With a view overlooking the Santa Monica foreshore, Chris Evans is winding down, soaking up the surge of interest in him, due to his participation in a little film he is shooting called “Fantastic Four”. In good humour, Evans, whom audiences will first see in the fast-paced thriller “Cellular,” is quietly philosophical when it comes to dealing with the media and participate in the publicity process of film promotion.
“It is part of the job and you have to do it, but these are good problems to be having. I mean it is silly to think it is a very difficult thing to deal with when I am not in the coal mines, so if you maintain some rational perspective, it all starts to become pretty easy.”
For this 23-year old, Evans’ life has become easy from the time he decided to become an actor. Brought up in Boston, Evans recalls that he first dreamed of becoming an actor when he first saw his older sister perform on stage. But childhood fantasies aside, Evans knew that acting was for him not long thereafter, “around the seventh or eighth grade” which was the first time Evans got to do a play.
“I did a lot of children’s theatre but as I got older I think I started taking it more seriously, and eventually, I would get a lead in a play, I would really take it seriously and I would start to, really try and make a character,” Evans recalls. “Then I’d start thinking that this would be fun to do and then I would wonder how much fun film would be if you had the freedom to speak in a whisper, the freedom to move where you wanted, to not need to project or play to the back of the audience, really, commit to the authenticity of the scene, and find the realism and the character. Around that time I was kind of like, I have no way of trying this out except for going for it, so I think around eighth or ninth grade was when I kind of decided it was what I wanted to do.”
But before Evans thought about film, he loved to draw. “I did a lot with pencil sketches, charcoal, paints and it is just what I loved to do and I wanted to work for Disney,” says Evans. “I wanted to learn computer animation, do Pixar and wanted to make a Toy Story or a Finding Nemo.” But it was acting that Evans found himself increasingly drawn to, yet still finds solace in drawing and sees parallels between the two.
“Both are creative outlets, and I find a reward for me personally in both but they are really completely different. Acting is collaboration, where you incorporate your craft with three or four other craftsmen. You find a director, an editor and a cinematographer where there are so many cooks in the kitchen, trying to come together to make a piece of art. In drawing you are the cook, the head chef and that is all there is, and there is no one else around, but a blank canvass and to that extent it is fun having the control especially if you are a control freak like I am.”
Boston may be a long way from Hollywood, but childhood dreams and aspiration would lead Evans to California, with the full support of his parents, he says, initially moving to New York where he worked as an agent’s intern. “I think it was fantasy up until the point that I decided to move to New York and work as an intern. The good thing is that my parents were wildly supportive and, were wildly enthused about any play I did, providing me with the confidence needed to take the initial steps in taking it seriously. Without that I don’t know that I ever would have tried to get it off the ground.”
Evans recalls that it was working as an intern, when he realised just what was needed to make it in this fiercely competitive profession. “I had to set up actors for auditions for a sitcom and would watch these actors come in, maybe 30 in a day for, a little part, five lines on a sitcom and it was just amazing to see how many people were actually in this industry, and see how much competition there is. I would look at these guys’ resume, everyone was an accomplished actor and I was sure everyone in this room is qualified and talented and you are all fighting for five lines, is this the right, am I getting myself into something I can’t handle? So, you have the doubt but you have just got to go for it.”
Evans was 19 when he came to Los Angeles and was cast in his first professional gig, a TV series called “Opposite Sex”. The young actor was finally on his way, and was never in a situation where he would seriously consider giving up. “I am very lucky with the career I have had because I have a lot of friends who are really talented actors who don’t work. I mean, it is not always about who is the best actor, there is a lot of politics, and a lot of those x-factors.”
Not to mention luck, he concedes. “A lot of luck, right place, and right time, right audition, so luckily I have had a career where I have stayed working. Even if it’s small stuff, I have stayed working and financially secure enough to feel like I might be able to survive.”
Evans said he was on cloud nine when he arrived in L.A., the world was his oyster and hey, here he was starring in a TV series. Then came the cancellation and the reality of being an actor. From that point on, Evans says he learned some important lessons.
“When it got cancelled, everything went back to square one, and your humility takes a knock and it is a good lesson. So L.A. was a really nice experience for me with a nice initial flavour, built up a little bit of a tough skin, and then get kicked in the gut and found your footing again, starting all over again but those are necessary steps to take. If you don’t have a taste of humility, if you don’t get a flavour of rejection, you are setting yourself up for trouble.”
Chris says that having learned humility, his expectations are very different. “I don’t expect anything now, nor put any eggs in this basket. If a film like ‘Cellular’ does well, wow, great, that is a wonderful surprise, but if not, that is OK, because it doesn’t have to for me to continue to work and for me to feel confident about what I am doing. I think when I first had that TV show, I was quick to tell people about it. You want to talk about it because you are so excited and it is so new, but I don’t know where I am going with this.”
