The Quiet American
Captain America’s alter ego, Chris Evans, makes being a superhero look easy, but the real superpower, he tells Madeleine Ross, is the ability to quiet your brain when the noise gets loud
f you tried to sketch his character from his résumé alone, you’d peg Chris Evans as an affable, swaggering, red-state jock whose raison d’être is fame and a large pay cheque. The 35-year-old actor is king of the blockbuster superhero genre; he’s played Captain America in three eponymous Marvel adaptations and two Avengers movies, and has starred in three Fantastic Four films. Peppered throughout this CV of box office record-breakers are teen flicks and romcoms. He was the high school heartthrob in Not Another Teen Movie and the “Harvard hottie” in The Nanny Diaries.
His mass-market career trajectory, however, seems to jar with the contemplative, lumberjack-styled Evans I meet on a hazy evening in Shanghai. And buried in his résumé of blockbusters are some challenging, independent films. Evans played Jimmy in a 2008 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, appeared in the dark 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine and recently directed his first feature, Before We Go, in which he also starred. A homage to the 1995 film Before Sunrise, Before We Go chronicles the friendship of two strangers over the course of an evening in New York.
“It was exciting, it was challenging, it was educational,” he says of directing Before We Go, adding that he plans to spend more time behind the camera once his acting contract with Disney’s Marvel Studios ends. “You never understand how difficult it is until you actually do it. There are always unforeseen challenges when making a film and I had a few, but I learned from them. Hopefully I’ll make some adjustments on the next outing.”
He’s always been fascinated by the way stories are translated from script to screen. “With every movie that I made, I always had an idea of what I thought the movie would be, then I would see the film and it would vary to some degree. I think that sparked an interest in storytelling versus acting. My agents would say I was notorious for liking every script that I read; I liked them because in my head I saw a movie that I enjoyed, which may or may not come to fruition based on who ended up helming the film. So I wanted an opportunity to bring the stories I saw in my brain to life.”
He has always enjoyed the technical side of filmmaking. When acting, he likes to be fully briefed as to how a director will capture a scene. “I enjoy understanding what the camera’s responsibility is because it can change the way the scene is spoon-fed to the audience. Some actors think that’s too much information; they would rather be given direction based on their character, but I like having it all.” What kind of director is he? “That’s tough. I think I give more information than actors might want. I enjoy dealing with technicians. There are some actors that prefer more visceral, creative input, then there are actors who are truly technically based—you can give them black-and-white information and they really know how to translate that into artistic expression.”
A constant concern for actors is the risk of being typecast. For Evans, who has hitched his wagon so completely to the character of Captain America, the risk presumably looms large. Does he think this role has been a blessing or a curse? “Oh, a blessing,” he assures me in his calm, resonant drawl (one thing unmistakably “movie star” about Evans is his deep, hypnotic voice). “You’ve really got to stretch to find the curse aspect. I think there are pros and cons to anything, but the pros radically outweigh the cons.”
In a few days Evans will head back to Massachusetts, where he was raised, to join his family for Thanksgiving. “I’ll be back there, surrounded by people that I love, that love me, and it’s got nothing to do with acting, with your career. It’s a nice way to just be present.” I ask if he has a Thanksgiving duty—whether, for example, he carves the turkey or seasons the pumpkin pie. “I’m the whisky guy,” he smiles—an apt response considering he is an ambassador for Pernod Ricard-owned Scotch whisky brand Chivas Regal Ultis. (Evans is in