SUPERMAN has his kryptonite. Thor keeps trusting his brother Loki. Tony Stark has motor-mouthed hubris. And Captain America has his own weakness: motorbikes.
“Whenever I can, I want to do the stunt myself,” says Chris Evans, who has taken advantage of a break between films to grow himself a beard that is less Captain America, more Captain Birdseye.
“Audiences are smart and they know when you’ve swapped in a stunt person. So I had a three-month training schedule where I did a lot of gymnastics and I knew there was a scene coming up where we have a chase on motorbikes, so I put myself into motorcycle school. I thought I was going to love it but…”
He lets the sentence trail off while he searches for a bright side. “It was kind of fun, but I realised that if I’m going to take that kind of risk, I’d rather do it on a horse.”
He may not be joining Marlon Brando in the pantheon of Wild One biker boys, but like the former Jor-El, Evans is now an established part of superhero movie stardom. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is his third outing in star-spangled get up, with two more Captain America films in the pipeline, as well as the Avengers character gathering, Age Of Ultron.
With a net worth upwards of £7m, the 32-year-old now has job security, money and fame. Surprisingly, however, Evans’ first instinct was to say no. “When they first approached me, I liked doing smaller films, having my anonymity and staying under the radar.” So he turned the studio down, twice.
“It was also the fact that they wanted nine movies, and that’s a long time. I thought: ‘I could be doing this when I’m 40.’ My agent called me an idiot, but he went along with it. But then they called back, and when I blamed it on having to commit to making nine movies, they shrank it down to six. It still didn’t leave a lot of time between pictures though. And I wanted to be able to go to a ball game, or down to the store and have a pretty normal life. That’s a big thing for me”
Eventually, he took his doubts about the offer to a therapist, and after pouring out his issues, decided to accept the role. But as any superhero will tell you, playing someone with great power also means great responsibility – mostly to keep upcoming character details and plot turns a secret. At one point we chat about the 1940s sequences in his origins picture, Captain America: The First Avenger. Back then, the cap was still fighting Nazis, kitted out in period army leather jackets created by Aero, the Scottish leather design specialists based in Galashiels.
One jacket appears briefly at the start of The Winter Soldier, when former soldier Steve Rogers pays a visit to a present-day Captain America exhibition at the Smithsonian. “They were great jackets” he says enthusiastically. “I loved the fit and the look. One of them may even have come home with me.” And then he mentions that he’s just been measured up for another period jacket for his next Avengers film. Does that suggest the Captain will return to his past in the The Avengers: Age Of Ultron? Evans looks briefly agonised, realising that he might be confirming an unauthorised plot detail ahead of that film’s 2015 release. “Maybe,” he says coyly.
It’s a harmless titbit, but in the age of the internet and feverish fandom, all aspects of Marvel movies are treated as top secret; during preproduction and filming, The Winter Soldier was renamed Freezer Burn to keep fans off the scent. However, Evans is no stranger to superheroes or action flicks. His first superhero role was the fiery Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in Fantastic Four and its sequel. He also appeared as a telekinetic on the run in Paul McGuigan’s Push and rather spoofed the genre in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as a jealous ex-boyfriend/actor from the League of Evil Exes. Perhaps another reason why Evans resisted Captain America in particular is because he is viewed as one of Marvel’s most problematic heroes, a US icon rooted in bygone days of un-ironic patriotism, good guys, red-white-and-blue tights and a shield with a star on it.
“When you’re playing someone this earnestly noble and motivated by good intentions it’s a tough line to walk,” Evans acknowledges. The Captain isn’t quite as paternalistic as Superman, but his old “truth, justice and the American way” beliefs are not immediately attractive to an international market. “He’s good: but good can become boring.”
The emphasis in the latest release is on the hero’s isolation, being literally a man out of his time, as well as mourning the loss of both his sweetheart Peggy and best pal Bucky. In reality, Evans isn’t short of company: The Winter Soldier is the fourth time that he and Scarlett Johansson have worked together, starring in The Perfect Score (2004), The Nanny Diaries (2007) and Avengers Assemble (2012). “When we first met she was a kid, about 17. She’s like my sister,” he says affectionately. On-screen, the new film finally allows them to strike sparks. “There’s a little kiss,” he squirms. “See the film, it all makes sense in the movie.”
Ironically, the First Avenger admits he had no big love of superhero comics when growing up. His pen and ink heroes lay in Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons. “We were a dorky family,” he says, but they are the reason he is acting today. Growing up in the Boston suburb of Sudbury, his father worked as a dentist but his mother was a dancer, and then artistic director at a local theatre. Evans’ older sister took an interest in acting, and appeared on stage there. Later, so did Evans. Before he was 20 he was paying his dues in barely seen films such as Cherry Falls (2000), The Newcomers (2000) and Not Another Teen Movie (2001). “My first couple of movies were really terrible,” he says bluntly. “The Perfect Score was gone in a New York minute, and a movie called Orphan King never even made it to cinemas”.
Playing the sculpted superhero has given him muscle beyond the two stone he puts on for the role. He’s just finished directing his first movie, 1:30 Train, in which he also appears. “Acting is great but it’s only a small part of the picture. I’d wanted to direct for a long time.” What sort of director is he? “You’d have to ask the actors,” he teases. But he admits to being heavily influenced by Danny Boyle, who directed Evans in the science-fiction movie Sunshine.
Before switching on the camera, Boyle made the entire cast rehearse the film like a play, every day for a month. “Danny is a theatre guy,” says Evans. “By the end of the month we knew exactly what we doing. Danny could have asked me to do it in Spanish and I would have trusted him.”
• Captain America: The Winter Soldier is on general release from Friday.