The Political Avenger

It’s a Friday afternoon in February, and the view from Chris Evans’ house in the Hollywood Hills consists mostly of fog. He bought this place for $3.2 million in 2013, back when he was two hit movies into his seven-film stint as Marvel Studios’ Captain America; there’s a Zen-ish garden inside the front gate. Evans banishes his dog, Dodger, to the guest room, shuts off the TV in the family room (CNN on mute), and takes a seat on the couch. 

Evans has Avengers: Endgame coming out in a few months.

Evans — who made $15 million for the past two Avengers films, up from $300,000 for his first stint as Captain America — has said he’s done playing the character after this. It’s been reported that he intends to retire from acting entirely. When I bring this up, Evans gets as annoyed as he’ll get all afternoon.

“I never said the word ‘retire,'” he says. “It’s a really obnoxious notion for an actor to say they’re going to retire — it’s not something you retire from.”

All he said — back in 2014 — was that he was hoping to get behind the camera more, and that he’d told one of his CAA agents, “We are turning a corner.” 

So, for the record: He’s not retiring. He’d love to direct more, but the way he talks about it makes it sound more like a five-year plan. He’s been looking for a good script, except the problem with good scripts is that they tend to go to great directors, which is not a weight class Evans would put himself in, not yet. He’s directed one film, the slight-but-not-embarrassing indie romance Before We Go, which grossed $37,151 in theaters in 2014. He says it mainly taught him how much he didn’t know. “I’m OK with making mistakes,” he says, “and I learned a lot from that one.”

“Momentum is a real fallacy, in my opinion,” he says. “But it has a really strong hold on a lot of actors’ mentalities. You really believe that while the ball’s rolling, you gotta keep it rolling. I could be wrong, but to me — I just don’t believe in that. I don’t think that’s real.”

I guess we’ll find out.

Evans laughs. “My last cover interview.”

***

Here are some things we learned about Chris Evans, from what may or may not be his last cover interview:

He uses the word “pretentious” a lot, usually because he’s worried something he’s just said sounds pretentious, which it rarely does.

He will talk at length and in detail about himself, and his neuroses.

He keeps it closer to the vest about other people. He mentions in passing that Justin Timberlake lives around here — “I think” — without mentioning that Timberlake lives around here with his wife, Jessica Biel, who was once Evans’ girlfriend. Nor does he mention his former girlfriend Jenny Slate by name, although he occasionally says things about what it’s like to hang out with a bunch of comedians, something he clearly knows because he dated Slate, on and off, for a while. They are off again.

“I’m the one who fears being enveloped. I was always a really autonomous guy my whole life. Camping by myself is one of my favorite things. I really like to be with someone who also has their own thing to do as well, you know? If I’m with someone who just kind of adopts my life, that can feel a bit suffocating.”

He worries about doing tweeting too much, about it seeming performative or becoming white noise. “Marvel has never said anything. On the contrary — when I bump into Kevin Feige the first thing out of his mouth is ‘Man, I love what you’re doing [on Twitter].'”

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“I see it as very astute. Commentary and questioning,” says Feige, Marvel’s president. 

“You don’t want to alienate half your audience,” says Evans. “But I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t speak up. Especially for fear of some monetary repercussion or career damage — that just feels really gross to me.”

His willingness to call bulls* on anyone abetting the disintegration of our republic extends to his home state’s favorite sons. When we talk, Tom Brady is two days away from leading the New England Patriots to a sixth Super Bowl win; when I ask if the chance to play Brady in a biopic would bring him out of non-retirement retirement, he looks grim.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I really hope he’s not a Trump supporter. I’m just hoping he’s one of those guys that maybe supported him and now regrets it. Maybe he thought it was going to be different — and even that bothers me — but maybe there’s a chance now he just thinks Trump’s dumb. If he doesn’t, I might have to cut ties. It’s really tough.”

“I think maybe a couple of years ago,” he continues, “I might have tried to pull some, like, mental gymnastics to compartmentalize, but I don’t know if I can anymore. So I’m just hoping he’s woken up.”

“At the root of it, he has true humility,” says Robert Downey Jr. “I think a lot of his theater experience helped, too. Because it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to dress up, I’m going to go out, and I’m going to tell the truth.’ It’s very kind of old-school Spencer Tracy. Although I guarantee you Spencer Tracy never would’ve put on that getup.”

“The characters I play do a lot of that heavy lifting. If people knew me — I’m just an a*hole.”