Evans’ first film break was “The Perfect Score,” but in “Cellular” the actor plays a reluctant hero desperately trying to save an anonymous kidnapped woman, who stumbles on his cell phone by accident. Evans said that to make a character such as this interesting, presented him with some unique challenges, given the amount of time required for him to have worked in virtual isolation.
“I think what you want most out of your audience is to identify, and want your audience to wonder what they would do in your shoes. If you portray him too heroic, too under control and too leading man, it is not as identifiable to the masses. I think if you make him Joe Average and, panic in the face of trials, then that makes it much more endearing and you invest more as an audience. So all I tried to do is just make him overly apathetic, overly lazy, just the last guy you would possibly want in this situation, so that when he is thrown in that situation and he does manage to perform you can get a sense of inspiration as to whether or not you would be able to perform in the same circumstances.”
While Cellular is a genre film, Evans says that he was gratified that he was able to play a character with a definite arc. “It is just much more interesting and entertaining to see someone go from nothing to something than from someone who already was something in a similar situation.”
Chris says he is a fan of this kind of fast-paced thriller. “I love ’em, because sometimes it is just a fun way to spend time at the movies for just good, fast paced entertainment.” Evans says he is loves everything that Hollywood can potentially offer, from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to the likes of Cellular, and wants to do work that falls between those two extremes.
Somewhere in between, perhaps, lay “Fantastic Four,” the comic book movie that is destined to catapult the young actor to the next level of fame and success. “Fantastic Four is popcornier,” he says. “There is room for Fantastic Four and is one of those films that I put on the same level as a Batman, a Spiderman, movies I go to see. It might not move me the way Eternal Sunshine might have, it might not speak to you but there is nothing wrong with paying eight bucks, getting a bucket of popcorn, going and having a good time at the movies and just watching some fun special effects, a fun plot, a fun cast, and that is what I think Fantastic Four is. It is going to be fun and entertainment and it is going to make a lot of people smile.”
“Fantastic Four” casts Evans as Johnny Storm in the big-budget adaptation of the comic. At the time we spoke, Evans had been shooting for a week, and is uncertain of how inhibiting working with special effects is likely to be. “I don’t know what they are going to do, or how they are going to inhibit the choices I make as an actor. I mean you are still trying to find the truth to the character and are still trying to find the realism and the inner dialogue and you are listening and reacting the same way you would in a low budget drama.”
Evans’ take on Johnny Storm is “a twenty something year old spaceship pilot, who pilots the spaceships. I look at it as; you must have seen Top Gun, which was about a school who were the best of the best of the best, pilots who do high risk jobs, and guys who risk their lives. These guys get in a cockpit and do what a handful of people in the world can do, and I think that instigates a little bit of arrogance. I have met pilots, and have seen documentaries on them these guys have got attitude ‘cos they know that what they can do is only capable by very few people. Maverick and Iceman are guys who are just cocky sons of bitches with attitude, they have a good time, they laugh hard and they play hard.”
As much of a comic book fantasy “Fantastic Four” is, Evans says there is room to research his character, by “just trying to understand the life a pilot, I think because that is really only the back story you need, because, from then on in experiencing, supernatural powers, you can really just take your own spin on that.”
Evans adds that he is enjoying using his imagination to tap into the more fantastic elements of this character. “Yeah, it is fun. I would just say it is just big kids playing pretend with a lot of money. It is just playing pretend: let’s pretend we can catch on fire so, we had a scene yesterday where I snapped my fingers and created flame and it is just playing pretend with big kids who get together and said lets make a movie, which is just every little boys dream.”
As thrilled as he is working on next summer’s big comic book film, Evans insists that part of the attraction of doing a high profile film like that, is to afford him the opportunity to fulfil his greater dream, of starring in smaller, more character-based films. “Right now there are a couple of films coming down the line that I am trying to get set up for January and February. With any big film you have got to try and offset that with quality, smaller films to make sure you stay true to your acting roots and that you don’t go for the pay cheques. That is something that you always want to stay on top of, and read new scripts.”
The added challenge for young Chris is to avoid being seduced by what Hollywood has to offer, and the actor agrees that he needs to make careful choices, both personally and professionally. “I am young and new, so there has to be a level of naivety, I am aware that there is seduction, I am aware that the dangers are out there but to presume to have the answer and to deduce that I am above it, is the beginning of the end right there. I am scared, it is one of those things that I know happens and I know it is out there and I think that the best thing I can do is to constantly remind myself that it is out there, surround myself with the best people I possibly can and just try and keep my head straight.”
Chris Evans has come a long way since that young kid who looked at awe as his sister stood on that mysterious stage. As he embarks on a career that may turn him into a major star, Chris says that though he does pinch himself when realising from where he came and what lay around the corner, the future is what really counts.
“It is nice to look back at the journey but you don’t want to give yourself too many pats on the back. I think if you get too lost in the nostalgia of your progress, it is borderline arrogance to me. I don’t ever want to get too self assured, or ever want to feel like I have made it. Once that happens, then there is nowhere to go but down.”