As Captain America, Chris Evans transforms from a patriotic weakling to a Nazi-whupping weapon of mass destruction. Here, in a debauched adventure with our writer, he shows us how to go into the night, and just maybe take over the world
By Edith Zimmerman
Photographs by Mario Testino
"chris evans pecs. how do they FEEL? like smooth stone from the souvenir shop?"
Photographs by Mario Testino
"chris evans pecs. how do they FEEL? like smooth stone from the souvenir shop?"
…is the instant message that pops up on my computer one Monday morning in April. My friend Kyle follows it up with a link to the gossip pages of the New York Daily News: I am being described as the "mystery maiden" Evans introduced to his mother at a premiere party; we held hands, the paper is reporting, "in a flirty manner," and he even placed "one of them on his chest." Oh.
When I started working on this profile, I decided on a "say yes to everything, try to be cool" approach, with the idea that maybe I'd capture something real about the star of Captain America: The First Avenger—or as "real" as could be hoped for/faked in the time we had together. But in the days since my first interview with Chris Evans, I'd drunk myself under the table, snuck out of his house at five thirty in the morning, bummed a ride home off a transsexual, been teased mercilessly in front of his mother, and now—this bit in the paper.
I don't remember touching his chest, which is too bad.
Let me start with our official interview, which was a little bit professional and somewhat dignified. Chris Evans arrived on time at Sonny McLean's, an Irish pub in Santa Monica chosen for no real reason other than we're both from Boston, and Boston has lots of Irish bars. He showed up in aviators, a red T-shirt, and a backward baseball cap pulled down to his eyebrows. "How aggressive can I be?" Chris grinned. "Shots?" It turned out the bar was beer-and-wine-only, though, so he got a Sam Adams in a liter-sized stein that he said made him "feel like a Viking." I got the first of many white wines.
That night was his last "normal" Saturday night in Los Angeles. Normal in the sense that in a few days he was fliying to Albuquerque for preproduction work on The Avengers (in which Evans will join a superhero supergroup that includes Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk). And normal in the sense that he was about to go from being halfway famous but able to walk his bulldog in peace to being a household name—or if not an entire-household name, then at least a household's-teenage-sons name. He was having a good-bye party later on and spent the interview working himself up for the festivities.
Chris Evans is 30 years old and handsome in a familiar way—sort of like if the best-looking guy you went to high school with took really good care of himself after graduation. His teeth aren't off-puttingly white; his clothes aren't particularly stylish. His face is a lot friendlier, toothier, smileyer in person than it is in, say, the smoldery/serious billboards of him and Evan Rachel Wood for Gucci's new Guilty fragrance. Also, and his mother will kill me for saying this, but although on-screen he's titanic, in person he's a normal six feet and takes up a normal-human amount of space. His mom, Lisa, who has a weakness for skimming Internet message boards, said, "Somebody wrote on IMDb that he looked short! And I was like, 'He was standing next to [Thor star] Chris Hemsworth—of course he looked short! Shaquille O'Neal would look short!' Sometimes I get worked up, because I don't want anybody to say anything bad about my child, so I'll call him and say, 'Somebody said you look short!' and he'll say, 'Mom, you've gotta stop that, you've gotta stop.' So I've pretty much stopped." Chris, later, laughing: "She hasn't stopped shit!"
Since we're both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He's an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn't know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender's professional fliirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.
Is this the part of a celebrity profile where I go into how blue the star's eyes are? Because they are very blue.
We both drank too much and said too much. I never opened the notebook of questions I had brought with me.
"I don't know a lot of Ediths," he said.
"You probably thought I was gonna be a thousand years old."
"Yeah, I heard 'Edith' and I thought she was going to be like siiixty."
I couldn't quite figure out if he was a goofy, warm, regular dude or just playing the character of goofy, warm, regular dude in order to charm a female reporter. At one point (and I don't know if this proves the real-Chris or the pretend-Chris theory), he did utter the sentence: "I always say that the times in my life when I've been happiest are the times when I've seen, like, a sunset—"
"Wait." Seriously? " 'The times in my life when I've been happiest are when I've seen, like, a sunset.' "
"That's gonna be the main quote."
