initial meeting with director Joe Johnston, Atwell told reporters what cemented her decision to act in “Captain America” was the chance to play a strong female character in the mold of her old Hollywood movie idols, such as Katherine Hepburn and Betty Davis.
“When I read the script I thought it was great that a woman in that time could be depicted as someone who was fully capable, had great power and obviously worked very hard to get where she was and struggled in the same way Steve Rogers does at the beginning,” said Atwell. The actress rocked forward excitedly in her seat as she recalled the meeting with Johnston that helped form the character.
“He wanted to root it in strong characters and he wanted Peggy to be as strong as Captain America in terms of her energy, so they could be a match for each other,” said Atwell.
For Atwell and actor Sebastian Stan, who plays Captain America’s best friend Bucky Barnes, the two faced a unique acting challenge when it came to interacting with the pre-super soldier enhanced Steve Rogers. Rather than have Evans lose and then put on weight, the filmmakers decided to digitally graft Evans’ face onto a skinnier body for his scenes as the 98-pound Steve Rogers. As a result, Atwell and Stan had to act against both Evans and Leander Deeny, Evans’ pre-serum body double. In order to keep the eye lines straight, Evans and Deeny had to mirror each other exactly, often to Atwell’s amusement.
“Chris had to squat at one point in the middle of a take and walk a little bit, and that was quite funny — he was kind of like a weird penguin!” laughed Atwell. She also recalled how she would have to look at Evans’ neck to make her eye line match with the shorter Deeny. Stan, however, thought the opportunity to repeatedly film his scenes with the two actors was a great opportunity.
“I got lucky because I was getting to do the takes over and over again, so I felt I got more chances to really perfect a take the way I wanted to,” said Stan. “My biggest challenge was to stay as real and natural with [Deeny] as I was with Chris.”
The practice was something Stan appreciated, as the actor admitted he had not known anything about Bucky before being cast. This included the fact that the original comic book Bucky was just a teenager.
“I really didn’t know very much about him. When I was auditioning for Steve Rogers I was getting the scene that he had with Bucky — but even from that one scene, I could see that this was like an older brother, this was someone in a different mindset,” said Stan. He laughed as he continued, “Then, when I went back to the comic books, I saw that he was this young kid with a lot of naivete saying, ‘Lets go and do it!’ It was kind of strange.”
However, the actor relished the chance to develop Bucky as a more serious and complex adult character.
“There are subtle dark things about him, and one of those is he was exposed to missions in a different way than Captain America — similar to Steve, but sometimes he’d do the dirty work. I think I sort of like that they kept him in the shadows a little bit,” said Stan.
Atwell, on the other hand, focused on the part of the movie she loved the most: the guns.
“I did pistol training. Joe filmed it and they were going to show it to the Marvel execs, so there was this pressure,” said Atwell. “After an hour of pistol training, they went, ‘You like that, didn’t you? Let’s upgrade her. Give her the machine gun!'”
She also recalled her nervousness at working alongside Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones, the latter of whom deeply intimidated her during their first meeting.
“He was terrifying! He was so dry! The first time you meet him, he kind of holds your gaze long enough to show he’s heard you, but you think, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to ignore me.’ And then he would grunt and say something like, ‘Do you like opera?'” said Atwell. Reenacting their encounter, the actress stuttered responses. “Yes, no — I don’t know?”
However, Jones warmed up to Atwell as the shoot went on.
“I was reading some poetry and he came down and sat beside me and started reciting a Seamus Heaney poem that I love. He’s just so bright,” said Atwell.
Evans was equally quick to praise actor Robert Downey Jr., describing how the two quickly bonded on the set of “Avengers” over a discussion on how to deal with stardom.
“I cannot say enough about Robert Downey Jr. I love that guy! And he’s so willing to talk about that stuff. Its great to be able to talk to someone who has been in the spotlight for good and bad reasons; he has so much presence and charisma and confidence and he seems so centered and peaceful,” said Evans, adding, “He seems happy — and isn’t that the goal?”
Atwell jokingly recounted the moment during filming that made her happiest: the first time she saw a shirtless Chris Evans after his injection with super soldier serum.
“The flinch I did, that was an instinctive moment because that was the first time I saw Chris with his top off I was just like ‘Oh, my God!'” said Atwell, referring to the scene in the trailers when her character immediately touches Evans’ chest directly after his transformation. “But [Johnston] liked that, so we did a couple of takes seeing how far could we go. I did a take where my hand has firmly placed there, and then it got silly, like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch!” laughed Atwell.
While Atwell has only been confirmed for the first “Captain America” movie, and there is no word on whether Bucky will be part of the sequel, Evans is signed on for the next six pictures and is currently shooting “Avengers,” leading back to his initial worries about the role. However, as his talk with reporters wound to a close, when asked what he would like to do after “Captain America” Evans began to laugh.
“Porno. I really think I got a future!” joked Evans. Waiting for the chuckles to die down, Evans became serious again and said he would love to eventually direct.
“I think the reason I got into acting is I like movies. I just like movies,” said Evans. “I just would love to create the story, create the journey a little bit more. I think it would really fit me well.”
“Captain America: The First Avenger” hits theaters nationwide July 22