Avengers was a summer camp experience for Chris Evans
“NERVES? Oh my God,” Chris Evans says. “The weekend that Captain America opened last summer, I was really nervous. It needed to be a hit.” It was a hit, and Evans, who played Captain America in the Marvel Comics-based film, saw his career prospects soar – for no reason that he could see.
“Who knows why it was a hit?,” he says. “There’s no rhyme or reason why something works or not in this business.
When I saw the first trailer for the film, I thought, ‘It’s not going to work.’ Now people love it. There is just no way to second-guess in this business.” Evans takes up his red-white-andblue shield again for one of the year’s most talked-about films, The Avengers.
It’s the first live-action film to explore the venerable comic-book tradition of the superhero teamup.
Based on the Marvel comics created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Avengers stars veterans of five previous Marvel films: Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Samuel L Jackson as secret agent Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. Bringing them all together is Thor’s evil half brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and his scheme to attack the earth.
As if all that weren’t cool enough, The Avengers is written and directed by Joss Whedon, a longtime comic-book aficionado best known to a legion of fans as the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).
It’s one thing to star in a superhero movie, says Evans, who previously played the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four movies. It’s another thing to star in a movie in which everyone around you is also playing a superhero.
“As I walked on the set, I looked at the call sheet,” he recalls, “because it was a scene where most of us were required to be there. I walked around the set thinking, ‘There’s Downey in his suit. There’s Hemsworth in his suit.’ “It was like going away to superhero sleepover camp,” Evans says with a laugh. “As for Downey, I just can’t say enough good things about the guy. He’s just the coolest. I think the pressure was off the rest of us because he was there.” Can a film with six superheroes, three of whom have starred in their own films, be an easy place to work? Evans insists that it can and was.
“We all got along phenomenally well,” he says. “A lot of actors embellish how much fun they had on a specific film set, but this was a genuine summer- camp experience. It was just all of us hanging out in our costumes, which are amazing and crazy at the same time. This film was a way for all of us to get together. It was a great reason to spend time with people you genuinely like being around.” The film explores what it’s like to be a superhero – and, in the best Marvel tradition, concludes that it’s no bed of roses. These heroes get depressed, get stressed out, even fight with one another on occasion.
“One of the themes is that it’s sort of a solitary business, being a superhero,” Evans says. “At the same time these are very definite personalities, so the story also talks about some clashes within the group. These heroes are definitely individuals.
“There’s a lot of action and a little bit of discord at first, which makes it fun.” The success of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) has spawned rumours of a sequel. That sounds plausible to Evans, but he says he doesn’t know anything about one.
“I haven’t gotten the official word,” the actor says, “but I think it’s in the offing.” The 30-year-old Evans grew up with three siblings in Framingham, Massachusetss, and later nearby Sudbury, where his father worked as a dentist and his mother as a dancer.
“I just grew up loving movies,” he recalls. “I was one of those kids whose family had a movie night. My mother was really big on making sure that we watched classic films and Oscar-winning films.
“I fell deeper in love with movies because I liked the way a film could make you feel,” Evans says. “One movie could change your entire outlook, but it had to be the right movie. I don’t know many other art forms that can change your entire outlook.” High-school and community plays led him to theatre camp and then to New York, where he studied at the prestigious Lee Strasberg theatre Institute and worked as an intern for a casting office in Brooklyn. The job didn’t pay, but it introduced him to several agents, one of whom eventually signed him.
Evans made his small-screen debut with a guest shot on the CBS series The Fugitive (2000), then went on to small roles in such films as Cherry Falls (2000), The Newcomers (2000) and Not Another Teen Movie (2001). He had his first lead role, playing a youth who gets a cell-telephone call from a stranger (Kim Basinger) who claims to have been kidnapped, in Cellular (2004), but his real breakthrough came when he was cast as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, in the surprise hit Fantastic Four (2005), a role he recreated in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).
Yes, he’s Captain America and the Human Torch. Life will get complicated if Marvel ever makes The Avengers Vs. the Fantastic Four.
Since then Evans has been seen in The Nanny Diaries (2007), Street Kings (2008), The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008), Push (2009), The Losers (2010) and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010), but Captain America: The First Avenger vaulted him to a new level, planting him on Hollywood’s A-list and making him an overnight success ..
after more than a decade of hard work.
“I guess it’s all relative,” Evans says.
“It could have been harder or easier. I felt like it was going at a pretty steady pace. I didn’t have overnight success, but I didn’t wait tables for 10 years either.” Now his challenge is to avoid being typecast as a superhero. In 2011 he made sure that his other two films, the romantic comedy What’s Your Number? and the drug drama Puncture, were nothing at all like Captain America: The First Avenger.
In the former he played the hunky next-door neighbour to a woman (Anna Faris) sorting through her romantic history, while in the latter he was a young lawyer struggling with drug addiction.
“Those roles were a chance for me to show some layers, which is the idea now,” Evans says. “I’m not just a superhero-action guy.” Next up is The Iceman, due in 2013.
James Franco, Ray Liotta, Winona Ryder and David Schwimmer co-star in the true story of Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a contract killer and family man.
As for his offscreen life, Evans – who was Jessica Biel’s boyfriend from 2004 to 2006 – only laughs. These days he prefers to keep his romantic life private.
“I just hang out at home with my dog,” says the actor, who lives in Los Angeles. “I do miss living in Boston and, if I had my way, I’d move back there.
I’m a die-hard fan of all the teams.” So far, he says, he has no major complaints about life as a movie star.
“No one is posted outside my house,” Evans says with a laugh. “Sure, there are changes and shifts in my life, but I take it with a grain of salt. I made this bed, I’ve got to sleep in it.”