Being a superhero should come easily to Chris Evan after his stint as Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, in the Fantastic Four franchise. But when he was approached about playing Captain America, he was reticent to take on the role.
Set in 1941, when the world was being torn apart by the war, the movie chronicles the life of Steve Rogers (Evans), a scrappy 98 pound kid keeps trying to enlist, without success. That is until he is chosen by Dr Abraham Erskine to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super-Solider known as Captain America.
Evans is currently reprising his role of Captain America, working with Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Chris Hemworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk) on Marvel Studios The Avengers.
I spoke with him about his apprehensions of being the ‘first avenger’ at the press junket for the movie.
The film’s director, Joe Johnston, was telling me that you really had to think twice about doing this. Is that because you’d played a superhero before?
To be completely honest, I would say it was two things. One was the commitment. It started out as a nine picture and then it dropped down to a six-picture deal. But even six movies can be spread out. That can be 10 years. I could be doing this until I’m 40. That’s a crazy thing to think about.
Also, it’s the potential lifestyle change. I’ve been making movies for 10 years but I can still go to a ballgame. I can still go to Disney World. I can still live my life with relative ease and anonymity. This movie potentially could change that. And that’s scary, too. So those two things is what sparked the apprehension.
The word that comes to mind when I think about this film is wholesome. For you was that a tough order to fill without being boring?
Yeah. Well, said. That’s a really good question because the truth is he’s not some wisecracking guy. And my bread and butter usually has been making jokes. And there are no jokes here. And the truth is that can be seen as boring. I based a lot of my performance off of a good buddy, one of the kids I grew up with, named Charlie Morris. And he is Captain America. He’s the best human being I know.
He’s interesting to me. It’s great seeing someone who has all the moral character and these values that Steve Rogers would have in my friend Charlie. I find him so complex and interesting. What makes someone like that? And so I tried to, I guess, play that angle and hope that it would still be something dynamic enough to watch on film for an hour.
What kind of a challenge was it for you as an actor to handle the psychological stuff going on with the wimpy guy who turns into Captain America?
It was fun. I can definitely relate to being the wimpy kid. If you’ve seen pictures of me when I was a kid, I weighed 135 pounds until I was at least 17. So I know what it’s like to be small. The truth is I think we tried to keep him relatively the same man psychologically throughout the film. I think the goal is in the last frame of the film you hope to still see the skinny guy.
They did an incredible job with CGI making you a scrawny kid. But did you have to work out for when you became Captain America?
Yeah, it was grueling, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to do something. Whether it was lose weight or gain weight. Even if I had taken six months off and lost eighty pounds it still wouldn’t have been enough. The [CGI] took size out of my jaw line and they shrunk my skeleton, my shoulders. So they did so much more with CGI than I could ever do.
Did you train more than usual?
Oh, yeah. I’ve never had a trainer before. This is the only time I’ve ever trained with somebody. I was working in Boston at the time and they sent someone over to Boston for three months prior to filming. And we were doing two hours every day. It was just brutal. I usually like the gym, but I was hating this.
What did you think when you first saw yourself as Captain America?
I said, ‘Man, thank God for camera angles.’ They really make you look a lot bigger. I’m not going to lie, I really wasn’t that big. I mean, all right, I was larger. But not like you see it on film. They kind of grease you up a little bit. It goes a long way!
Was it a seamless transition moving from this picture to The Avengers?
We finished this in December of last year. We broke until March. And then in March we had to do about three weeks of reshoots. And then we went right to The Avengers in April. So it was pretty seamless.
What was it like filming that?
It would have been nice having a film come out and gauge the audience’s reaction before you start a so-called sequel. I know The Avengers isn’t the sequel but it’s still the same character. And it would have been nice to kind of see what the thoughts of the fans were and then adjust accordingly.
What was it like working with Robert Downey Jr?
He’s so great. I can’t say enough about him. I really can’t. I didn’t know what to expect going into working with him. He’s so talented. He’s got so much charisma and persona. I can honestly say of all the movie stars I’ve worked with, he’s the one that when he comes on set you really feel like, ‘Man, this guy’s a movie star.’ You just feel it. When he comes in a room he just owns the oxygen.
He’s been so great. So supportive. So positive. I had to do a scene with him the other day where I was so nervous. It was just me and him and I was terrified. And every take he gives you a little fist bump and a little thumbs up. And it just changes your whole day. It probably means nothing in his mind, but I go back to my trailer giddy.