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I ask him to tell me what happens at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Evans laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “I wish I could. Uh, it’s — I mean — it’s a good one. It’s a real good one. I saw, like, the first hour of it.”

So you watched it up to the point where Cap dies?
“Right, exactly,” Evans says. “After I die by Tony’s hand, I just said, You know what? I can’t watch this.”

I should make it clear that this is a joke.

“I can’t believe they even cut together a trailer,” he says, “because so much of it is a visual spoiler. You’ll see. A lot of the characters have”—

He stops, covering his mouth.

“Probably shouldn’t have even said that,” he says.

***

“My name is Christopher Evans, and I am a high school junior with an intense passion for theatre,” Evans wrote, many years ago, in a letter he sent to casting directors in New York, seeking a summer internship. In a mortified tweet he posted after his father unearthed the letter a few years back, Evans noted that it went out to “DOZENS of casting directors.” One of them took him on and he spent a summer working on the Michael J. Fox sitcom Spin City. “They’d release a breakdown on Friday,” Evans remembers, “with some [part like] Janitor #2, five lines. And I’d come into the office on Monday and on my desk would be a stack of envelopes, two feet tall, from every agent in town, with headshots from actors.” Evans’ boss would pick out a few envelopes from agencies she knew and liked; it was Evans’ job to throw away the rest, unopened.

It was a valuable lesson about the brutally competitive nature of the business he’d chosen.

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His mother, Lisa, is the executive director of the Concord Youth Theatre. As a kid, Evans wrestled and played a little lacrosse. “My dad was a big athlete,” he says. “You want to please [your dad], and he was so happy when I played, but I was just terrible.” When it came to extracurricular activities, Evans and his siblings — he’s the second oldest of four — took after their mom. They all did musical theater as kids. Being onstage, he says, “felt like home,” in part because home was like a stage. There are videos, Evans says, from Christmases past, of the Evans kids putting on an impromptu revue for visiting relatives. “F**in’ Von Trapps, man,” Evans laughs. “I’m like 12, 13. I’m not, like, 6. I’m old enough to know better. We all thought it was so normal to be singing in front of my cousins and aunts and uncles at Christmas. Thank goodness this acting career worked out. Otherwise I’d just be this forever dork. I probably still am.”

To this day, Evans says, “I want to do a musical so badly, man. Someone told me they’re [remaking] Little Shop of Horrors and I was like, ‘Oh, can I be down? Please? Can I be the dentist?’ When I first came out here, early 2000s, there were rumblings about Spielberg maybe doing West Side Story. That’s one of my favorite musicals. I did it when I was in high school. And obviously he’s doing it now, and I called my team and they were like, ‘Chris — You can’t. You’re too old.’ It’s so hard to hear.”

By the end of his casting-internship summer he had an agent; he graduated early and soon booked a part on Opposite Sex, a Fox pilot about the first three boys to attend a girls’ school that goes co-ed. In September, when his friends went off to college, Evans moved to L.A. and into the Oakwood Apartments complex in Toluca Lake.

“It’s exactly what you think it is,” Evans says. “A lot of young actors. A lack of parental supervision. A lot of, uh, debauchery. You make a lot of strange connections with a lot of thirsty people, but you kind of are one of the thirsty people, too. It was a great time. It really was.”

So how does that work these days, for you? Can Captain America just walk up in the dispensary?
“You know, I’ve chilled out on weed. I used to love it, but now I think it’s the one thing that gets in my way. It zaps your motivation. I think apathy kind of bleeds in, and you start to think, ‘Well, I’m not apathetic, I just don’t feel like doing that.’ And, you know — I’m 37. I can’t be smoking weed all the time. That’s crazy.”

***

In early 2010, Marvel Studios began searching for its Captain America. Feige says the studio was determined to cast an American as Cap, but that Evans wasn’t on the initial lists for the part, mostly because he’d already played the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four films for 20th Century Fox. His Johnny Storm is a memorably douchebaggy creation.

“We thought, OK, well, he’s that character. Let’s keep looking,” Feige says. “And as we [continued] not finding people, we went back to the initial lists. And that brought us back to Chris. And I thought, well, Patrick Stewart played Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier. Harrison Ford played Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Who cares?”

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At that point, a bit of a process ensued. Evans had been having these “little panic attacks” around the time the Cap offer came in. In the past, they’d mostly happened in the hectic weeks of media and promotion leading up to the release of a movie. Doing press has always made him self-conscious. “You feel very judged,” he says, “and you’re a little unsure about who you are.”