"The point is that when I see a sunset or a waterfall or something, for a split second it's so great, because for a little bit I'm out of my brain, and it's got nothing to do with me. I'm not trying to figure it out, you know what I mean? And I wonder if I can somehow find a way to maintain that mind stillness."
"That's what alcohol is for, right?" I said, which was too cute and too prescient.
"Boom." He high-fived me. It's hard to say which he did more: high-five when he was pleased about a joke of his or mine, or make jerk-off gestures when he was sick of hearing himself talk.
At the bar, we did manage to chat about how he went from doing PSAs in Boston to becoming a Hollywood action star. Evans's mother runs the Concord Youth Theatre outside Boston, where he and his three siblings first performed. (His brother, Scott, who's 27 and also an actor, is probably best known for his role as a gay cop on One Life to Live.) Chris is "kind of a big dork," his mother told me. "At 30 he still knows all the words to songs from The Little Mermaid."
Through the children's theater he landed local commercials, and by the time high school was over, he decided to take a year off to see if he could make it as an actor. So he moved to New York, then L.A., and…made it as an actor. He landed his first major role at 20 in Not Another Teen Movie, followed by starring turns in the not tremendously well-received films The Perfect Score and Cellular. He gained tabloid attention for his many-year relationship with Jessica Biel, fanboy attention in Fantastic Four, critical attention in Danny Boyle's Sunshine, and some cool-kid attention in last year's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His character in that, one of the Evil Ex-Boyfriends whom Michael Cera defeats to win his indie girl's heart, is all comically arched eyebrows and smarmy, over-the-top sneering.
"The eyebrows," he said, with his faint Boston accent. "The character's supposed to be this horrible actor and a douchebag, and I get the job and so many people were like, 'You're perfect, you're gonna crush it!' " he continued with feigned anger. "I was like, So I got this role as an asshole actor, and you guys think I nailed it? That I'm a natural and that nobody in town can do it better?" That's his favorite movie he's done: "It's really funny. And I love Michael Cera. I really do. I like that kid."
Captain America calls for a different kind of cartoonishness—a wholesome, almost painful sincerity. "That's the kind of thing that can get really melodramatic and overearnest if you're not careful," says the director, Joe Johnston. "But Chris handled it perfectly, shading it just right, translating the comic character into fliesh and blood." Chris plays Steve Rogers, who starts out too scrawny to join the army. At the Marvel Studios HQ in Manhattan Beach, a producer showed me how they used CGI either to hollow out and taper down Chris's face before "pasting" it onto the body of a much smaller man or, using the same effect, to shrink his entire body, thereby taking him from six feet, 180 pounds, to five feet seven, 120 pounds. The pint-size patriot volunteers for an ultrasecret military-science project, and the Steve Rogers who emerges from the experimental pod is a gleaming, massive, and CGI-free Chris Evans. "His shoulders, his chest—it's all him," says Marvel Studios president and Captain America producer Kevin Feige. "He has a comic-book physique."
I don't know what Chris's exercise regimen is, because it's one of the many things I forgot to ask him.
The way he landed the role was its own mini-drama on fan sites and movie blogs. "After the first or second round of official screen tests, my team and I went back and put our hands on our heads and said, 'Let's look at the list again. Who have we missed?' " Feige says. "And I saw Chris's picture. There's something about Chris. Why don't we bring him in?" So they did, and they loved him, but Evans wasn't sure, and they went back and forth for weeks before he finally accepted. How'd they ultimately persuade him to take the role?
"Well, they didn't," Evans said over our drinks at the Irish pub. "I said no a bunch, and every time I said no, I woke up the next morning so happy and content. I kept saying no; they kept coming back. And eventually I was like, 'You know what? This is your biggest fear—this is exactly what you have to do.' " He took a sip of beer from his gigantic glass. "But we'll see. I could be singing a different tune in six months. It's easy to say all this pretentious shit now." He grinned and made a jerk-off gesture. "The problem is, if the movie's bad, that's one set of problems. If the movie's great, here come the sequels, here come the fuckin'…" he said, catching himself before complaining about—what? The action toys? The paparazzi? The attention? "Let's maintain a healthy amount of respect for what we're talking about here," he continued. "This is why I hate myself in interviews. All of a sudden, you stop and you're like, 'Chris, how dare you?' I don't live in Darfur. I have both legs."
