25 Apr 19
RURAL MASSACHUSETTS SEEMS A BILLION miles removed from where you’d imagine a Hollywood superstar would want to spend the waning days of winter. The trees are bare, refrozen slush piles reach head high, and even in the midafternoon, there’s a kind of dull gloaming. Wouldn’t you rather be in Santa Monica, or St. Lucia?
Yet here’s Captain America, Chris Evans, he of the signature square jaw and brooding visage, breathing in the damp afternoon air on his stoop as he ushers me into his home, a heavily renovated farmhouse on a couple of snow-covered acres outside Boston. “Yeah, I guess this is the part of the year where you, you know, question why you live here,” he admits, laughing as he surveys the scene.
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But Evans, 37, loves it here. He grew up just a few miles away and even now, nearly a decade after picking up the shield of Captain America, looks every bit the local in a Red Sox ball cap, a red tartan flannel, and chukkas. It’s hard to reckon that just a couple of days before, this same guy was onstage at the Academy Awards, presenting with Jennifer Lopez in front of a TV audience of more than 29 million. His duds that night: a custom baby-blue velvet Ferragamo jacket that his stylist told The Hollywood Reporter was inspired by Prince Charming.
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Evans ushers me inside, where the dishwasher is running and congressional hearings are playing on cable news, and Dodger, Evans’ rescue dog, is spinning around like a dervish, because maybe no one’s come over in a while. The scene is not quite what you expect when you’re visiting an actor who plays a Marvel superhero. It’s more like visiting a successful but reclusive novelist. Or your parents’ suburban home.
I ask about the Oscars and J. Lo, and Evans reveals his contemporaneous monologue: “She’s been a major crush of mine for so long,” he says. “I was just thinking, Don’t be annoying, don’t be annoying, shut up Chris, just shut up. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t say anything, because you don’t know what to say.”
Not that you’d notice he was anything but cool at the Oscars. A Chris Evans moment went viral when, seated in the front row, he quickly leaped to the aid of actress Regina King when her dress became tangled as she approached the stage. Evans supported King as she straightened it out, then escorted her up a few stairs.
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The micro-drama was caught on camera; think pieces on chivalry hit the internet the next day. Evans says his phone only recently stopped vibrating with texts from friends and family who caught it. “The bar is so low that literally I did a normal thing, like on par with saying ‘God bless you’ when somebody sneezes, and people thought it was—I don’t know,” he says.
Spend some time with Chris Evans and you start to understand that Chris Evans doesn’t drink the Chris Evans Kool-Aid. The actor could certainly steep in celebrity in L.A., but he’d rather be back east, back home, where instead of paparazzi, he’s seen by deer and dogs and maybe a few retirees on their daily workouts, slogging down the road in sweats. Where on the weekends, his old friends like to tell him that he’s a shitty actor, and he’s perfectly cool with that.
OF COURSE, EVANS HAS THE LUXURY OF relaxing far from the West Coast hustle in part because his character has been a lodestar in the most lucrative franchise in film history (yes, even more so than Star Wars). Since 2010, Evans has played Steve Rogers, or Captain America, the stars-and-stripes-clad, shield-wielding supersoldier and steadfast leader of a team of Hollywood’s hottest superheroes. The latest installment in the series, Avengers: Endgame, opens April 26 and ends this particular chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU, in geekspeak). Apparently, it’s Evans’ last go as Cap: Rumor has it that this time around, Steve Rogers bites the dust.
Lounging on the couch, feet up on a distressed-wood coffee table, Evans won’t comment on his character’s fate. “You can’t ask me that!” he says. Actors playing Marvel roles apparently get castigated—vaporized?— if they leak plot points, and Evans wants to avoid that, in part because he’d like to direct one of the studio’s titles one day.
