Captain American hunk Chris Evans is a reluctant superhero: ‘Fame is a tricky thing’

THE EXPRESS Mar 24, 2014

AS CAPTAIN America: The Winter Soldier is released, the Marvel movie star reveals why he almost refused to sign a six-picture deal to play the wartime hunk

Captain America bounds into the room and I know the universe is in safe hands. Buff, friendly and with a very firm handshake superhero star Chris Evans is a vision of clean-cut heroism.

“How you doing?” he says, greeting me like an old pal as I launch into a eulogy for his latest blockbuster, the hugely enjoyable Captain America: The Winter Soldier which co-stars Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford.

My praise doesn’t have quite the desired effect, genuinely felt thought it is. “I’ve been a part of some terrible movies where people tell me exactly what you’ve told me. So I hope it was a truthful review.”

Gulp. Truth. That, after all, lies at heart of Winter Soldier, a cracking conspiracy thriller  – more Bourne than Batman –  in which Captain America, aka agent Steve Rogers, doesn’t know who to trust as he grapples with the shifty leaders and compromised morals of the modern world.

For those unacquainted with Cap folklore (or 2011’s Captain America; The First Avenger) Rodgers is a man out of time and out of sorts after fighting the Nazis and spending the next 70 years on ice.

This is his first solo adventure in the present day – Cap fought alongside Iron Man, Thor and others in mega-blockbuster Avengers: Assemble – and proof that Cap and Evans both can hold their own amongst their flashier Marvel cohorts.

Once considered a little bland and po-faced, Cap has evolved into a much more compelling and appealing hero and probably the most relatable of all superheroes given his limited powers and very human doubts and fears.

The central question the film asks is, “what price freedom?” This in our age of sophisticated terror but equally sophisticated and controversial crime prevention techniques like mass surveillance and drone warfare.

“How far are you going to allow your government to go to guarantee your safety?” says the 32-year-old Evans who grew up in Massachusetts, the son of a dentist. “It’s a tough question and I don’t have the answer. I don’t know everything that’s going on behind closed doors.”

It’s a question directors Anthony and Joe Russo – hitherto best known for TV shows like Community and Arrested Development  – knew would give the picture a resonance beyond most comic book adventures.

“We wanted the audience to share the anxiety of the lead character and these are issues that make me anxious on a daily basis” Joe Russo tells me. “How do we protect ourselves without violating civil liberties?”

The result plays like a political thriller on steroids, an association enhanced by the presence of Redford whose 70s thrillers like Three Days Of The Condor were a big influence on the directors.

“Redford came on set and very easily could have hijacked the environment” says Evans of the movie legend who plays Cap’s boss, head of spy organization S.H.I.EL.D.

“Not only is he an acting God but he’s a very successful, accomplished director as well. But he knew his boundaries and was a true professional. It almost felt like this was his first movie.”

Evans may be equivocal about the quality of his early films – amongst them Not Another Teen Movie and The Nanny Diaries – but when Marvel came calling he was surprisingly wary of signing up to superstardom.

“Fame is a tricky thing” he explains. “It’s not something you can predict or easily navigate. Your personal life is shifted and your anonymity is compromised. The problem was how I would react or handle the change in lifestyle if any of the movies exploded.

The thought of being tied in to a six picture deal alarmed him. “There’d be nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, no chance to regroup if that’s what I wanted to do. Or what if all of a sudden I just decided I didn’t want to act any more?

“I’d be signing over the next eight years of my life and that just felt scary to me. But in retrospect it was absolutely the best decision I could have made. Not only has the surge in notoriety been more manageable but Marvel is making great movies. That’s the most rewarding factor.”

Of course, whether or not to sign a contract to play a superhero is a nice, high class problem for a young actor and Evans is well aware of his good fortune.

He landed his first Hollywood leading role, in thriller Cellular opposite Kim Basinger, when he was 21, shortly after leaving drama school in New York.

“Maintaining a healthy amount of perspective I can’t say I’ve struggled” he admits. “I know people who truly struggle so it doesn’t feel fair to say that.”

Perhaps he’s thinking of his younger brother Scott, also an actor with a few bit parts and TV shows to his name. The family is big on drama, including his two sisters.

“We’re all very theatrical. We sing. We dance. My parents were always wildly supportive.”

He goes on: “There have been plenty of sleepless nights and internal battles with ego and confidence and anxiety but I suppose those battles are no different for anyone else.”

If his wariness about signing his life away reflects a certain unease at relinquishing control, those instincts have found full expression in his nascent career as a film director.

Evans recently made his directorial debut with 1:30 Train, a romantic thriller in which he co-stars with British actress Alice Eve.

He’s exultant about the experience. “It was beyond rewarding” he says. “The only thing I can compare it too is waking up on a Saturday morning as a child with a new hobby and it’s the first thing you want to do. I couldn’t wait to wake up and I can’t wait to do it again.”

He elaborates: “Directing afforded me the opportunity to actually build a story and influence the way it’s told. As an actor you play one small piece of the puzzle and then you leave. I wanted to be the one in charge.”

He’s planning to shoot a second film after wrapping on a little movie called Avengers: The Age Of Ultron, the eagerly anticipated sequel to Avengers: Assemble which grossed over $1.5 billion.

Is Captain America happy to share the limelight with the other superheroes again? “I can tell you that I am very happy to share the limelight. The best thing about The Avengers is that the workload is not on you.”

Make no mistake: there’ll be no confusing this Chris Evans with the other. He’s going stratospheric.

Has he heard of his British counterpart, I wonder? “No, what does he do?” he asks.

Don’t worry, I say, he doesn’t save the universe.