Tour of Duty: Journey back through each Marvel film that defined Captain America
It was September 2010, and we were on the set of the first Captain America movie, standing in a makeshift dressing room in the basement of an apartment building in Liverpool, England. The street outside was doubling for 1940s-era Brooklyn, and Evans was about to chase down a Hydra spy’s car in his bare feet, running so fast he loses control and crashes through the window of Audrey’s Bridalwear.
Except it’s not possible to shoot take after take of that shoeless pursuit down the pavement without shredding your soles. “You don’t want to do this without having your feet attached,” Evans said, cheerfully pulling on a pair of flesh-colored rubber stockings with sculpted toes.
With Avengers: Endgame promising a conclusion to Captain America’s journey, it seems worthwhile to revisit all of Entertainment Weekly’s set visits to the Marvel films that featured the red, white, and blue hero.
Each time, Evans found fresh elements of Steve Rogers’ heart and soul to explore.
The character arrived on screen in summer 2011, appropriately, as an anachronism. His earnest wholesomeness and self-sacrifice were a contrast to brutal superheroes with borderline morality, like Christian Bale’s Batman or Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, or the snarky and ironic ones, like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, or… even Evans’ own wisecracking firebrand Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films.
“My bread and butter has certainly been trying to crack a joke or be witty or sharp,” Evans said while preparing for his “barefoot” scene. “This guy’s not that.
“It sounds like kind of a broad statement, but he’s just a good man,” Evans went on. “His depth of moral character, his honesty, his integrity, his bravery. He’s just a good person. He doesn’t do it for praise. He doesn’t do it for some type of karmic repercussion. He just does it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Even the actor’s friends didn’t get it when he tried to explain Cap.
“I was talking to one of my very good friends back in Boston last week,” Evans said. “We started talking about the script and she made some comment about joking. I said, ‘Look, he’s not a jokester. I’m not cracking jokes in this movie.’ She’s like, ‘So, he’s boring?’ I was like, ‘No! God, no.’”
Evans shook his head. “If it comes out boring, I’ve really missed the mark,” he said. “He’s not boring. He’s real.”
Except for the feet. Those were atrociously fake (not that anyone could tell when he was running).
What the actor tried to build within Steve Rogers — that was real.
“I’m kind of basing him off a buddy of mine,” he said. “I have a friend who’s just… he has this great moral code. It’s shocking. He’s an Eagle Scout. I don’t know if you know what an Eagle Scout is —”
It’s a Boy Scout, top tier.
“One who did it waaaay too long,” Evans said with a laugh. “We went to an Eagle Scout thing when we were like 18 and I was like, ‘I can’t believe Charlie is still f—ing doing this sh—.’ He’s literally a Boy Scout. He’s incredibly resourceful, and obviously he can build a fire. If you’re going to get lost with anyone, get lost with Charlie. He doesn’t even like telling little white lies. You know what I mean? He just feels better.”
So… why was Evans friends with someone like that?
“I don’t know, man! I don’t know!” Evans said. “It’s so funny. As you get older, you start realizing who’s going to be my friend for the second chapter of life and who’s the friend that you’re like, ‘Yeah. We were buddies in high school, but it’s not fun to do some of the things we used to do anymore.’
“You look at Charlie and you’re like, man, this is going to be a friend for life. This is my friend into my adulthood. This is a friend where I’m just proud I know him. I’m glad that he exists.”
When you look at the deep connection fans have with this character, it’s clear a lot of people feel the same way about Steve Rogers.
The Avengers — May 2011
It was the epic first team-up of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Production codename: Group Hug. Secrecy abounded.
Here’s how EW began the interview: I don’t want to spoil things, but can you…
Here’s how Evans replied: “Iron Man dies.”
His alter ego Steve Rogers wasn’t in a joking mood. Just a few months had passed since the actor first played the super-soldier, but nearly 70 years had gone by in Cap’s chronology, most of them spent in a frozen tomb.
Revived in the present day for this unprecedented team-up movie, the superhero is alone, despite being surrounded by new friends — an icy ex-Russian agent, a jerk in an iron suit, an imperious thunder god, a big green rageaholic. In The Avengers, Rogers had to find a way (and a reason) to survive in the modern world.
“It’s enough of a shock to accept the fact that you’re in a completely different time, but everybody you know is dead. Everybody you cared about,” Evans said. “He was a soldier, obviously, and everybody he went to battle with, all of his brothers in arms, they’re all dead. He’s just lonely. Who does he have in the world? Nobody.”
Evans spoke to EW during a break between shots on the New York battle sequence when Cap, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) rush to the rescue of a fallen Iron Man (better known as the “There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here” scene).
Evans admitted that even he was worried about Steve when he first read director Joss Whedon’s script. He wanted that wholesomeness from the previous film to endure.
“You start out seeing this guy with a bit of a darker edge, and you really hope — at least I hoped when I started reading it — that we don’t lose who this guy is,” the actor said. “Certainly moping and pouting and feeling sorry for yourself is not a Captain America trait.”
Still, there were some real-world worries. At that point in the production, the first Captain America was still more than two months away from release, and it was anyone’s guess how the character would be received.
“It’s tricky to try to think about that right now,” Evans said. “There’s a lot coming up with Cap, so I’m just trying to wait and ride that wave and see what happens there. It could be good, could be disastrous. We’ll just wait and see.”
In the meantime, Evans was making some meaningful new connections along with his character.
At the start of that movie, most of the Avengers were strangers to him.
“I knew Scarlett,” Evans said. “Scarlett and I have worked together a few times now, I think this is our third film. Hemsworth I had met as a result of this. We all met briefly at Comic-Con when it was announced, but that was the first time that I had met Sam and Downey and Ruffalo. I didn’t know any of those guys. Renner. We’re all kind of new buddies, but it’s been great.”
