The Political Avenger: Chris Evans Takes on Trump, Tom Brady, Anxiety and Those Retirement Rumors
Chris Evans is ready to retire Captain ?America for directing gigs, a new Apple show and the fight against President Donald Trump.
It’s a Friday afternoon in February, and the view from Chris Evans’ house in the Hollywood Hills consists mostly of fog. He bought this place for $3.2 million in 2013, back when he was two hit movies into his seven-film stint as Marvel Studios’ Captain America; there’s a Zen-ish garden inside the front gate, and a stone Buddha sits by the door. Evans banishes his dog, Dodger, to the guest room, shuts off the TV in the family room (CNN on mute), cracks a can of Modelo, and takes a seat on the couch. His arms are insane, as thick as thighs.
Evans has a movie coming out in a few months — an intimate little passion project called Avengers: Endgame (April 26). It’s the sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which raked in $2 billion worldwide and ended with Thanos (Josh Brolin) disintegrating half of Earth’s population, including the still-bankable likes of Black Panther and Spider-Man. The moody trailers for Endgame are designed to reveal even less than usual, but it’s safe to assume that Captain America rallies Earth’s mightiest surviving heroes for a rematch with the mad god who finger-snapped their friends and loved ones into oblivion, which means this will be the first of the four Avengers movies to depict actual avenging.
Evans — who made $15 million for the past two Avengers films, up from $300,000 for his first stint as Captain America — has said he’s done playing the character after this. It’s been reported that he intends to retire from acting entirely. And yet the announcements of new work keep coming. He’s in Rian Johnson’s crowded-house murder mystery Knives Out, due in November. He’s playing the father of a teenager accused of murder in Apple’s forthcoming limited series Defending Jacob. He’s in talks to star in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite as a presumably Chris Evans-ish guy who can recall his past lives. It’s a crowded dance card for a newly retired 37-year-old actor, and when I bring this up, Evans gets as annoyed as he’ll get all afternoon.
“I never said the word ‘retire,'” he says. “It’s a really obnoxious notion for an actor to say they’re going to retire — it’s not something you retire from.”
All he said — back in 2014, as the end of his obligation to Marvel loomed on the horizon — was that he was hoping to get behind the camera more, and that he’d told one of his CAA agents, “We are turning a corner.” Cut to 5,080,000 Google hits for “Chris Evans retiring.”
So, for the record: He’s not retiring. He’d love to direct more, but the way he talks about it makes it sound more like a five-year plan. He’s been looking for a good script, except the problem with good scripts is that they tend to go to great directors, which is not a weight class Evans would put himself in, not yet. He’s directed one film, the slight-but-not-embarrassing indie romance Before We Go, which grossed $37,151 in theaters in 2014, or roughly 0.01 percent of what Infinity War made on its opening weekend. When that project is faintly praised in his presence — he also starred in it, opposite Alice Eve — he waves this off, saying it mainly taught him how much he didn’t know. “I’m OK with making mistakes,” he says, “and I learned a lot from that one.”
Once he’s done helping Marvel hype Endgame, he’s going to take advantage of the security provided by nearly 10 years of huge superhero movies by letting the next phase of his career unfold at a more leisurely pace. “Momentum is a real fallacy, in my opinion,” he says. “But it has a really strong hold on a lot of actors’ mentalities. You really believe that while the ball’s rolling, you gotta keep it rolling. I could be wrong, but to me — I just don’t believe in that. I don’t think that’s real.”
I guess we’ll find out.
Evans laughs. “My last cover interview.”
Here are some things we learned about Chris Evans, from what may or may not be his last cover interview:
He uses the word “pretentious” a lot, usually because he’s worried something he’s just said sounds pretentious, which it rarely does.
He will talk at length and in detail about himself, and his neuroses, and the conversations he has with himself about his neuroses.
