LONDON, ENGLAND. The casting short-list for “Captain America: The First Avenger” was an ironically long list indeed, as Marvel searched for many months to find the proper actor to embody one of the most venerable, upstanding characters in all of comic-dom.
Landing the role, practically at the last minute, was Chris Evans, who had already played a Marvel hero in two “Fantastic Four” movies and ventured into the world of comics for “The Losers” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” In no time, Evans had to begin reshaping his body to match the iconic Captain America suit and then he was thrust into production, after only a brief visit to San Diego’s Comic-Con, where he was greeted with enthusiastic approval.
My own path to the “Captain America” stages at Shepperton Studios outside of London last fall was a good deal less rigorous and met with absolutely no opinion from the fanboy community, but it was no less abrupt, a 36-hour turnaround tacked onto the end of a family wedding in Toronto.
[More after the break…]
For the “Captain America” team, it’s Day 43 of a shooting schedule that calls for 90 days. A group of journalists is sitting crowded around a video village monitor watching Cap, as everyone calls him, punching his Nazi nemesis Red Skull, a shot beamed in from a nearby stage. It isn’t actually Chris Evans and on-screen adversary Hugo Weaving, but the film’s stars are standing in the background of the shot, watching director Joe Johnston block out a crucial action scene which will be discussed in some detail — avoiding as many spoilers as possible — in a later story. The same looping blow plays out over and over again, though it takes us a while to realize that it’s playing in a loop, rather than being the most precisely choreographed and repeated action ballet in cinematic history.
Our first hint comes when Red Skull walks in and greets us all politely. Weaving is wearing a molded prosthetic mask that we’d previously been told can require 3.5 hours in makeup daily, which sounds like a long time until you think of the five or six hours (or more) sometimes required to put actors in fully immersive makeup.
“Apologies for looking strange,” Red Skull says, with utter sincerity. Captain America, I suspect, will get no such respect in the movie.
In “Captain America” both Weaving’s fascistic Schmidt and Evans’ uber-patriotic Steve Rogers have been exposed to a similar enhancement serum, making them ultimate super-soldiers on opposite sides of the World War II divide and opposite sides of a moral divide as well.
“They’ve both obviously had the serum and the serum seems to augment certain qualities that each of them has,” Weaving explains. “Cap is much more in-tune with other people, I think. Schmidt is in tune with himself, his own needs and his own ego, so I suppose it augments that.”
Before Weaving has to beat a hasty retreat to return to his fight blocking, he quickly, and amusingly, describes the Germanic accent sported by his character.
“I listened to a lot of Werner Herzog talking. And also Klaus Maria Brandauer,” Weaving says. “I thought Klaus Maria Brandauer’s accent was probably more interesting in one way, but the more I listened to Werner Herzog, the more I found him amusing, so started to lean more towards him. There’s something wonderfully mad about him.”
With Weaving, it’s only a brief visit, whisked away after a two-minute cameo.
Evans arrives to greet the press for a longer conversation. He’s sporting one of the three different uniforms Cap will wear in the film, a more clearly militaristic and utilitarian suit than fans of the character’s familiar bright blue, muscle-contoured spandex suit may be used to. This isn’t the uniform of an Avenger or of a comic hero, but rather of a man who doesn’t want to stand out in the German mountains like a renegade Smurf.
Even bundled in a black trenchcoat, Evans cuts a dashing figure. He seems understandably fatigued, but he still comes off as a man you’d follow into battle. He’s entirely put-together and formal and ready for his silver screen close-up, except for one thing: His fly is open. It’s a quickly rectified situation, but one that’s likely to make its way into most of the reports from that day on the set.
It’s all, I suspect, part of Marvel’s ongoing plan to humanize its heros. Chris Evans looks like Captain America. Chris Evans wields the shield like Captain America. But…
Let’s just say that the incident becomes all the funnier when, walking through the vast costume warehouses, one of the artists entrusted with designing the Cap suit informs us, “As long as they can pee on their own, they’re happy.”
After properly restoring order, Evans spends 10 minutes with the gaggle of reporters, answering questions about the suit, his initial reservations about signing on for another Marvel franchise and the friend who inspired his understanding of Cap’s world-view. [Minor spoilers, I’m sure. But only minor.]
[I could identify the questions that were mine, but it was a group effort.]
Q: You’re playing one of the most iconic characters in the Marvel universe. How does the suit effect your performance?