"But you can't walk around all the time being like, 'I'm so grateful I'm not in Darfur.' "
"But why?" he asked.
"Because you can't," I said.
And then I wondered whether this whole conversation was a kind of test for him, to see if he could be both the regular dude from Boston and the famous movie star from Captain America at the same time, to do all the goony things he'd do if there weren't a recording device between us on the table, and trust that his actual normal self would be enough to accurately and appropriately fill a celebrity profile. But he still seemed worried that I'd make him look like an asshole. I explained that even if he were the worst idiot, I probably wasn't allowed to portray GQ's cover boy that way. "What if I said I hate Asians?" he countered. "Joking. Joking. That's the quote: 'Chris Evans hates Asians.' "
I reassured him he had nothing to worry about.
"Is it going well?" he asked.
"It's going really well," I said.
"You're nailing it."
"You're nailing it also," he said. "I'm going to write an article about you."
"I'm not a smoker," he said, an hour or two into our interview, "and I don't have any cigarettes. But I've had this forty-ounce beer.…" When he returned with yet another round—a massive stein in one of his large Captain America hands, my incongruous white wine in the other—he'd bummed a smoke off somebody at the bar.
And although no, I don't smoke, yes, I absolutely would join him outside, and can I actually have a drag? Maybe they make cigarettes differently in L.A., but when you share one with a movie star they're amazing. Everyone should try it.
Despite his publicist specifically telling him not to, he invited me to come to his going-away party. "My poor publicist," he said. "She knows I like to drink. She was like, 'Please don't drink too much, please just don't drink too much—you're gonna take this person out, and they're going to ruin you.' "
We were heading our separate ways for dinner first. I said I was going to call a cab, but Chris laughed and insisted on his driver taking me back to my hotel. In the vast backseat, Chris was even more fliirtatious than before, touching my arm and my knee. At this point, which was a…number of drinks in, it was easy to forget that it really was an interview, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind that something might happen (and that we'd go to the Oscars and get married and have babies forever until we died?). But there was always the question of how much of it was truly Chris Evans, and whom I should pretend to be in response.
So I pulled back, decided "good reporter" was a smart one to try for at least a few minutes, and burned through the easy questions I had forgotten to ask him in the bar. Would he raise his family in Boston? "Absofuckinglutely." (He's just bought an apartment there.) What's his favorite kind of music? "Classic rock." What was his favorite radio station growing up? "I was a big—" And before he could finish, I said: "JAM'N 94.5?!" (That's the area's hip-hop station, and my favorite, so I was hoping…)
"BALTAZAR AND PEBBLES!" he said instantly in a perfect—perfect—imitation of the station's late-'90s morning deejays. You had to be there, I guess, and you also had to be from Boston and familiar with its radio stations. But still!
A few hours later, I went to Voyeur. The club was dark, it was loud, partially naked ladies in storm-trooper helmets were dancing on a raised stage and waving colorful lances, and perfect-looking people of indeterminate age were lounging around looking bored. I couldn't find him, so I went up to a bartender and said, with what I thought was a "serious" facial expression and which I'm so glad I'll never have to see, "Um, I'm a writer profiling a celebrity who's at this club, and I'm looking for him? Have you seen, um, Chris…Evans? Is there like…a VIP section?" In my mind, apparently, West Hollywood club employees received automatic updates of which celebrities are where when. Anyway, she had no idea and also didn't give a shit.
I wandered around in the loudness and the spinning lights until Chris squeezed out of the crowd. He'd changed out of his red T-shirt into an identical white one, although his black cap was still pulled low on his head. He gave me a big kiss on the cheek and brought me back to the table. His closest friends are from high school, or are people he met in L.A. when he first came out here ten years ago and who have since left the entertainment industry. I sat on the back of a couch and had a smile/nod-off with one of his female friends and her boyfriend. The next couple of hours were spent like that. There was some more yelling of minimal exchanges with Chris's friends. "I'M FROM NEW YORK." "NEW YORK?" "NO—NEW YORK." There were intermittent visits from Chris for enthusiastic hand holding and cheek kissing, which by then seemed less like fliirting than an alcohol-exaggerated but instinctual need to make sure people never looked bored and were always taken care of and never sitting by themselves.