He keeps it closer to the vest about other people. He mentions in passing that Justin Timberlake lives around here — “I think” — without mentioning that Timberlake lives around here with his wife, Jessica Biel, who was once Evans’ girlfriend. Nor does he mention his former girlfriend Jenny Slate by name, although he occasionally says things about what it’s like to hang out with a bunch of comedians, something he clearly knows because he dated Slate, on and off, for a while. They are off again, per the gossip pages; on Valentine’s Day, a few weeks after we meet, Evans will tweet a picture of himself nuzzling Dodger and wish the best to his 10.6 million followers “from this pair of dysfunctional codependents.”
When asked how he functions in relationships, he says: “I’m the one who fears being enveloped. I was always a really autonomous guy my whole life. Camping by myself is one of my favorite things. I really like to be with someone who also has their own thing to do as well, you know? If I’m with someone who just kind of adopts my life, that can feel a bit suffocating.”
When he’s not working or camping by himself, you can find Evans camped out on Twitter. He is extremely online in a way that actors who headline ultra-mainstream movie franchises tend not to be; on any given day, you can find @ChrisEvans quoting Idiocracy to mock President Trump’s McDonald’s buffet for the Clemson Tigers, signal-boosting tweets about gay purges in Chechnya, or addressing Sen. Lindsey Graham as “Smithers.”
He worries about doing too much of this sort of thing, about it seeming performative or becoming white noise — Chris Evans, back on his bullshit. He does not worry about saying something online that might inspire MAGA-minded fans to microwave their Captain America action figures. And for what it’s worth, he says, “Marvel has never said anything. On the contrary — when I bump into Kevin Feige the first thing out of his mouth is ‘Man, I love what you’re doing [on Twitter].'”
“I don’t see it as trash-talking,” says Feige, Marvel’s president. “I see it as very astute, very honorable, very noble, very Cap-like. Commentary and questioning. I’ve said to him, ‘You’re merging! You and the character are merging!'”
Evans campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016; and while he has not decided on his 2020 candidate, his crusading use of his platform has made him a real-life superhero to a certain segment of the online #Resistance. Days after we talk, he pops up on Capitol Hill to do some bipartisan grip-and-grins with Senate Democrats Brian Schatz, Chris Coons and Jeff Merkley and Republican Lisa Murkowski. In March, he does the same at the House of Representatives. It turns out he’s conducting interviews for A Starting Point, a politics website whose mission is “to create informed, responsible and empathetic citizens.” He’s a co-founder, along with the actor Mark Kassen and entrepreneur Joe Kiani; the launch date has yet to be announced.
While he’s only visiting Congress for now, everyone jokes about him getting a job there someday. There’s familial precedent; his uncle is former Massachusetts Representative Mike Capuano (who lost a hard-fought race to Ayanna Pressley, a progressive city councilwoman, in September). For now, Evans feels obligated to do what he can, even if it turns his social media mentions into a garbage fire.
“You don’t want to alienate half your audience,” says Evans. “But I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t speak up. Especially for fear of some monetary repercussion or career damage — that just feels really gross to me.”
His willingness to call bullshit on anyone abetting the disintegration of our republic extends to his home state’s favorite sons. When we talk, Tom Brady is two days away from leading the New England Patriots to a sixth Super Bowl win; when I ask if the chance to play Brady in a biopic would bring him out of non-retirement retirement, he looks grim.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I really hope he’s not a Trump supporter. I’m just hoping he’s one of those guys that maybe supported him and now regrets it. Maybe he thought it was going to be different — and even that bothers me — but maybe there’s a chance now he just thinks Trump’s an absolute dumb shit, which he is. If he doesn’t, if he’s still on that Trump train, I might have to cut ties. It’s really tough.”
“I think maybe a couple of years ago,” he continues, “I might have tried to pull some, like, mental gymnastics to compartmentalize, but I don’t know if I can anymore. So I’m just hoping he’s woken up.”
Evans has a platform and he’s using it. But like a lot of straight white men seeking to consciously and conscientiously navigate a tumultuous moment in the history of straight white male-dom, he’s learned that shutting up is important, too. At Slate’s urging, he read Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions, a collection of essays about the insidious side effects of patriarchy, and took away a great deal. “You have to understand that you don’t understand,” he says. It’s not the most action-heroish way to look at things — but that may be the secret of his appeal as a movie star.