Chris Evans: I think wardrobe, in general, is a pretty big deal for any character, not to knock the magnitude of the suit down to any other film, but whenever you put on the clothes of the character, it helps bring the character to life. But of the all the characters I’ve played, superhero or not, I was most excited about putting this one on and it absolutely lent itself to the role. There was a lot of build-up for me to do this, moreso than anything else I’d done, and deciding to do it was a big thing and nerve-wracking and a lot of sleepless nights and then finally putting it on, it was like “Am I gonna feel good about this? Or is my body gonna reject it and it’ll be too late?” But it felt fantastic and I love it. I never want to take it off.
I have trouble with the fly, though.
Q: What was the source of those sleepless nights?
Chris Evans: Oh, man. Well, I’ll be candid with you. There were a couple factors: One, I’d already kinda done the superhero thing and I didn’t know how people were gonna respond to the fact that I was doing it again. And I was in a really good place in my life as far as finding a happy medium of working and navigating this profession, but still kinda having anonymity — the paparazzi doesn’t follow me and I can live my life and do this, which is a tricky thing to balance. And this movie, nothing’s a guarantee, but this is certainly a potential game-changer. It’s a giant commitment. I could be doing these movies… I’m sure most of you know that there was a huge number of multi-pictures that they wanted. Theoretically, I could be doing this into my 40s and that’s just a crazy thing to wrap your head around. Was I ready to make a decision for that much of my life? I love acting, but I want to do other things. I’d love to direct. I want to write. Who’s to say? In 10 years… maybe I just want a break? You can’t take a break if you do this. You’re in. And that’s just a very stressful thing to pull the trigger on. It’s a big chapter of your life you’re saying “Yes” to. So that was it.
Q: He’s such an iconic character. Has their been anything in particular that’s informed the way you’ve played Steve Rogers?
Chris Evans: Obviously I went and I read as many comic books as I could find, but I think the most helpful thing in the comic book world was finding out who he was before. It was an origins tale and I think if at the end of the first film, you still see Little Steve, Little Skinny Steve, that’s the guy you relate to and that’s the guy you always see in Steve Rogers, I think that’s what the audience will like. That’s what I certainly will like.
On a more personal note, I have a friend who is a comic book nut and he loves when I say this: He’s the best human being I know. He’s an Eagle Scout. To be an Eagle Scout, I don’t know if you guys know what an Eagle Scout is, it’s a Boy Scout who did it way too long, until they’re 19 or 20 years old. I remember going to his Eagle… He’s just a good man. He just does the right thing. He would rather, not even tell a white lie. He’s not pious. He’s not condescending. He’d just rather do the good thing. His morals are intact. I’m amazed that people like him exist. Even his demeanor is very… I dunno… He’s just noble and honorable. He is Captain America to me. So I told my buddy that I was basing it off him. I wish I could do his reaction. It’s hilarious. It’s what Steve Rogers would say if you told him that you were gonna base him in a movie. So on a personal level, that’s kinda who I’m ripping off, but obviously the comic books are the best information.
Q: As an actor, how do you feel being surrounded by CGI? Is it strange for you?
Chris Evans: It’s certainly a different animal. You don’t have the kinda tangible world to play off of. But I think most actors probably started out as little kids running around in their backyard playing make-believe anyway. You’ve just gotta tap into kinda a pretend part of your brain and just have a little fun. You’re going to look a little silly, but it’s kinda fun actually, when you let go and you kinda go for it. It’s kinda fun. You really are eight-years-old again. I’m in a Captain America suit! It’s ridiculous. You’re a kid all over again.
Q: Captain America’s kinda a straight-forward character. He’s very morally upright. And we’ve seen in the past few years these cynical or tortured or wise-cracking heroes. Is this kind of reclaiming the superhero from that sort of direction?
Chris Evans: Sure. I suppose. That’s a great way to put it. I don’t know how I can elaborate on that. It’s a wonderful way to put it. Most superheroes either get their powers by accident or they were born with it. This guy was chosen. He was picked specifically because of his moral fiber. That’s a great thing. That’s a great thing to reward. So you want to make sure that he’s not just morally sound, but likable. It’d be unfortunate if the guy was real true noble guy, but kinda a bland, boring person. I think that’s a great way to put it. I really can’t add anything else to it.
Q: How has it been using the shield? Did it take a while to get used to it?
