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.”