It's strange to think that Chris Evans wasn't initially on Marvel Studios' shortlist to play Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, and it's even more bizarre to imagine that Evans nearly turned the role down when it was offered to him (he had already done one stint as a Marvel superhero, Johnny Storm, in the ill-fated "Fantastic Four"). But as fate would have it, both parties emerged victorious: Marvel got itself a performance in 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" that was full of heart and humanity, while Evans got the breakthrough role he'd been looking for.
Evans has now gone from the solid but not earth-shattering success of the first "Captain America" to the billion-and-a-half dollar blockbuster "The Avengers" to his second standalone film in the red, white, and blue outfit, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (TV's "Community"), the movie finds Cap fighting enemies inside the covert agency S.H.I.E.L.D., within the U.S. government (personified by none other than Robert Redford) and from his own past. The only people he can trust? The morally ambiguous agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a. Black Widow, and an Army veteran named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), better known to Marvel fans as The Falcon.
We spoke with Evans about his evolution in the role of Captain America, what he likes about the new movie, working with Robert Redford, and his own directorial debut on an independent film called "1:30 Train." And, oh yeah, a little movie he's doing next called "The Avengers: Age of Ultron."
Moviefone: Back when you signed on to play this role, you had concerns about it. Did any of those concerns become real?
Chris Evans: Not the way I thought they were going to. My biggest concern was that my life was going to change from an external standpoint. I thought the attention that the movies would garner would elicit a change in anonymity. That I wouldn't be able to live my life the way I wanted to. That hasn't been the case. If anything it's been more of an internal struggle, you know. When these movies come out -- and movie making is a tricky business, you know. It's competitive. It's inconsistent. There's uncertainty. A lot of things that can lead to the brain noise that we're all saturated with and burdened with to become more of a handicap than it should be. So the concern I had initially was that I wouldn't have the privacy I wanted. That's not the concern. There's an influx when the movie comes out. After a couple of months it subsides, and I go back to business as usual.
It must be a great feeling when you're out and some little kid sees you and you know he's saying, "It's Captain America!"
It's an honor, you know. It's a little intimidating, but I know what it was like growing up as a child and I know the movies that I cherished and the movies that had an imprint on me as a kid. So, to think that you may play a role similar to that in someone else's life is -- it's humbling, it garners an enormous amount of gratitude.
Do you have an understanding of Cap now that you didn't have four years ago?
Sure. You're always going to get closer, you know. You're never going to know the character less. So even though I feel pretty confident that I knew the character then, the same way I've changed, he's changed. We've grown together.
He seems to be at almost the nexus of the Marvel Universe in a lot of ways. Is it because he's the one that stays on the ground, so to speak? You know, Tony Stark goes off and does his thing. Thor goes back to Asgard, and that's his thing. But Cap is here.
Sure, well he's wildly human and relatable in that sense, you know. He does his job, you know. He does what all of us do. We wake up every day and we do what we have to do. We do what's asked of us to get by. So I think in that sense he's incredibly relatable and I think that's what makes his conflicts very human.
What was it like working with Robert Redford on this?
He's so great. He's a living legend, you know. It's so disappointing and I'm not going to name names but it has happened in my life a couple of times where you meet someone that you look up to, that you put on this pedestal, and then they disappoint. And it's tragic when that happens. But someone like Robert Redford -- the guy's just a consummate professional. He showed up on set -- given his entire illustrious career of acting and directing, he very easily could come in and, you know, have taken over. But he didn't. He acted as if it was his first movie. He was fantastic. He was so kind, so patient and so talented. I mean, everyone talks about the expectation of him to be some sort of a diva. Not only is he not a diva, let's not forget he's brilliant. He's a really good actor. Every single take is so good. Everything he does just fits and works. It was an honor to share the screen with him.
When they said they got Robert Redford I thought, OK, you know, he's going to be in two scenes or whatever. But he's...
He's in it.
He's in it all the way through. He's a big part of the story. Does it say something about the way the perception of these movies might be changing that you can get a Robert Redford to show up?
Yeah. Look at Iron Man 3. You've got Ben Kingsley. You've got Guy Pearce. I think what actors want more than anything is to be a part of good films. It's not enough just to do good work in a film because you can do good work in a bad movie and the satisfaction is not the same. You want to make a good product. That's the goal, because we love movies. We don't just love good performances. We love good movies. And Marvel has the Midas touch.
What can you say about "Avengers 2"?
Nothing. It's so dangerous. I learned that after the first "Captain America" when I was being interviewed about the first "Avengers." Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. It's a very dangerous road to walk down.
Obviously you've read the script.
I have, yeah.
Do you like where things are going and where Joss is taking you?
It's fantastic, yeah.
I know you're going right from the promotion for this movie into "Avengers," but is it important for you to get away from these, take a little step back and do something else?
Absolutely. I mean these movies are fantastic but the things that I want to do in my life, the things that I really find to be my passion and my goal aren't necessarily in front of the camera. I kind of want to get behind it a little bit more and do a little bit more of the storytelling as opposed to the performing.
How was your first directing experience on "1:30 Train"?
It was really good, you know. It was challenging. It was intimidating but I really responded to it. I really enjoyed it. So for me it's something I want to do a lot more of.
Can you talk a little bit about it?
We don't have a release date or anything like that. We don't have a distributor. But the movie takes place in New York City at night. The movie opens up with a woman bursting into Grand Central Station at 1:30 in the morning. She's crying. She's emotional. There's obviously enormous stakes and she misses her train. And you don't know why but you know it's a big problem for her. I play a street musician. I see this happen and I offer my assistance and throughout the night we kind of become an unlikely pair and we try to get her home to Boston where she's looking to go. And throughout the night you kind of find out each of our struggles, each of our conflicts and what we each need out of each other. It reads like a play. It reads like Richard Linklater. It reads like "Before Sunrise." It's very dialogue heavy. You have these long scenes, you know, five, six page scenes which you'd be hard pressed to find in films...(but) I like that kind of conversational aspect.
Once you're finished with your six-film contract as Captain America, if Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige calls you and asks if you would like to direct a Marvel movie...
In a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.
Which one would you like to direct?
I'd have a hard time doing my own. I don't know if I could do that type of double duty. Man, that's a tough one. That's a tough one. I mean maybe anything that [Robert Downey Jr.] does because, you know, you're dealing with Downey. He doesn't know how to have a bad take. Everything he says is usable. So it would make me look a lot better than I actually am.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens April 4. (Photo courtesy Marvel.)