Chris Evans Takes On a New Fight in 'Puncture'

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Photo Source: Jamie Painter Young

Five minutes with Chris Evans and you feel like you've known him your whole life. Considering his charming smile, lingering Boston accent (complete with the occasional curse word), and high-fives—and even a call to Mom to check a fact—it's easy to forget you're chatting with Captain America and not just an old friend from high school.

Asked if he ever read Back Stage, he responds, "I got my first acting gig through Back Stage in New York. It was a short film called 'The Paper Boy.' My first real audition outside of, like, community theater, and I ended up getting it. I was walking to work one morning when I got the phone call from the writer-director, whose name was Eric Ogden. I remember walking down the street with my hand in the air [pumps his fist]. We filmed in upstate New York for two weeks. I still have a copy of it. My first job on a film ever."

Community theater was a big part of life in the Evans household while he was growing up. Evans, his two sisters, and his brother, Scott (whom you might remember as Officer Oliver Fish from "One Life to Live"), grew up acting at a community children's theater called the Concord Youth Theatre. "Each of us must have done at least 15 to 20 shows there," Evans says. Their family was so connected to the theater that when Chris was around 18, his mother, Lisa, took over as artistic director, and she's been working there ever since.

Seeing his elder sister, Carly, onstage inspired Evans to be an actor. "Her play would end, and she'd get flowers and candy, and it just seemed like such a good time. She was having a ball and hanging out with her acting friends—it just looked awesome," he remembers. "I was like, 'I'll give this a shot.' " He started doing plays at the theater and going to acting camp in the summer. "I fell in love with that, too. I started doing plays year-round. I was always onstage."

In his junior year of high school, Evans started thinking he might want to pursue acting professionally. He convinced his parents to let him move to New York City for the summer and take classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. He also wrote casting offices and secured a summer internship with Bonnie Finnegan, who was casting "Spin City" at the time. "We got to go to the tapings every Friday for the show with Michael J. Fox, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world," he says. At the end of the summer, his plan was to ask the two or three agents he was the most friendly with if he could read for them. "I was like, 'I know you know me as Chris from Bonnie's office, but I'm an actor—can you give me five minutes?' " One of the agencies was willing to let him read, so he did. The agency was interested in signing him, but it was the end of summer, and he had to go home to start senior year. "They said to me, 'You've got to get back [to New York] as soon as possible. Pilot season's in January.' So I went back and doubled up my classes and graduated early, in January. Went back to New York, got my agent, got the same internship with Bonnie, and I even got the same apartment."

Down the hall from Finnegan's office was casting director Marcia DeBonis, who one day asked Evans to come in and read for a pilot she was working on called "Get Real." Evans went in and nailed the audition, so the network sent him out to Los Angeles to test for it. "The first person I met in Los Angeles was Anne Hathaway," he remembers. "She was testing for it, too. We were both kids—she wasn't 'Anne Hathaway' then. I was 17, and she was pretty young, too." Because Evans was the only person there reading for his role, he was convinced he would get it. "I was like, 'I got this in the bag,' " he says. "But I didn't get the show. [Hathaway] did, but I didn't. It was so crushing to be that close that soon. My dad was out there with me, and I was so excited and then just so devastated. But then Warner Bros. said, 'Stick around—there's a couple of other shows you might be right for. We'll put you up for the week.' So I stuck around and auditioned, and I ended up getting a different pilot called 'Opposite Sex.' " The Fox show (which also starred Milo Ventimiglia) lasted only one season, but it was Evans' first break, and he stayed in Los Angeles. By age 20, he landed his first leading film role in the comedy spoof "Not Another Teen Movie" and hasn't stopped since.

Gone Audition Gone

"I'm pretty shitty at auditioning," Evans admits. "Auditioning is such a strange thing. It's like the opposite of acting. It's a strange environment. To act well, you need to be extremely comfortable. You need to be extremely in your skin. Even if you have to play someone nervous, you have to be neutral and let it come to you and listen. I get so nervous in auditions. My heart just pounds."

Evans thinks plenty of amazing actors aren't working because they can't audition well. "It's like those races in the Olympics," he says. "You could race 100 times, and the same guy's not going to win every time—it's just who's going to win that day. Everyone here is fast. Everyone here can run well. But who's going to run well today? I used to sit at these auditions and look around, and I know all these actors. I've seen them. Everyone here can act. No one here is a bad actor. But it's just a matter of who's going to act well in the next five minutes. If you're not going to, someone else is. I'm sure I've gotten parts where I wasn't the best man for the job; I just happened to have a really good audition that day. And the guy who was the right man for the job had a bad one. It's that type of uncertainty that makes acting such a crapshoot."

