Set Visit: Chris Evans on Captain America sequel’s new suit and darker tone

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.

“Cap's such a good guy. It's hard for him to bleed — figuratively,” Evans revealed. “He doesn't want to burden anyone with his struggles and unfortunately that's what makes characters dynamic and interesting. So anyway we can push him in more of a human direction, where he does show weakness, and he does struggle, and he does connect with people and show vulnerability, I think that grounds him a little bit and makes him more interesting.”
“I like being human, laughing, telling jokes,” Evans beamed. “I didn't really get any jokes in 'The Avengers.' And if it [was] a joke, it [was] a joke at his own expense. He's not zinging people. It's fine, but I really loved that aspect of Johnny Storm. I got to tell the jokes. I got to be the funny one. I don't get any now!”

While “The First Avenger” was directed by Joe Johnston, the sequel is in the hands of action newbies Joe and Anthony Russo. Johnston has built a career out of such awestruck exercises in nostalgia as “The Rocketeer” and “October Sky,” while the Russos made their mark with small comic indies such as “Welcome to Collinwood” and on innovative TV sitcoms like “Arrested Development” and “Community.”

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!”

Evans went to to discuss the new film's emphasis on hard-edged, physical action, as indicated by the quick, brutal moves seen in the film's ad campaign. It's quite a few degrees from the more fantastic action set pieces in the previous installments. 

“The Russos really have a handle on how they want to shoot this,” Evans contended. “The footage I've seen is awesome.”  

“Has anyone played the 'Cap America' video game?,” he countered when a reporter asked about the film's action. “I love it because I love the way Cap moves. He just beats ass. That's how this guy needs to be moving. This isn't just a guy who was given the ability of speed and power — he's been training… so you can only assume with his training and ability that they guys should really be dangerous and we should show that.”

“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.” 

Evans discusses working with Mackie, Johansson and Redford, his new costume, and the film's tone on page 2.

The more realistic tone allowed Evans to benefit from the sequel's stellar supporting cast, which includes rising star Anthony Mackie as Falcon, screen legend Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. senior Alexander Pierce, and the return of “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers” heroine Natasha Romanoff (AKA Black Widow), once again played by Scarlett Johansson. 

“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.”

“It's nice [acting] with Scarlett, [because] some of the dialogue just feels like the way people speak because it's human,” he added. “My favorite scenes are the scenes with Scarlett. Our characters both have issues. It's such an odd pairing, we're such different people. Her moral compass is for sale and Steve is a boy scout. It's interesting what they find in each other.”
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.”
“Outside of the movie, Scarlett and I have known each other a long time. We constantly make jokes about how many movies we've made together. It's very effortless. We get along very well, and I think that shows onscreen.” 

“The Winter Soldier” also stars Marvel movie vets Cobie Smulders and Hayley Atwell and newcomers Frank Grillo, Georges St-Pierre and Emily VanCamp.

However, the co-star Evans was most nervous about working with was Redford. But, as Evans explained, his trepidation was unfounded.

“He's great, he's just so good,” he said of the veteran actor-turned-Oscar-winning director. “He could've very easily come on the set and made it his set, but he didn't do that. The first day we shot, we shot a 15 hour day, and at the end of the day it was a lot of my stuff and he really could've left. But he stuck around. It's past midnight and this guy's here doing off-camera for me. It's classy. He classes up this whole project.”
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.”

One of the small details important to any iteration of Cap's costume is the the question of whether his ears will be exposed.
“I always liked the ears inside. I always thought I kinda had 'Dumbo' ears,” Evans lamented, before coming around to the new version. “The new suit has the ears out, and it looks OK. I can live with this.”

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. 

“He is a really human superhero — he doesn't shoot lighting, he doesn't fly; it's a very meat-and-potatoes type of hero, so I think it's only appropriate that the tone and the film fits a more human element. It does have kind of a very grounded, political thriller-kind of tone to it, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with the character. They're also trying to infuse more human conflict that doesn't necessarily have to do with fighting monsters and doing giant stunts. It's just about him coping with moral issues — right and wrong, good and bad. That's stuff we can all relate to.”
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. 
With the NSA, drones, and domestic spying in the headlines everyday, Evans believes that Cap's “question is how he fits into the world around him.”
“How much can we monitor internet use, and phone records and text messages?,” Evans asked. “Where do you draw the line? Is it OK to spy on someone before they've committed a crime? Do you take the world as it is or how you'd like it to be? And it's a tricky question, and I think Cap comes from a time where there was a little more trust and a little less access.”

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.”

[Spoilers ahead]

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. 

Evans was careful in answering questions about the character and the film's main storyline.  “Stakes are high. That was one of Steve's biggest sources of guilt, the fact that out of his whole crew of the Howling Commandoes, he's the one guy who didn't make it back. And that was the one guy who was always there for him. And to find out that he did make it and was subject to some of the things he was subject to, it's a lot for Steve to process. He takes full responsibility.”

He paused, before adding, “I didn't give anything away, right?”

[End spoilers]

Partway through the interview, Evans joked about competing with fellow Marvel star Jackson and “X-Men” vet Hugh Jackman for the title of the actor who's starred in the most superhero movies. Whoever is in the lead, the announcement of a third Captain America film ensures that Evans has found his signature role.
“This first movie I just felt like I was just lucky to be around,” he admitted, “and the second movie you just don't want to piss anyone off, and now you start feeling like 'Well I'm throwing this barbecue too…' It's a strange feeling. It's a nice feeling of coming into your own. It's starting to feel more like home or something. It's a responsibility now.”
“I love doing these movies, because they're good,” Evans added. “It's been one of the tricky things in my career — I'm sure you've seen some of my not-so-good movies. And it's disappointing when you put a lot of time and effort and sweat [in it]…aw, it sucks. These movies you don't feel that. I've begun to just put my trust in Kevin Feige and all the guys at Marvel. Their internal barometer of what is good and bad is pretty on-point. It's scary diving into such an endeavor — if it doesn't work, it doesn't work on a massive scale — but, you feel a little more comfort in that you trust the people who are making these movies. That's what acting's about. If you don't trust someone every single take, you're gonna be holding back. And it's nice to let go.
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.