“At the root of it, he has true humility,” says Robert Downey Jr., who’s played Tony Stark against Evans five times. “I think it’s the reason he was able to kind of come to the front and be our team leader in the Avengers. I think a lot of his theater experience helped, too. Because it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to dress up, I’m going to go out, and I’m going to tell the truth.’ It’s very kind of old-school Spencer Tracy. Although I guarantee you Spencer Tracy never would’ve put on that getup.”
Unsurprisingly, Evans blows off discussion of his own goodness. “The characters I play do a lot of that heavy lifting. If people knew me — I’m just an asshole.”
He seems a little uncomfortable. I change the subject by asking him to tell me what happens at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Evans laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “I wish I could. Uh, it’s — I mean — it’s a good one. It’s a real good one. I saw, like, the first hour of it.”
So you watched it up to the point where Cap dies?
“Right, exactly,” Evans says. “After I die by Tony’s hand, I just said, You know what? I can’t watch this.”
I should make it clear that this is a joke, even if it feels like the kind of joke that could turn out to be true. “I can’t believe they even cut together a trailer,” he says, “because so much of it is a visual spoiler. You’ll see. A lot of the characters have”—
He stops, covering his mouth.
“Probably shouldn’t have even said that,” he says.
“My name is Christopher Evans, and I am a high school junior with an intense passion for theatre,” Evans wrote, many years ago, in a letter he typed and sent to casting directors in New York, seeking a summer internship. In a mortified tweet he posted after his father unearthed the letter a few years back, Evans noted that it went out to “DOZENS of casting directors.” One of them took him on and he spent a summer working on the Michael J. Fox sitcom Spin City. “They’d release a breakdown on Friday,” Evans remembers, “with some [part like] Janitor #2, five lines. And I’d come into the office on Monday and on my desk would be a stack of envelopes, two feet tall, from every agent in town, with headshots from actors.” Evans’ boss would pick out a few envelopes from agencies she knew and liked; it was Evans’ job to throw away the rest, unopened.
It was a valuable lesson about the brutally competitive nature of the business he’d chosen.
His father is Robert Evans — the Massachusetts dentist, not the Godfather producer. His mother, Lisa, is the executive director of the Concord Youth Theatre. As a kid, Evans wrestled and played a little lacrosse. “My dad was a big athlete,” he says. “You want to please [your dad], and he was so happy when I played, but I was just terrible.” When it came to extracurricular activities, Evans and his siblings — he’s the second oldest of four — took after their mom. They all did musical theater as kids; Evans played Randolph MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie and went to acting camp. Being onstage, he says, “felt like home,” in part because home was like a stage. There are videos, Evans says, from Christmases past, of the Evans kids putting on an impromptu revue for visiting relatives. “Fuckin’ Von Trapps, man,” Evans laughs. “I’m like 12, 13. I’m not, like, 6. I’m old enough to know better. We all thought it was so normal to be singing in front of my cousins and aunts and uncles at Christmas. Mortifying. Thank God this acting career worked out. Otherwise I’d just be this forever dork. I probably still am.”
To this day, Evans says, “I want to do a musical so badly, man. Someone told me they’re [remaking] Little Shop of Horrors and I was like, ‘Oh, can I be down? Please? Can I be the dentist?’ When I first came out here, early 2000s, there were rumblings about Spielberg maybe doing West Side Story. That’s one of my favorite musicals. I did it when I was in high school. And obviously he’s doing it now, and I called my team and they were like, Chris — maybe Krupke. You can’t. You’re too old. It’s so hard to hear.”
By the end of his casting-internship summer he had an agent; he graduated early and soon booked a part on Opposite Sex, a Fox pilot about the first three boys to attend a girls’ school that goes co-ed. In September, when his friends went off to college, Evans moved to L.A. and into Hollywood’s freshman dorm, the legendary Oakwood Apartments complex in Toluca Lake.
