Most actors would be overjoyed if they were offered the lead in a $140 million tentpole film, one with the prospect of yielding several lucrative sequels. But Chris Evans is a different animal, as I learned last weekend when I attended the press day for Captain America: The First Avenger, in which Evans plays the titular patriotic superhero. Evans and co-stars Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan were on-hand to talk about the film, as well as director Joe Johnston, producer/Marvel honcho Kevin Feige, and other key crewmembers. Below are some highlights.
Chris Evans had some issues to work out before taking on the project, so he sought the help of a therapist. Surprisingly, none of his qualms were related to lingering trauma over his role in previous superhero catastrophes.
“I went [to a therapist] because I was very apprehensive about taking the movie,” Evans explained. “I was nervous about a lifestyle change. I was nervous about a commitment to six movies [three Captain Americas, three Avengers] … so when I finally decided to do it, I said, “I’ll do it, but I gotta fix my brain.” Evans found therapy to be helpful, even though he didn’t experience any dramatic epiphanies. “It’s not that there were giant breakthroughs, like Good Will Hunting hugging moments,” he joked. “It’s just nice talking. It’s amazing the amount of things you can just take on and keep to yourself.”
Evans’ co-star Hayley Atwell, the only female lead in the film, didn’t mind being surrounded by so many guys. She even bonded with them digitally:
“I’m a bit of a tomboy, and I like computer games, so I just got really competitive with the guys and played games with them all the time,” Atwell revealed. “We mostly played this thing called ‘Witch’s Brew’ on the iPad. It’s the easiest game in the world; you just have to match symbols to the ones you have in your little spell book – and that’s it.” The competition was intense, and loud: “We got shushed quite a few times – and rightly so – by producers, who were trying to get a film made.”
Audiences may notice a resemblance between Captain America and a certain Steven Spielberg classic:
Regarding the film’s aesthetic and tonal influences, director Joe Johnston told reporters that “we had always talked about films of this period that we liked – contemporary films – and Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was the model that we used. We used it as a template for a lot of reasons, but it feels contemporary today, even though it was made 30 years ago now. It still feels absolutely fresh. I wanted Captain America to feel like that, to feel like it wasn’t a film made in the ‘40s, it was a film about the ‘40s made today.”
Captain America features a song-and-dance number, which can be hazardous to a comic-book film. But unlike the sequence in Spider-Man 3, this one actually served a purpose:
“We knew we wanted to introduce the idea of the costume in a USO-type setting, and Joe embraced the idea of a musical number,” producer Kevin Feige explained. “We always knew from the start that Cap wasn’t gonna sing and dance. He was sort of overwhelmed and felt out of place in the stage show, and had very little choreography and read from cue cards.” The producers brought in a certain industry legend to pen the song for the sequence. “As you may have noticed, Alan Menken wrote that USO song,” Johnston revealed. “And Alan Menken probably has more Academy Awards than anybody.” (He does.)
Joss Whedon, writer-director of the 2012 team-up The Avengers, in which Captain America is a central character, met often with the First Avenger screenwriters to make sure their vision coalesced with his:
Writer Christopher Markus said that the meetings focused “mainly just on continuity, in that we couldn’t have, next year, a totally different Cap coming out with a different attitude and different tendencies. So he came in and did a couple of things that he knew he wanted to deploy later, which was really cool. You get a guy like Joss Whedon in and you’re not gonna kick him out the door. It was mainly just to tune him up. I can’t wait to see modern-day Cap, cause in a way that’s the Cap we all know.”
On the Avengers set, there’s little doubt as to who the alpha dog is among the superhero ensemble:
“I can’t say enough of Downey,” Chris Evans said of the Iron Man star. “Downey has been so great. He’s so positive and so available … On every single take, you finish and he [mimes a back-slap] and you’re like, ‘aaaahhhh,’ and you skip back to your seat, [giddy] that Downey just gave you a pat on the back.”
How does one give direction to an actor as famously irascible as Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones? A dose of humor helps:
“I found the most effective way to direct Tommy Lee Jones was just to laugh at him,” explained Johnston. “He’s actually very funny and has a great sense of humor, but nobody ever laughs at him. I think people are sort of afraid of him. But he’s the sweetest guy in the world.” (To which Feige quickly added: “I was afraid of him.”)
Captain America: The First Avenger opens everywhere this Friday, July 22, 2011.