Chris Evans: It’s good. It’s tricky. They have a bunch of different shields. Some of them are the real heavy, legit shields that look fantastic on field. Some of the ones, if you guys have seen, kinda are a little more rubbery for when you’re doing dangerous stuff and you don’t wanna get hit in the face with it. Each one has a different weight to it and it’s always strange, but always great sliding it on. It just feels cool. And it’s strange seeing the stuntmen dressed up and being like, “Is that what I look like? Alright! That’s fantastic.” You forget. The shield is kinda the icing on the cake.
Q: Are you looking forward to giving orders to Robert Downey Jr.?
Chris Evans: [He laughs.] I dunno. I’ve been asked that a couple times. I just met all those guys for the first time at Comic-Con and they all seem so fantastic. I don’t know what Joss [Whedon] is gonna do with the script. I don’t what level of leader they’re going to make him right away. I know in a lot of the Avengers comic books, he is kinda quarterbacking the scenarios, but that’s up to Joss. That’s out of my hands.
Q: Can you talk a bit about how you see Captain America’s place in a 2010 world?
Chris Evans: As opposed to any other world?
Q: As opposed to… Is black-and-white different now than it was in World War II? Are heroes different?
Chris Evans: That’s a broad question…
Q: To clarify. Captain America is very much a hero of the World War II Era. You guys are making him for a very different world.
Chris Evans: Well, they have great quote, Ed Brubaker had that great quote… He said that with modern comic books, you have these life-wing people who want Captain America to be speaking out against George Bush and against Washington and then have right-wing people wanting Captain America to be in Afghanistan fighting the war. Obviously I think that in the ’40s, it was pretty clear-cut who the enemy was. Does that mean that the morals and the man that you have to be as Captain America is little bit less black-and-white and more gray? Probably. Probably. I’m sure it’s a lot easier to say “Nazis are bad” than to say “Republicans are bad.” It’s just not that clear-cut anymore. Again, like my friend Charlie, he lives in world of gray. I think that’s what makes people morally sound. There isn’t like a harsh black-and-white. There’s an understanding… Charlie would list… His name’s Charlie, by the way. He’s gonna love this. I can’t see him coming down on either side of any situation quick and easily. I think he would kinda weight the options and listen and I think that translates, at least currently, to a whole different type of climate.
Q: Can you just tell us a bit about the scene you’re filming today?
Chris Evans: Sure. Today is towards the end of the film. It’s kinda my final big battle with Red Skull. I’m in his giant plane. I don’t want to say too much as to why he’s on the plane, but it’s this enormous plane. I just saw one of the wheels the other day and the wheel itself is 25-feet high. It’s huge. So we’re in this monstrous cockpit that’s on hydraulics actually. I think today and tomorrow we’re gonna get to have a little bit of a fun time in this moving cockpit. It’s just our final battle. There’s a lot of stuntwork and bumps and bruises and long days.
Q: Can you talk a bit about Bucky and Steve’s relationship?
Chris Evans: It’s been great. I really like it actually. It’s a little bit different from at least the original Captain America comic books. In the original Captain America comic books, in the original Captain America comic books, Bucky was a young guy, kinda the sidekick, kinda the one Steve had to look out for. We do it a little differently, but the relationship is still very developed and I think it’s one of the best ones in the film. You really care about these two guys. They’re friends before Steve gets this injection. I don’t wanna give too much away. I think I’m gonna get murdered by Kevin Feige.
Q: How grounded in reality is the action? Is it real-life plus 10 percent? 50 percent?
Chris Evans: That’s a good question. When I came into it, I was kinda just interested about… What are the extents of his abilities? Can the guy jump over mountains? What can he actually do? Because I think that will effect how cool the movie looks in the end. You want him to be somebody who obviously is superior and obviously is able, but you don’t the guy punching through brick walls. They basically equated it to… He would crush the Olympics. Any Olympic sport, he’s gonna dominate. He can jump higher, run faster, lift stronger weight, but again… It’s not… He can be injured. He can roll an ankle and he could be out for the season. He’s not perfect. He’s not untouchable. So to some degree, a lot of the effects… If I’m gonna punch someone, they’re not gonna put him on a cable and fly him back 50 feet, but he’s gonna go down and he’s probably not getting back up. I think humanizes it. It makes it something that, again, I think everyone can relate to a little bit more, which I really like.
And with that, Evans got pulled away to resume his confrontation with Red Skull. A hero’s work is never done.
“Captain America” will be in theaters everywhere on July 22.