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Captain America: The First Avenger – Sebastian Stan on bonding with the Captain

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Captain America: The First Avenger - Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) © 2011 Paramount Pictures/MVL

Actor Sebastian Stan’s amassing an impressive body of work, including Black Swan and Rachel Getting Married, but is probably best known for his recurring role as Carter Baizen on the successful TV series Gossip Girl.

In Joe Johnston’s new movie Captain America: The First Avenger, which is set during World War II, Stan portrays Bucky Barnes, the best friend of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a wimpy kid who continually tries to enlist in the army, but is rejected. That is until he’s accepted into a secret experimental program that turns him into the iconic fighting Super-Soldier Captain America.

Sebastian spoke with us about his circuitous route to playing Bucky and the thrill of running through fake bombs!

Didn’t you audition for the role of Steve Rogers?

Captain America: The First Avenger - Chris Evans
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, center) with the Howling Commandos:- Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci, third left from center), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi, second left from center), Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough, first right from center), James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan, second right from center), Montgomery Falsworth (JJ Feild, third right from center), and Gabe Jones (Derek Luke, fifth right from center) © 2011 Paramount Pictures/MVL

I auditioned five or six times. I knew about Captain America but I really didn’t know who Bucky was because I never really read any of the comic books and I didn’t get a chance to read the script at the time.

How did you hear you were playing Bucky?

I heard I didn’t get the Steve Rogers role, so I thought, “Well, this is over so let’s just move on”. But, fortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had such a great screen test with Joe. He made me feel so comfortable and confident.

I don’t remember having a screen test where I wasn’t nervous, one where I was so comfortable and I guess what ended up coming out of that screen test was something they saw that they thought I would perhaps be better suited in the Bucky role.

Then we had a long discussion about the character and what’s been written about him and where he goes, and I found that extremely exciting.

In the comics, Bucky is Captain America’s teenage sidekick, almost like Robin and Batman. Your interpretation of the role incorporated some newer versions of the character when he became a mature adult. Was it easier for you to play that type of Bucky Barnes?

Captain America: The First Avenger - Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan
Captain America (Chris Evans) and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) © 2011 Paramount Pictures/MVL

Absolutely. It made the situation so much more real. It’s hard to have a character that’s so naïve about war in 2011. I understand the origins and why they had Bucky be the way he was at the time, but I think it was very realistic and I like that there were conflicted issues in the character that I thought would be interesting to play.

He had seen combat and he had seen war as opposed to Steve Rogers who hadn’t. Steve Rogers looked up to him, so there was that image he had to live up to because he loved Steve and wanted him to be happy and wanted to protect him at the same time, and he can’t because he has to go back to war.

That train scene was pretty intense. Did you have to do physical training for this film?

Oh yeah, we did. We all did, obviously not to the same extent as Chris but it was important. There is an element about stamina, just for yourself but also knowing what you’re capable of doing. I think that when you’re dealing with scenes like that, having to wait around (on set) and then max out that energy over and over again, you have to be in good shape, so those were important things for sure.

You have some scenes with the scrawny Steve. Was that just a skinny actor? What was that like from a technical standpoint?

They superimposed Chris. I would do the scenes with Chris so we would establish what we would do, the interaction. What made it a little bit more difficult was I couldn’t physically touch him a certain way. Sometimes when I’d be doing the scene with Chris, I couldn’t look him in the eye. I had to look at his chest because when they swapped, his height would be different so those were a couple of things.

It was nice, in a weird way, because it was giving me the opportunity to do more takes and get better at the scene. I was discovering different things by doing it twice the amount of times that we should have been. I found myself very lucky with that. But the actor who was Chris’s double in that situation (Leander Deeny) did an amazing job, because he had to match everything that Chris did, from a head twist to an eyebrow raise.

You and Chris need to be best buds in the movie and you hadn’t worked with him before. Did you two hang out to bond before or off set during the shoot?

Captain America: The First Avenger - Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan
Captain America (Chris Evans) and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) © 2011 Paramount Pictures/MVL

Oh yeah. It was great. He loves what he’s doing, loves his work. Sometimes it would be really hard for me to not laugh during a scene because he’s such a funny, generous actor and an overall good person. We met before we started shooting.

They brought us out there and we had a couple of weeks to bond. He’d been in England before. I’d been in England before but we, including Dominic (Cooper) and Hayley (Atwell) we’re pretty much dealing with an older cast, so I feel like we had the chance to bond.

Did you do any research on being a soldier in the ‘40’s?

Yeah. It was more romantic then than now and I think they carried themselves differently. It was an achievement. You didn’t want to hide that you were a soldier. It was something you were proud of and there was a certain way they walked. I did look at a lot of those older movies. It’s fun to be able to have that opportunity; the fact that it was period.

What was your most enjoyable experience on the film?

I haven’t seen it so I don’t know which scenes we did made it into the film. We made so many sequences where it is the commandos with Captain America just running through things with explosions and shootings, it was so real. Your heart gets going and you don’t have to do anything, just make sure things don’t get in your eye. It’s pretty real.