Chris Evans didn’t become one of the most famous actors working today without his share of suffering. The star of the “Avengers” movies and Apple TV+’s Emmy contender “Defending Jacob” considers auditioning to be at odds with the acting craft—and, more often than not, excruciatingly painful. Below, Evans tells Backstage about the worst of his many bad auditions and offers advice on how to cope with it all using a healthy sense of perspective.
How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
That’s a really good question, I wish I knew! I did a lot of little jobs in Massachusetts growing up, little local commercials and things like that. I don’t think they ever required you to join SAG. I think it was the first TV show I booked, “Opposite Sex.”
What is one performance that every actor should see and why?
I’d say anything Daniel Day-Lewis has ever done in his life. In a more specific sense, I was always very, very moved by “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I thought Jack Nicholson was such a beautiful representation of this wild irreverence trying to be contained, trying to be denied by a system. He was so captivating. Every single scene in that movie, I think, is perfect.
Do you have an audition horror story you could share with us?
Oh, yes. There are probably too many to list, but I think maybe one of them was that Seth Rogen movie where he’s the mall cop. What the fuck was it called? [“Observe and Report.”] I walked in the room, and there were Seth and the director and a producer, and for some reason, my brain just started shrieking, just screaming, “No, no, no.” I began my audition, and about three lines in, I got this wave of sweats and my face went red. Mid-audition, I said, “I’m sorry, guys. I’m sorry. I’ve got to stop.” It’s even worse because they were incredibly nice about it, like, “No, it was great. You were doing great.” I said, “Let me just go to the hallway and collect my thoughts.” I go into the hallway, I collect my thoughts. I’m laughing at myself. Go back in, we start up again, and it fucking happens again. My face just goes so red. I start sweating and I have to stop again.
I go to my car and I call my agent and I say, “That was a fucking nightmare. Whether I get this movie or not, I can’t let that be the last taste they have in their mouths. I’ve got to come back tomorrow and do this again. You’ve got to get me back there. I’ve got to do it again.” They were like, “All right, but they said you were OK.” I’m like, “They’re lying. It was terrible.” They got me back in a couple of days later and I’m back in. Don’t you fucking know, it happened again! [Laughs] There’s a wave of heat and sweat and I had to stop again. And I just say, “Guys, I’m so sorry...I’m just going to go.” I did not get that role.
What about the wildest thing you’ve ever done to get a role you really wanted?
I remember I did a movie called “Street Kings” with Keanu Reeves. I had to go in to read for that one four or five times, and I had to do work sessions with Keanu. I suppose it’s not crazy, but they don’t make it easy. You’ve got to earn it. To some degree, I almost welcome that. I can say that now because I don’t have to deal with auditioning the way I did, but there’s a comfort in knowing on the first day of shooting, if you have been through the audition process, that you earned this and they know what you’re going to do is what they want.
What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
It almost feels like a bit of a platitude, but I just would tell myself, “Shh.” Just “Shh.” It’s an active sport to be still, and stillness is not apathetic. You’re not acquiescing. Stillness is full of power. It has to be practiced much like anything else. It’s like a sport. Your brain wants to operate at a very busy frequency. That’s all it knows, certainly in this culture and in this society. Rewire those synapses and teach your mind that that state of stillness is not some vacation. That is you. That should be the neutral default setting. That should be the North Star, not the thing you visit just when you’re feeling stressed or sad. Because we make our world very, very small. When you make your world small, suffering increases. There’s a great line in Buddhism where they say if you take a cup of water and you put a big handful of salt in it and you taste it, it’s going to taste like shit. If you take that same handful of salt and you put it in a lake and you take a sip of the lake, you can’t taste the salt at all. Be the lake, don’t be the water. The salt is a finite thing. The salt is your pain, your struggle. Just be more than what you think you are, and the suffering that the ego wants to put you through just can’t compete with that perspective.
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