“It’s exactly what you think it is,” Evans says. “A lot of young actors. A lack of parental supervision. A lot of, uh, debauchery. You make a lot of strange connections with a lot of thirsty people, but you kind of are one of the thirsty people, too. It was a great time. It really was. It’s like the L.A. welcoming committee. The same kids I met there are probably still kicking around, meeting the new batch of kids and showing them where to buy weed. You had to know that, back then. You couldn’t just walk into a store.”
So how does that work these days, for you? Can Captain America just walk up in the dispensary?
“You know, I’ve chilled out on weed,” Evans says. “I used to love it, but now I think it’s the one thing that gets in my way. It zaps your motivation. I think apathy kind of bleeds in, and you start to think, ‘Well, I’m not apathetic, I just don’t feel like doing that.’ And it’s like, no — you would feel like doing that if you weren’t stoned. And, you know — I’m 37. I can’t be smoking weed all the time. That’s crazy.”
In early 2010, Marvel Studios began searching for its Captain America. Feige says the studio was determined to cast an American as Cap, but that Evans wasn’t on the initial lists for the part, mostly because he’d already played the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four films for 20th Century Fox. His Johnny Storm is a memorably douchebaggy creation — the Marvel hero most likely to accidentally-on-purpose tweet a dick pic.
“We thought, OK, well, he’s that character. Let’s keep looking,” Feige says. “And as we [continued] not finding people, we went back to the initial lists. And that brought us back to Chris. And I thought, well, Patrick Stewart played Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier. Harrison Ford played Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Who cares?”
At that point, a bit of a process ensued. Evans had been having these “little panic attacks” around the time the Cap offer came in. In the past, they’d mostly happened in the hectic weeks of media and promotion leading up to the release of a movie. Doing press has always made him self-conscious. “You feel very judged,” he says, “and you’re a little unsure about who you are.”
As a kid, he’d spent hours drawing alone in his room, dreaming of being a Disney animator; as an adult, movie sets had become a similarly safe space for him. When he began to experience that familiar feeling of panic while shooting 2011’s Puncture in Houston, he thought, “Man, if I were an animator I wouldn’t be panicking.” He wondered if the attacks were his subconscious warning him that he’d chosen the wrong line of work.
And that was when Marvel called. “Getting the [Captain America] offer felt to me like the epitome of temptation. The ultimate job offer, on the biggest scale. I’m supposed to say no to this thing. It felt like the right thing to do.”
Evans passed on Marvel’s first offer, a nine-film deal. The studio came back with a six-film contract, and Evans passed again. He accepted an invitation to visit Marvel Studios — back when the company, newly purchased by Disney, was still based out of Raleigh Studios’ Manhattan Beach complex — but made it clear that he wasn’t planning to change his mind.
“You see the pictures, and you see the costumes, and it’s cool. But I’d now woken up the day after saying no and felt good, twice.”
Marvel persisted. After consulting with close friends and a former teacher, and taking an encouraging call from Robert Downey Jr., Evans took the part — and ran straight to a therapist for the first time in his adult life. He loves therapy now, and goes whenever his schedule permits, even if nothing’s particularly wrong. Downey Jr. says he’s watched Evans evolve significantly in the course of their decade in the Marvel repertory.
“I’ve been in hundreds of scenes with this guy,” Downey Jr. says. “Nobody laughs more than him. Sometimes he makes me self-conscious, like, ‘Should I be more fun?’ There’s a little bit of, like, just trying to shake out the anxiety. And I’ve also seen him, over the last 10 years, go from being someone who had laughably real social anxiety to someone who has grown more and more comfortable in their own skin.”
Downey Jr. may be the world’s biggest Chris Evans fan. He praises his co-star as the funniest person on the “very sophisticated, laugh-your-ass-off” text-message chain through which the core Avengers cast stay in touch when they’re apart. Their bond is astronaut-esque — the camaraderie of people who’ve shared a professional experience almost no one can relate to.