When he began to experience that familiar feeling of panic while shooting 2011’s Puncture in Houston, he wondered if the attacks were his subconscious warning him that he’d chosen the wrong line of work.

And that was when Marvel called. “Getting the [Captain America] offer felt to me like the epitome of temptation. The ultimate job offer, on the biggest scale. I’m supposed to say no to this thing. It felt like the right thing to do.”

Evans passed on Marvel’s first offer, a nine-film deal. The studio came back with a six-film contract, and Evans passed again. He accepted an invitation to visit Marvel Studios — back when the company, newly purchased by Disney, was still based out of Raleigh Studios’ Manhattan Beach complex — but made it clear that he wasn’t planning to change his mind.

“You see the pictures, and you see the costumes, and it’s cool. But I’d now woken up the day after saying no and felt good, twice.”

Marvel persisted. After consulting with close friends and a former teacher, and taking an encouraging call from Robert Downey Jr., Evans took the part — and ran straight to a therapist for the first time in his adult life. He loves therapy now, and goes whenever his schedule permits, even if nothing’s particularly wrong. Downey Jr. says he’s watched Evans evolve significantly in the course of their decade in the Marvel repertory.

“I’ve been in hundreds of scenes with this guy,” Downey Jr. says. “Nobody laughs more than him. Sometimes he makes me self-conscious, like, ‘Should I be more fun?’ There’s a little bit of, like, just trying to shake out the anxiety. And I’ve also seen him, over the last 10 years, go from being someone who had laughably real social anxiety to someone who has grown more and more comfortable in their own skin.”

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Downey Jr. praises his co-star as the funniest person on the “very sophisticated, laugh-your-ass-off” text-message chain through which the core Avengers cast stay in touch when they’re apart. Their bond is the camaraderie of people who’ve shared a professional experience almost no one can relate to.

“I’ve spent a lot of time just in repose with this guy, on set,” Downey Jr. says. “You know ­­— the shield’s on the table, and we’re waiting for the technocrane to get put in place. And I’ve had some of my greatest moments of gratitude when he was looking at me in my suit, and I was looking at him in his suit, and we’re just like, ‘Is this still working? How lucky are we?'”

***

Evans had never read Captain America — or comics in general — before he was cast. If he had, he says, he might have been even more hesitant about taking the role.

Even in the heat of CGI-assisted battle, these movies are fundamentally about wisecracking modern adults solving problems.

Captain America was always going to be a tougher character to reframe for 21st-century audiences. He’s an idealized square-jawed figure whose comics debut predates the United States’ entry into World War II; he was a symbol of a bygone era of moral clarity even in 1964, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the character in the pages of Marvel’s The Avengers.

“There’s no real darkness to him,” Evans remembers thinking. “How do I make this guy someone you want to watch? I don’t get jokes. I’m not Wolverine. I don’t have dead parents, like Batman. I’m just, like, ‘Hi, I’ll walk your dog. I’ll help you move.'”

“In the early days, Marvel was an independent studio,” Feige says. “As we were initially getting our financing, I was meeting with completion bond companies and foreign presales — all that had to be done on the first Iron Man film. And as we were meeting buyers, one of the films I would mention was Captain America, and you could see their eyes glaze over. Like, ‘Uh, what else do you have?'”

“[Evans’] suspension of his own disbelief, regardless of whatever doubts he had, is the reason all these other worlds are able to be built,” says Downey. “Starting with Avengers. People love to say that I’m kind of the progenitor of this whole universe. But if you want to talk about it in terms of team building, and you want to talk about it as the most successful creative relay race in the history of cinema, he was the critical leg.”

Marvel’s plans for universal expansion were still taking shape when Evans signed on, but he says Feige told him in broad strokes what lay ahead for Steve Rogers, from his betrayal by the government in The Winter Soldier to his rift with the Avengers in Civil War. It seemed to Evans like a story worth telling.

“Man,” Evans says, finally. “This one’s really good. I choked up like three times.”

Because Cap dies?
“Right,” Evans says. “It’s hard. Seeing my own death.” He laughs. “It’s going to be a long movie, that’s for sure. The first edit clocked in over three hours. My funeral’s like an hour.”

He laughs again. He can make these jokes. What’s Marvel going to do, fire him?

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, Mar.2019.

March 27, 2019 | Interview , | this post contains affiliate links