America’s Most Wanted
How Chris Evans went from a Sudbury high schooler to the face of Captain America in this summer’s biggest movie.
Chris Evans is more than just a torso. It’s true that his turn as the Human Torch in the hit Fantastic Four franchise required him to regularly bare his abs. And sure, his jock-with-a-heart-of-gold character in Not Another Teen Movie spent an entire scene wearing only a whipped-cream bikini. And okay, his publicist did impose a ban on beefcake shots after one too many magazines photographed him posing shirtless. And yes, he just may have the most famous pecs in the country these days, thanks to movie previews featuring him bare-chested as jacked-up super soldier Steve Rogers, the lead character in Captain America: The First Avenger — which hits theaters this month as the most hotly anticipated comic-book film in recent memory. But we’re here to tell you that Chris Evans is more than just a torso. Our hometown superhero’s got talent to burn and a résumé to match: He’s worked with Oscar winners such as Kim Basinger, Danny Boyle, and Forest Whitaker. And he’s anything but standard Hollywood.
Evans broke into the business through the back door, spending the summer before his senior year at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School interning for New York talent agents, one of whom he talked into signing him. From there he eventually landed a few guest TV spots and a role on a short-lived series before his breakout turn as the aforementioned scantily clad athlete.
It’s pretty much been fame and fortune ever since, but Evans has kept close to his roots. Though he has a place in L.A., he spends as much time as possible with his family in Sudbury. (His uncle, by the way, is U.S. Representative Mike Capuano, and two of his three siblings are also actors.) He remains friendly with his high school crowd, and he recently flew his former drama teacher down to the Tribeca Film Festival as his guest. It’s all extremely apple pie — hell, even his pooch, East, is an American bulldog. Fitting, then, that playing a stars-and-stripes crime fighter looks to be the force that catapults him to a permanent place on Hollywood’s A-list.
We recently caught up with the 30-year-old actor to find out what it was like getting dumped on prom night; why it’s the Celtics over the Pats for him (but Tom Brady is entitled to do whatever the hell he wants, thank you very much); and how, exactly, a kid from MetroWest found himself starring in the biggest movie of the summer.
Captain America isn’t the first comic-book film you’ve done. There were the two Fantastic Four movies, and you’re playing Captain America again in The Avengers, which comes out next year. Were you a comic-book junkie as a kid?
I wasn’t into comic books. I had to go and do my research once I signed on for all these things. I was more into watching cartoons, which, you know, in retrospect probably wasn’t the best idea. Having read comic books, you start to appreciate the level of intellect that goes into these things.
Your character has been around so long that there are several different versions of him. Did you research a particular iteration, or did you just go with your own take on who he is based on the script?
Well, it’s pretty much an origin story — the transformation from Steve Rogers to Captain America. All the variations and the evolution of the character come once he’s become Captain America. There was a great comic book called Mythos that was the closest version to the story we’re telling. The artwork was beautiful — it looked almost like it was all watercolor. That’s what I kept by my side while we were filming. I did a bunch of research independently of the film script and just tried to soak up some knowledge of the comic-book world, because we’re making this movie for the comic-book fans.
So you’re now signed on for six movies as Captain America. Are you afraid of getting typecast in action roles?
Hmm. I don’t know. If I ever feel like that’s beginning to happen, I’ll just stop doing them. But that’s the way acting goes: You initially start being cast in the stuff that you’re kind of right for, and then as you continue to get work, you’re afforded more opportunities to break that mold and try to prove yourself in a different light.
But you turned down the role of Captain America three times before accepting it. When your agent is telling you to do one thing and the studio is telling you to do another, is there somebody you rely on for advice?
Well, certainly my parents. They know me inside out. I have a few people in my life who have no agenda, and it’s nice to step back and use them as an anchor to try to make the right choices.
Do you find the physical or the emotional aspects harder when preparing for a role?
The emotional is, no question, more difficult. With physical prep work, you know if you go to the gym, you will get size. There’s no chance it won’t happen. The emotional prep work is a variable. You could step onto the set one day and have a disconnect with your thoughts and feelings, and have a rough day acting because you can’t quite tap into what you need.
Which of your characters was the hardest to access emotionally?