Assuming the rumors of Rogers’ demise are true—Evans himself tweeted “thanks, it’s been an honor” to the cast, crew, and audience when reshoots on Endgame ended last October—Evans’ send-off from the Marvel franchise should be well attended. Last spring’s Avengers: Infinity War had the best U.S. and global box office debut of all time; Endgame will likely eclipse it, with expectations of a near $300 million opening weekend. Collectively, the nine Marvel movies Evans has acted in have made $9,256,566,189 at the box office, but who’s counting. Needless to say, Evans has played a major part in the Franchise That Saved Hollywood.
Funny to think that he almost didn’t take the gig.
Evans explains that in 2010, he was in Houston shooting the low-budget film Puncture, a ripped-from-the-headlines drama about a drug-addicted lawyer taking on a medical-device company. By this point, Evans had acted in plenty of films, with starring roles in action flicks and rom-coms since making his major-movie debut in 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie. But for some reason, in Houston he was starting to lose it. He was having panic attacks, melting down between takes. He’d long expressed frustration with the dancing-monkey aspect of actorhood, but had learned to glad-hand the press without losing his mind, and seemed to be getting better at faking it through step and repeats on the red carpet. But for the first time, Evans’ anxiety was getting the better of him on set, a place he had always considered cathartic, therapeutic.
Evans with co-star Jaime Pressly in 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie
“There was no reason that after 10 years of making movies, I was freaking out the way I was,” he says. “I started to entertain the possibility that maybe this wasn’t the right industry for me. I started to think, Am I getting closer to the person I’m supposed to be—or further? I started to feel like maybe I was getting further.”
Evans was preparing to do the noble work of reclaiming his life. He’d step away from the movies. Chuck it all. Do something different. But then Marvel called, offering the role of Captain America. A nine-film deal, no audition necessary. It was an actor’s dream in terms of financial security. But Evans said no. Then a few friends told him he was crazy, that he was just being scared, retreating. Evans listened, then started to see the offer as a sign from the universe. He talked Marvel down to a six-movie contract, then took the deal. (He still did nine films.) “I got the job in a weird way from saying no,” he says. “Just like other things in life, when you say no, they just pursue you.”
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Still, Evans describes the experience of shooting the original film, Captain America: The First Avenger, as a “hair-on-fire fever dream.” He felt, he recalls, like a cat being tossed into a bathtub. Captain America, after all, is not exactly an easy character to play—especially when you’re following in the footsteps of Robert Downey Jr.’s electric, charismatic Iron Man. “Marvel had this hope of a tapestry of characters,” Evans says. “It really doesn’t work if one of them falls flat on his face.”
Based on a character that first appeared in World War II–era comic books, Rogers starts as a weakling with a fighting spirit who gets injected with a serum that turns him into the supersoldier. He’s kind of the moral compass of the MCU, a bit of a throwback, and, well, pretty corny. “Downey’s character is obviously the crown jewel, constantly making mistakes and finding redemption,” Evans says. “Cap is the steady hand on the wheel.”
WHEN YOU PLAY A CHARACTER FOR A LONG TIME, YOU START TO LOOK AT YOUR OWN CONFLICTS THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE WHO MIGHT HANDLE IT BETTER THAN YOU WOULD.
Joe Russo, who along with his brother Anthony has directed Evans in four Marvel movies, including Endgame, calls Captain America “one of the most difficult roles you could possibly ask an actor to play.” The challenge? “He’s playing integrity and moral fortitude, and making it complex and interesting at the same time,” Russo says. “It can be very difficult.”
In Avengers: Endgame with (from left) Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, and Don Cheadle.
Evans, for his part, admits that the role has been a learning experience, and not just as an actor. Playing Captain America, he says, has made him a better man. “When you’re playing a character for a long time, you start to see the parallels between what the character’s going through and what you’re going through,” he says. “You start to look at your own conflicts and circumstances through the eyes of someone who might handle it better than you would.”
In fact, as reshoots for Endgame wrapped last October, Evans found it tough to put down the shield. “It felt like graduating high school or college, you know,” he says. “For the last month of filming I was letting myself go to work every day and be a little overwhelmed and a little nostalgic and grateful. By the last day, I was bawling. I cry pretty easy, but I was definitely bawling.”