Unfortunately for me, it was all downhill from there.
Five days later, in New York, Chris Evans is embarrassing me in front of his mother. "Edith was hammered!" he says. "Hammered!" His friends, family, and I are all piled into a monster SUV, en route from the premiere party for his upcoming lawyer-drama Puncture to its afterparty on the Lower East Side. He has traded in his uniform of baseball cap and T-shirt for movie-star attire of smart blue suit and slim tie, and I'm wedged between him and his high school buddy Zach in the backseat. Even in the car's bright overhead light and after hours of drinking and schmoozing, Evans's skin looks fresh and clear, his blue eyes bright and lively. "Nooo," I say. "Oh, but you were!" he insists. "Please, please don't," I plead, closing my eyes. But he does and, loudly enough for the entire car to hear, proceeds to tell the humiliating story of what happened after the club.
Up until half an hour earlier, I hadn't actually known what did happen. In fact, I had spent the week practicing breezy and reportorial-sounding questions like "For fact-checking purposes, can you give me like a one-or-two-sentence recap of what we did after the club last Saturday?" Except when I finally found myself alone with him in his reserved booth, what came out was more along the lines of: "Oh my God I was such a mess whaaat even happened whyyy am I always so drunk?"
He laughed. "You don't remember?"
(It was around then that we were spotted by the gossip reporter that I didn't know was a gossip reporter, or else I wouldn't have explained to him on the way back from the bathroom that Chris was "soo fliirty" and that I had "the biggest crush on him." Haha. Oops!)
So the story of my lost Saturday night, which Chris first told me alone and then to the whole packed car: After the club, he and his friends and I went back to his house. And here is where I'd describe his house, except…I don't really remember any of it. It was definitely…clean. And spacious. But cozy, not too stylish. There were things on the walls. Framed stuff. Pictures. There were…carpets? I'm sorry. I sincerely wish I remembered this better. It definitely had a pool table, because at some point there was a "jump over the pool table" contest, not that I have any recollection of what that entailed. In the car, Chris is enjoying explaining to everyone that at some point I decided to crawl out a window and wander off into the night. "So then my buddy's like, 'I think your friend is having some trouble,' " Chris says, "and I look over, and there's Edith in the gutter!" (Not lying in the gutter. This I remember. Sitting on the curb, trying and failing to call a cab.)
So he corralled me back to his house, put me in a guest bedroom to sleep it all off, and told me he'd drive me home in the morning. In the span of ten hours, we'd fast-forwarded from complete strangers to people who let each other pass out in their houses—except, again, he couldn't really kick me out, because then I'd say, "Chris Evans kicked me out of his house" here in the piece. We were friends, in other words, but not quite. When I awoke at 5:30 a.m., I slipped quietly out the front door, Googling "cabs la," "taxis los angeles," "help me california," on my phone. I was still kind of drunk and had no idea where I was, but there was something peaceful about the heavy, fliowery air and the fog and the birds chirping and my heels clicking. No cab companies answered, and no cabs came by. But eventually a very pretty, blonde, possibly Asian transsexual and her much younger male friend pulled up to make sure I was okay and, instead of raping and murdering me, were very sweet and drove me back to my hotel.
In the SUV, Chris says that crawling out windows is something he could see himself doing. His mom calls over her shoulder from the front seat that it's my "initiation."
At the afterparty at the Thompson LES hotel, Chris tells me I should come watch them shoot some extra Captain America footage in Times Square in a few days. I get the sense that this will never happen, and indeed it doesn't. He's moving from group to group, laughing, toasting, making small talk, and perpetually returning to me for…I don't know what. He's still fliirting, but if it's manipulative, it isn't insincere, and it's almost come full circle, from feeling genuine to feeling calculated to feeling sort of familiar and comfortable—although it's still a little weird to consider what's been real and what hasn't. But after a certain hour of the night and the whateverth glass of vodka-and-cranberry from the bottle-service bucket, I'm too tired to keep up with him or to figure out what the game is or has been. We hug, and I go.
"Don't be a stranger," he texts the next day. And so we became Facebook friends.
One other thing I should mention about Chris Evans: He is the greatest person I've ever met in my life, which is what I told him I'd say in this article if he gave me back the leather jacket I accidentally left at his house, and he did.