“I’ve spent a lot of time just in repose with this guy, on set,” Downey Jr. says. “You know — the shield’s on the table, and we’re waiting for the technocrane to get put in place. And I’ve had some of my greatest moments of gratitude when he was looking at me in my suit, and I was looking at him in his suit, and we’re just like, ‘Jesus, is this still working? How lucky are we?'”
Evans had never read Captain America — or comics in general — before he was cast. If he had, he says, he might have been even more hesitant about taking the role.
In 2008’s Iron Man, Downey Jr. played Tony Stark as a cocky, cynical tech billionaire, egotistical enough to believe he can save the world — a performance that set the tone for Marvel’s cinematic universe as it grew. Even in the heat of CGI-assisted battle, these movies are fundamentally about wisecracking modern adults solving problems.
Captain America was always going to be a tougher character to reframe for 21st-century audiences. Like Superman, he’s an idealized figure of square-jawed rectitude whose comics debut predates the United States’ entry into World War II; he was a symbol of a bygone era of moral clarity even in 1964, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the character in the pages of Marvel’s The Avengers.
“There’s no real darkness to him,” Evans remembers thinking. “How do I make this guy someone you want to watch? I don’t get jokes. I’m not Wolverine. I don’t have dead parents, like Batman. I’m just, like, ‘Hi, I’ll walk your dog. I’ll help you move.'”
“In the early days, Marvel was an independent studio,” Feige says. “As we were initially getting our financing, I was meeting with completion bond companies and foreign presales — all that had to be done on the first Iron Man film. And as we were meeting buyers, one of the films I would mention was Captain America, and you could see their eyes glaze over. Like, ‘Uh, what else do you have?'”
“[Evans’] suspension of his own disbelief, regardless of whatever doubts he had, is the reason all these other worlds are able to be built,” says Downey. “Starting with Avengers, and then Guardians, and Black Panther. People love to say — and I’ll eat it up — that I’m kind of the progenitor of this whole universe. But if you want to talk about it in terms of team building, and you want to talk about it as the most successful creative relay race in the history of cinema, he was the critical leg.”
Marvel’s plans for universal expansion — Infinity and beyond — were still taking shape when Evans signed on, but he says Feige told him in broad strokes what lay ahead for Steve Rogers, from his betrayal by the government in The Winter Soldier to his rift with the Avengers in Civil War. It seemed to Evans like a story worth telling.
Anthony and Joe Russo, who co-directed the second and third Cap films as well as Infinity War and Endgame, felt the same way. “To be honest with you, that golden age Captain America never really appealed to us,” Anthony Russo says. “We gravitated to the comics where people were starting to tear down ideas about what superheroes were. Frank Miller, et cetera. So when we started talking with Marvel about coming on to do [Winter Soldier], we were like, ‘This is going to be the movie where we fully bring Captain America into the modern world. He’s going to be a different person in this new world.’ And Chris just grew with that character beautifully.”
Cap’s arc within the Marvel universe has also become a story weirdly in tune with larger shifts in the culture, in ways even Feige couldn’t have predicted. Downey’s Tony Stark was the superhero as disrupter, a repulsor ray–powered Elon Musk. In the ensuing years, America’s collective faith in billionaires with big ideas has been severely tested; Musk is now a full-time Twitter villain, as is the president of the United States. Nazi-punching is once again a marketable skill. And Captain America — an honorable man maintaining his code through increasingly dark times — seems less like an anachronism and more like the hero 2019 needs. It seems at least a little bit symbolically significant that — judging by the trailers, at least — Endgame begins with Tony lost in space and Cap left to lead a never-say-die resistance on Earth.
When that ideological pendulum swing is brought up, Evans says “Yeah,” clearly calculating what, if anything, he’s able to say here without breaching Marvel omerta.
“Man,” he says, finally. “This one’s really good. I choked up like three times.”
Because Cap dies?
“Right,” Evans says. “It’s hard. Seeing my own death.” He laughs. “It’s going to be a long movie, that’s for sure. The first edit clocked in over three hours. My funeral’s like an hour.”
He laughs again. He can make these jokes. What’s Marvel going to do, fire him?
This story first appears in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.