I did a film earlier this year that went to the Tribeca Film Festival, called Puncture. It was based on a real man who had passed away. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of his family and friends, and they were generous enough to share his story with us and give us their blessing. It was a bit intimidating, because you’re trying to take something precious and make sure you do it justice. Certain days the family would actually be on set, and those are the days where it’s easy to let your mind play games with you. Those are the days where the emotional preparation can be hit-or-miss.
What about roles you didn’t get? Anything you really regret losing?
Yeah, there was one film that I really wanted. This was a long time ago; it was a film called Fracture. Ryan Gosling ended up doing it with Anthony Hopkins. It wasn’t a giant box-office success, but I really enjoyed the script and I enjoyed the character. I got pretty close and was kind of disappointed it didn’t go my way.
When setbacks like that happen, how do you find the motivation to keep battling?
You know, acting’s like a drug. You have those months where you feel lousy and depressed and you contemplate gear shifting into another realm, and then you have a great audition or you get a callback or you get a part, and you remember why you love it. It’s a tricky business, a lot of ups and downs, and you just have to maintain a healthy amount of perspective. I would never want my acting career to dictate the level of happiness I experience in my life. It’s easy to let that happen.
You went straight from Lincoln-Sudbury High to auditioning full time. Did you have to sit down with your parents and have the “I’m not going to college” talk?
No. It was very easy. In the summer after my junior year, I talked my parents into letting me move to New York City to get an internship. That was the most difficult hurdle. At the end of the summer, I went back to finish my senior year of high school but was traveling to New York maybe once a week for auditions. At that point college was still part of the plan, but then I got really lucky. I got a pilot, and that got picked up and took me to L.A. So we decided, “Maybe college can wait.”
We actually have a staff member who graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury, and she told me to mention Mr. Plott…
Oh, sure! Mr. Plott was the drama teacher at L-S, and I actually just invited him and his wife, Judy, to the premiere of my film at Tribeca. They supported me at the festival.
Acting seems to run in your family. Your older sister, Carly, is the one who first got you into drama, and your younger brother, Scott, had a role on One Life to Live for a while. Did you get to watch him?
Yeah, are you kidding? I watched him all the time. He’s in New York; he has an agent. That’s how he makes his living.
When your family watches your movies, do you ever have to tell your mom, “You probably don’t wanna watch this”?
My mother’s a basket case. I’ve had a few death scenes, and she just weeps the whole time. She’s a bit emotional.
And how did she feel about your whipped-cream bikini scene?
[Laughs.] That was a rough one. “This is what I do now, guys. Look at my movie. I have a banana in my ass.” Great. I guess you gotta pay your dues onscreen, and that was kind of a rite of passage for me.
Now you have movie roles that take you all over the world. Do you bring your bulldog on the road with you?
As long as the location allows it. But sometimes it doesn’t. For example, we shot in London for Captain America, and the quarantine process for dogs is multiple months. That’s insane! But for the most part, he’s with me. He’s been everywhere: Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Texas. Pretty much anywhere I go that’s in North America, he’s coming with me. He’s 10 years old; he knows the drill.
What do you do with him when you travel abroad?
One of my best friends on the entire planet is a girl named Tara — I grew up with her in Boston, and she’s lived out in L.A. for a few years. She absolutely adores him, so whenever I take off he stays with her.
You don’t have a girlfriend you can leave him with?
I do not.
You used to date Jessica Biel, and you even made a couple of movies with her. Did it make a difference while you were filming that you had a relationship?
Anytime you get to work with someone that you know, it’s gonna lend itself to the on-set relationship. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few friends, as well. You have to find a certain level of relaxation while you’re trying to perform, and any time you can lean on an existing relationship with
someone, it’s only going to help.
Well, while we’re on the subject of your exes, are there any old girlfriends who dumped you who you just want to tell, “Suck it, I’m awesome”?
Uh, I think they all dumped me. I think all of my old girlfriends dumped me. I got dumped on prom! Can you believe that? I got fuckin’ dumped on prom! [Laughs.] Heartbreaking! I can’t believe it. Ruthless.
You were standing there in your tux, and she was like, “Listen, we need to talk”?
Yeah, it was right after the prom. We were at the after-party and she said, “I just don’t think this is going to work out.” And that was it.
Well, I’m sure she’s regretting it now.
Actually, she’s still a good friend of mine.
Do you have any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to dating?