THERE IS NO CAPTAIN AMERICA paraphernalia on display at Evans’ house, which is a portrait of luxe but rustic minimalism. “The older I get, I shed a lot,” he says, showing me around. “I like running clean.” A Bösendorfer upright piano is probably the flashiest thing here—Evans has been playing since he was young. He also plays guitar and says he can “fake it” on the drums.
Evans has a place in L.A.’s Hollywood Hills, but he’s in Massachusetts most of the time. “When I’m here, I feel much more like myself, the way I was when I was a kid,” Evans says, “when I was only pursuing acting as a hobby because that’s what it was—a hobby.” After a pause, he admits to vice: “I love to rollerblade. It’s a bummer that rollerblading became uncool, because it’s fucking awesome. You have wheels on your fucking feet. Come on! My friends make fun of me, but I fucking love it.”
At some point most days, he’ll visit family who live nearby—his father, a dentist; his mother, the director of a youth theater; and two sisters, one with three kids. On weekends, the Evans pad serves as home base for his old friends to hang. “It’s a wicked lucky thing,” Evans says. “We have a real tight group of eight or 10 guys. The majority of them are in the suburbs, and they all have kids. Now on the weekends, they come over here. We just drink, you know, and bullshit.
“I was never much of a ‘I can’t wait to leave this town’ kind of kid,” Evans says. “This is home to me. I have no desire to lay down roots somewhere else.”
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This is not all to say that Evans spends all his downtime holed up in the woods, refusing to engage the outside world. He’s built one of Hollywood’s must-read Twitter accounts, amassing some 10.6 million followers. His posts, fired off from his iPhone every other day or so, cover everything from videos of Dodger to news about deep space, and rack up likes and retweets in the hundreds of thousands.
And then there’s politics. Evans grew up in a lefty political family—his uncle is former Democratic representative Mike Capuano—and for as long as he can remember, holidays were occasions for heated discussions. “We’re very outspoken and vocal.” On Twitter, he’s referred to President Trump as “Biff” (a reference to Biff Tannen, the buffoonish villain in Back to the Future); in a tweet retweeted over 55,000 times, he stated that the president “stirred discord, feigned innocence, and bluffed patriotism.” He’s called Vice President Pence an “obsequious little worm” (40,000 likes.) Of course, the far right is happy to take the bait, with constant insults aimed at Evans—whose Captain America, if you’ll remember, squares off against Nazis. The white supremacist leader David Duke called Evans a “typical dumb actor” in one Twitter battle, adding that “Captain America inspires the theoretical Marxist in all of us.”
Evans attributes his pointed political statements to Trump’s rise. “I wasn’t like that before he came around, to be honest,” he says. But politics is far from his only passion. Evidence of his other interests can be seen on the walls surrounding us. There are framed botanical illustrations of local plants, a detailed map of the moon’s surface, and a lithograph poster of nearby Walden Pond. Evans swims there every summer. Introspection and independence are a thing in this part of the world, apparently. It’s rubbed off on Evans. “It sounds like a gross statement because I hear it overused in L.A. a lot,” he says, “but I do meditate every day.” In fact, a few years ago, he spent a month at a retreat in India.
He’s always reading something and is currently immersed in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, a kind of pop survey of the history of evolutionary biology. “I mean, this is gonna go really off the rails here…but there was a long time before humans even used concepts of religion and politics to ensure behavior and order—and it’s not even that long ago,” he says. “We’re a very small inch in a very long mile. We’re playing a game that was presented to us. We didn’t really make it, but we’re a part of it!
“That’s why I like being up here—everything slows down, and you can appreciate the little things that remind you that none of this is real: If I ever start getting too romantic about my career or this industry, it’s a slippery slope.”
