LOS ANGELES – Chris Evans is clearly at home playing Captain America.
The actor is certainly no stranger to playing superheroes — he previously suited up as Johnny Storm for two “Fantastic Four” movies — but audiences know him best as the star-spangled Marvel hero and member of The Avengers, and he seems content with that notion.
I was among a group of journalists who visited the set of Marvel's highly-anticipated sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” last spring, where Evans took a break from all the shield-throwing action to explain how the sequel — darker in tone, more high-impact in its action scenes — differs from the franchise's first film, 2011's “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Evans — who met with us while still in his Cap duds — was every bit the square-jawed superhero you'd expect him to be, as he grinned his way through a barrage of questions and speculations. Articulate and thoughtful, the star displayed his enthusiasm for the sequel, but was careful not to reveal too many plot points.
Cap, of course, is a man out of time: A super-powered second world war hero named Steve Rogers who was frozen in the '40s and resurrected in the modern era in order to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers. The transition, Evans explained, gave the actor the opportunity to approach the role with a different mindset for each film.
The first film “was about giving him the opportunity and in 'The Avengers' there were so many characters it was tough to spend time with any one,” Evans explained. “In this movie I think the question is 'What is right?' I think it was a lot easier in the '40s to know who the evil was. Now it's more difficult to answer. What is the right thing, and are you of service to that cause? 'Cause things were just done differently in the '40s. Threats are different now, and precautionary measures that are taken now can be questionable and somewhat suspect in his eyes. It's a tough hurdle for him to jump.”
Evans also revealed that “Winter Soldier” features a more human take on the hero.
Despite the change in styles, Evans found both experiences rewarding.
“I loved Joe and I love the Russos,” he said judiciously. “I was gonna say that it was tougher for Joe because they didn't have as much information. The Russos can reference the first 'Cap' and 'The Avengers,' and it's another link in the chain. Certain characters have been laid down and certain things have been established. But those films did very well, so the expectations are at a level where there is maybe a bit more pressure on the Russos. With Joe, it was all brand new and we were trying to feel it out together. He loves the '40s and '50s and he has that look down so well.”
“I think Joe liked a little bit more of a grounded Cap, in terms of powers and abilities,” Evans expounded. “[He was] like a really impressive Olympic athlete. I think we're pushing it a little bit more in this one. You saw 'Avengers.' Those guys are good! I gotta have a reason to be on this team!”
“The Russos really have a handle on how they want to shoot this,” Evans contended. “The footage I've seen is awesome.”
“It was a bit of a chore,” he continued, “but it was fun. I was excited. They put me in gymnastics classes. We were doing combat stuff everyday for two months.”
“If Jason Bourne can do it, [then] Cap should be flying through these things. So we've had a little bit of fun kind of turning up his power, turning up his speed, so the fights are a lot more grisly and impactful, and, in my opinion, cooler.”
“Mackie's character and I have an understanding, because it's not like Cap has that many friends,” explained Evans. “His life is his work. And Natasha gives him a hard time about that too… about finding a social life. So Mackie extends an olive branch and kind of just tries to be a friend. And then later on when things happen, that friendship proves to be invaluable.”
In addition to the Marvel canon, Evans and Johansson have made several other films together, including 2004's “The Perfect Score” and 2007's “The Nanny Diaries.”
However, the co-star Evans was most nervous about working with was Redford. But, as Evans explained, his trepidation was unfounded.
All the souped-up action and thematic sturm und drang called for yet another wardrobe change for Evans
Cap's patriotic costume has already gone through a number of drafts in just three films, with “The First Avenger's” WWII fatigues giving way to “The Avengers'” more traditional red-white-and-blue suit. “The Winter Soldier” finds him in a rugged, darker outfit more suitable for subterfuge and night combat. Evans approves.
“I do like the new suit,” he told us. “I like it a lot. I can tell you that I think a lot of people liked the old suit as well after 'The Avengers.' I think a lot of people enjoyed the WWII aspect of the first movie.”
In addition to Evans' naked ears, “The Winter Soldier” is exposing Cap to a darker and morally ambiguous scenario. The sequel promises to explore the sort of subversive territory seen in the paranoid thrillers of the '70s (think “The Parallax View” and Redford's “All The President's Men”), where authority figures are not to be trusted and shades of grey permeate the plot's moral landscape.
Evans talks about being part of the Marvel movie mob, Cap's growing mistrust of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Winter Soldier himself on page 3.
The trailers for the film indicate that the squeaky-clean hero will find himself at odds with his superiors at S.H.I.E.L.D. — including Redford's Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. For Cap, it's a disturbing revelation.
Evans explained Cap's general worldview thusly: “He likes to serve. He likes to take orders. He's like a herding dog.” But, in the new film, the hero's somewhat black-and-white view of the world is significantly challenged.
Without giving too much away, Evans seemed to confirm the trailer's implications that “Winter Soldier” will find Cap losing his faith in the moral stability of his S.H.I.E.L.D. commanders, with a seed first planted in “The Avengers” growing into a much larger plot point. Of “The Avengers,” Evans stated that “Cap may have distrusted Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. a bit, and that is coming back.”
Of course, much of this broken trust stems from the re-emergence of the title character, The Winter Soldier. Played by Sebastian Stan, the mysterious villain is really Cap's old WWII pal Bucky Barnes, who was seemingly killed in action as a Howling Commando in the first film. In the sequel, it's revealed that Bucky survived and was turned into the physiologically-enhanced Winter Solider, in a sort of twisted reflection of Cap himself.
He paused, before adding, “I didn't give anything away, right?”
We're gonna run the contract. I'm gonna do 'Avengers 2,' I'm probably gonna do 'Avengers 3'. These things will happen, so you want to make sure it's pointed in the right direction. Marvel's very collaborative. You feel the love.”
We'll be posting more coverage from the set in the coming weeks, including interviews with Anthony Mackie and Marvel exec Kevin Feige.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens April 4.