You gotta love dogs! You gotta be thick-skinned. My family can be — and not just my immediate family, my extended family — they’re very fun people. They’re very sassy. They’re not uptight or proper; they’ll swing some jokes at you, so you gotta be ready to take it and swing a few back.
When your uncle Michael Capuano was running for Senate in 2009, you did some campaigning for him. How was that?
It was fantastic. It’s almost embarrassing even saying we’re related based on what he’s done to give back and how he’s basically made his life about helping other people. It’s an honor to try to help him in any way possible.
Are you politically active?
Well, my family is certainly very vocal. They’re very Italian. A lot of our holidays end with people screaming at each other across the room. And everyone’s very opinionated and intelligent. A lot of my aunts and uncles are wildly educated, and their opinions reflect that. We’re all very liberal.
If you stopped acting, would you consider getting into politics? Or do you have another fallback career in mind?
To be honest, I would love to direct. It’s something I would love to try to crack into, hopefully sooner rather than later. I’ve read a hundred fantastic scripts that didn’t pan out as films, and I completely put that on the directors. I’ve also read some mediocre scripts that have ended up being amazing and I
credit that to the directors. They’re the storytellers. If you don’t have a good storyteller, you really have nothing.
When you were on our cover in March of 2007 we referred to you as the “next Ben Affleck.” Is he someone whose career you’d like to emulate?
I respect the fact that Ben’s done such a good job directing. I would love to make the transition to director, but a lot of actors do that. I mean, you’ve got guys like Robert Redford, who directs fantastic movies. And even Mel Gibson. Say what you will about him in his personal life, but the guy can direct.
You got your start on the stage. Would you go back to that?
Oh, absolutely. That’s a dream. The problem is that it’s such a time commitment. Usually theater runs for multiple months, and it’s a little tricky right now.
What is it about the stage that’s so appealing?
Two things: One, it’s your performance. In a film, your director has power over your performance. You’re essentially handing your performance over to him, and depending on the way he edits, the music he chooses, the takes he cuts together, a performance can manifest in a lot of different ways. With theater I can give the audience exactly what I want to give them, and that’s what they’re going to receive. The second thing is the amount of time you get to stay in a character. On film, it’s start, stop, start, stop — it’s very brief moments of slipping in and out of a character. Onstage, you could be sitting in a character for 40 minutes to an hour, and I think that’s — I was going to say that’s rare — that never happens in film. And that’s just a different experience. It’s a different ride as an actor.
What about going back to TV? You did a few series early in your career.
Absolutely. TV seems to be where all of the quality is these days. From where I’m standing, at least, I think you have a much better chance — oh, let me rephrase. I think it’s much more difficult these days to find quality films than it is to find quality television. A lot of times when I go to the movies, I leave disappointed. Yet I can click on HBO and am almost guaranteed to be entertained.
Do you have a favorite show that you just have to watch?
You know, I’m gonna say this just to endorse this show, because I hope it never gets canceled. It’s nothing I could ever act on, but I love the show Archer. It is the funniest show on the fuckin’ planet, and I want to be friends with Archer. I wanna hang out with him, I wanna get a beer with him. I want him to be my buddy.
You know H. Jon Benjamin, who voices Archer, is actually from Worcester?
Is he really? God, that guy can just say anything and it’s hilarious.
You’ve got a comedy of your own coming out in September: What’s Your Number? with Anna Faris, which was filmed in Boston. How was it coming back home to work?
It was fantastic getting to work in my hometown with all my friends around. Comedies are a lot of fun. You can’t help but let that kind of infect your day-to-day attitude, as well. It was a real treat.
As a big Celtics fan, did you make it to any of the playoff games?
No, this year I didn’t. And I guess I’m glad I didn’t, ’cause it’s just so disappointing when things don’t go your way, and I had some really high hopes this season. So it was just crushing.
Are the C’s your favorite Boston team?
That’s a tough call. It’s a tight race between the Patriots and the Celtics. I think as a team — ugh, this is so tough! It’s like, which parent do you love more? How do you answer this? I think as a team, I might go with the Celtics, just because I went to a lot of games as a kid. But Tom Brady — the man can do no wrong. Tom Brady for president, I say. I think he’s probably my favorite athlete on the planet.
So what do you think of his hotly debated hair?
Tom Brady can do whatever he wants with his hair, with his clothing, with his dance moves. It’s all fine by me. Tom Brady can do no wrong.