The audition-gone-wrong story he recalls as being worst was meeting with Ben Affleck for "Gone Baby Gone." "I don't get starstruck," says Evans. "I'm fine. Especially Ben—he's a Boston guy, I should be fine. I walked in and I'm walking down the halls looking for this room, and as I passed a room I heard 'There he is.' In my head I was like, 'That's Ben.' I turned around and it was, and for some reason I instantly was nervous. I went in and shook his hand, and the first thing I said was 'Hey, how ya doing—am I gonna be okay where I parked?' And he said, 'Where'd you park?' And I said, 'At one of the meters.' And he said, 'Did you put money in it?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'I think you'll be all right.' From that moment, I just wanted to get the f*** out of the room. I just wanted to be anywhere but there. I sat down with my heart beating out of my chest; I was so mortified that I started this meeting off that way. I started giving him one-word answers. They put me in a rocking chair, so I'm just rocking and twisting, just nervous. 'So, what was your last movie like?' 'Good.' 'What was it like to work with Danny Boyle?' 'Good.' I just wanted to get out of there. It was horrible, a complete disaster. So obviously, I did not get that job."

Character Choices

In Evans' upcoming film "Puncture," a law drama based on a true story, he portrays Mike Weiss, lawyer and drug addict. This was Evans' first experience playing a role based on a real person. He spoke to the deceased Weiss' brother, father, college friends, and colleagues and even read the transcript of what was said at Weiss' funeral. "The problem is, I could tell you 100 stories about someone, but is that going to make you able to embody their speech pattern and posture and nuances?" he says. "It's not like I'm playing JFK, where you can watch videos and get cadence and inflection." Evans decided his best option was to tell Weiss' family and friends he would have to have some artistic license. He told everyone he would do his best, "but don't expect to see the Mike you know."

Evans worked hard not to second-guess his character choices or worry about what Weiss' family and friends might think. "If you start second-guessing yourself, you're f***ed," he says. "The family and the friends couldn't have been more accommodating, but it was still pretty nerve-racking."

He admits to being similarly nerve-racked when bringing beloved comic book characters Steve Rogers/Captain America and Johnny Storm/Human Torch to the screen. "Most times you make a film and you say, 'I hope it does well.' [With 'Captain America: The First Avenger' and 'Fantastic Four'] I knew people were going to go see them. There would be a response, positive or negative. There's this phenomenal built-in audience. There's going to be a huge opening weekend; there's going to be a shit ton of merchandise. That's intimidating."

Evans realized the best way to approach playing a superhero was to try to get in the same headspace as all the fans. "To me, the fans are the most important—if they're not happy, you didn't do your job. So let's try and essentially become a fan. Try and understand what they understand. To see what they're expecting." For "Captain America: The First Avenger," Evans says he and director Joe Johnston read many comic books before coming together to create the film version of the Steve Rogers character.

"Steve Rogers is a tricky character to play because he doesn't have too much conflict," says Evans. "He's such a selfless person. There's very little that can rattle him. If [your character] doesn't have conflict, it's easy to become boring. It's nice [that in the upcoming film 'The Avengers'] he struggles a little bit. He struggles with being a fish out of water. He's from the '40s; he's from a different mentality. Today the world is text messaging and impersonal and selfishness, and in the '40s there was much more of a human connection and camaraderie among the country. It's an old-fashioned way of thinking. So I think he's struggling with trying to find his place in modern day."

The Evans Method

Although he studied for a summer at the Lee Strasberg Institute, Evans says he isn't sure that Strasberg is his "cup of tea." He believes that acting is an ever-evolving thing, and if you get stuck in one method or approach, you might get stagnant. He says Keanu Reeves, his co-star in "Street Kings," helped him put his method into words. He asked Reeves what his approach to acting was, and Reeves answered, "It's constantly changing." "I was like, 'That's a good answer,' " Evans says. "It's like art. You want to constantly change your style and find new things to spark your creativity and keep you excited about it."

Evans is a fan of asking his fellow actors for their thoughts on acting. His friend Jonathan Tucker gave him his favorite advice: "Don't forget that the audience doesn't know what's coming next. It's very easy to forget when you're acting and you do the scene over and over again. Don't forget this is brand-new for the audience. You can push them in any direction because they don't know what's coming."

A favorite acting exercise of Evans', that he recommends all actors do, is to buy scripts of good films, work on a character's scene or monologue until you feel you've nailed the role, and then watch the movie to see how the actor did it. "It's like training with Michael Jordan in basketball," he says. "Go train with De Niro. Make your choices, and then watch Bob show you how to do it right. It's a real eye opener. The thing you'll learn is to not follow the words so closely. The words are not always the indication of the character. A lot of time, actors look at the words as clues as to who the character is and how the line should be said. But it's not always a direct link. If [casting directors] are going to audition 100 people for a role, the majority of the actors are going to use the words as indicators. Be different. Go another route. Take the dance somewhere unique. If nothing else, you'll stick in their mind."


- Raised in Sudbury, Mass.
- Other films include "Cellular," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," and "The Losers"
- In the final stages of auditions for "Not Another Teen Movie," the director brought Evans and co-star Chyler Leigh to Jennifer Coolidge's house to workshop their scenes: "[Coolidge] was so clever, funny, smart, and awesome. I felt so lucky."
- On returning to the theater: "The stage, in my opinion, has the best actors. I'd love to get back to the stage, but it's a big commitment. You've got to find something you really want to do everyday for months and months. It's tricky."
- Also starring opposite Anna Faris in the comedy "What's Your Number?," opening Sept. 30.