WHEN YOU CAN RELAX A BIT, WHEN ACTING DOESN’T FEEL LIKE THIS WEIRD PRESSURE COOKER OF GRABBING THE NEXT VINE BEFORE YOU LET GO OF THE ONE YOU’VE GOT, THAT’S WHEN IT’S FUN
EVANS IS JUST AS CIRCUMSPECT about his private life, which he doesn’t much discuss. Back in the early aughts, he dated Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly. But recently his red-carpet dates tend to be family and friends. At the last Academy Awards, his date was his brother Scott, 35, also an actor.
Most recently Evans garnered attention for an on-again, off-again relationship with actress Jenny Slate, whom he met on a read for the family drama Gifted. The pairing of a straitlaced superhero (on screen, at least) and an off beat comic talent proved fodder for countless gossip-blog posts. I ask Evans if the massive interest might have been because folks figured him for someone more, well, bro-ish. “Yeah,” he says, “I think she may have even, at first. But then she was just like, ‘Man, you’re not like what I thought you were going to be.’ I can speak fluent bro, but I don’t consider myself one. I wear a hat, and I drink beer, and I like sports. But I was a big theater dork in high school, you know what I mean?”
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The relationship with Slate ended last year, and Evans is back looking for a partner. “I really want kids. Yeah, I do. I like pretty pedestrian, domestic things. I want a wife, I want kids. I like ceremony. I want to carve pumpkins and decorate Christmas trees and shit like that.”
I ask Evans what else is on his bucket list. “I’ve never been to Hawaii. Never seen the northern lights.” These things are…entirely doable, I assure him.
But first, he’ll have to find the time. In a few months, he’ll start shooting a series for Apple, Defending Jacob, in which he plays the father of a high school kid accused of murder. Then there’s a project with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer). In November, he’ll appear alongside Daniel Craig in a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery called Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi). The Captain America experience, he says, has given him the luxury of taking chances: “When you can relax a little bit, when acting doesn’t feel like this weird pressure cooker of grabbing the next vine before you let go of the one you got, that’s when it’s fun.”
By now, the evening is unceremoniously closing in—no mystical L.A. twilight up here in New England—and Dodger is out in the backyard again, barking at the mailman or the neighbors. As we wrap things up, I ask Evans about a farewell gift Robert Downey Jr. gave him as filming wrapped on Endgame: a meticulously restored and modified 1967 Camaro RS. “It’s actually here!” Evans says, pointing toward the garage. We walk out to see the vintage machine, shimmering and spotless, resting next to his daily driver, a black Audi A6. The Camaro is done up in a low-key custom hue Evans says Downey selected himself: “Melted army man green.” Underneath the Camaro’s hood, the supercharged V8 engine sends 730 horsepower to the rear wheels—twice or three times the car’s original output. Meaning: It’s a summer car, and Evans isn’t turning the ignition today. On days like this, it would be quite possible to hit a patch of ice and wrap this immaculate restoration around a tree.
Downey, Evans says, was shocked when he asked him to deliver the car to Massachusetts, rather than L.A. But in Los Angeles, such a conspicuous ride would make it easy for paparazzi to spot him. Here, he says, the Camaro mostly draws attention from “old dudes and their old cars,” a rural Massachusetts staple.
I WAS NEVER MUCH OF A ‘I CAN’T WAIT TO LEAVE THIS TOWN’ KIND OF KID. THIS IS HOME TO ME. I HAVE NO DESIRE TO LAY DOWN ROOTS ANYWHERE ELSE.”
Those guys will flag him down in parking lots, ask him to pop the hood. Evans always complies, saying, “I don’t know a fucking thing about it.” Most of those old dudes, the Sunday drivers, have no idea who Evans is, though a few might notice that the subtle design of the Camaro’s steering wheel centers around a milled-metal Captain America shield. So the neighbor’s a superhero. Who knew?
At which point, Evans will drop the pedal and drive the same spindly country roads he’s cruised since he was 16. “If I have to drive somewhere with the windows down, the music up, on a nice summer day,” he says, “there’s nowhere I’d rather do it than here, you know what I mean? This is home.”