Except for Ruffalo.
“Yeah, what a dick!” Evans said, punctuated by a loud laugh. (Ruffalo was in a nearby corner, dressed in his motion-capture suit and working himself up for the next scene. Evans said it loud enough for him to hear, but he didn’t even notice.)
“No, I love him, man. He’s something else,” Evans said. “The more I hang out with him, the more I think he’s probably the greatest father in the world. He’s got such an active imagination. He just plays. It’s what makes him a great actor, I’m sure. He’s very willing to drop into the moment, he’s very willing to stay present and make a fool of himself. He’s just a good guy, a lot of positive energy coming off of him.”
Filming in New Mexico improved the bond among the cast. “Any time you film somewhere where nobody is from, you’re forced to hang out together off set,” he said. “No one knows anybody, no one has any prior obligations out here.”
Is it important to build that camaraderie?
“Certainly, if you’re going to be together for as much as we will,” Evans said. “This isn’t just an individual movie; this comes with strings attached.”
He shrugged. “If it does well we could be doing a bunch more of these.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier — August 2013
Cap was drenched. He was sweating through his red, white, and blue armor.
The film crew was sprawled throughout a Long Beach, Calif., parking lot usually packed end to end with shipping containers. The shipping containers were still there, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo had them stacked like enormous building blocks and curtained with green screen so the lot could double as the deck of a Helicarrier hovering over Washington, D.C.
Cap has been broiling in the sun while pulverizing a squad of rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. They barely lay a glove on him, but when it’s done, Evans is the one who feels like he got his ass kicked.
The actor often talks about the interior life of Steve Rogers, the things that define his mind and his heart. On this day, it was about the physical punishment of playing the character.
“Oh my God! I’ve honestly never in my life worked as hard on anything as I have on this,” Evans said, peeling off the cowl in his trailer. “You just get hurt. You get whacked! I mean this thing…?” He tugged on the suit. “Just stinks. I put it on every morning and I’m, like, ‘Oh my God — I’m just putting on a locker room every day.’”
All the wardrobe department could do is douse it in anti-bacterial disinfectant. “They spray with this stuff— but I mean, they can’t throw it in a washing machine,” Evans said, sniffing and wrinkling his face.
“The hardest thing about this movie is keeping the weight on,” he added, revealing a secret about Steve Rogers: All the scenes of him looking ripped and toned are shot first. Otherwise, the physical demands of the action sequences make force your body to nourish itself on muscle. You start to wither.
“Three months leading in, you get this training regimen,” Evans said. “You try and get as big as you possibly can. There’s a couple scenes in the movie where I’m in either tight T-shirts or tank tops or stuff like that— you wanna make sure you got the size. Then they save the big, big action sequences for the last month or so. You’re just busting your ass all day, shedding weight, and you take this thing off and you’re like, ‘Ugh, I think I’m like eight pounds lighter.’”
Evans had just gotten back from San Diego Comic-Con the week before, and he was worried about his look. “I wondered if people think I’m too skinny right now?”
As The Winter Soldier starts, Cap has become a S.H.I.E.L.D. commando, but as new revelations about that organization reveal it’s not the safeguard he thinks, he finds himself questioning his allegiance to authority.
“S.H.I.E.L.D. is coming out to essentially spy on people, and Cap kinda feels like, ‘I thought the punishment came after the crime,’” Evans said.
Captain America is no longer so alone, having forged a new bond with fellow serviceman Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). And he has also rediscovered his long-lost brother-in-arms Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has become his enemy as the brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
Steve still carries a flame for Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, but at this point in his story she’s an elderly woman with dementia. He missed that dance at the Stork Club, and there’s seemingly no going back.
Even then, Evans knew there were more Captain America stories ahead, but at Comic-Con he was still caught off guard by the announcements.
“I made a complete fool of myself,” he said. “We’re doing the press line and I get to one of these interviews and they were like, ‘So! Age of Ultron!’ There’s literally video of me going, ‘Who’s Ultron?’”
The actor ran a hand over his face. “I kind of gave Marvel a little bit of grief. I said, ‘Look, guys. I’m all for the secrecy, but you can’t leave me hanging out to dry.’”
Avengers: Age of Ultron — May 2014
Who’s Ultron? He’s the artificial-intelligence program designed by Tony Stark to save humanity, who instead has decided to wipe us off the face of the planet. Ultron (played by James Spader) sees only ugliness in humanity. He’s basically the opposite of Cap.
In this film, Steve Rogers finally finds his comfort zone. “He’s searching for where he fits,” Evans said during a break in shooting on a stage at Pinewood Studios outside London, where they were shooting the scene in which a rogue robot crashes an after-party in Iron Man’s penthouse.
“[Cap] has always blindly thrown himself into where he’s needed, but now there’s no more S.H.I.E.L.D. and no one left to work for, and he has no family outside of these other soldiers that he’s fought with from the Avengers,” Evans said. ”In a weird way, the Avengers have become home for him.”
Most soldiers eventually crave an escape from the fight, a homecoming. Cap almost doesn’t. “Oddly enough,” Evans said, “that’s all he knows.”
And he means… that’s all he knows. This was when Evans began some now-notorious speculation about Steve Rogers’ love life (or absence of one).
“It’s funny when you think about it, he’s probably a virgin,” Evans said, breaking into a laugh. “He’s probably a virgin. I don’t know when it would’ve happened!”
Well, he was on that USO tour in the first Captain America.
“He was on tour. That’s true,” Evans agreed. “Maybe one of those [dancing] girls blew his mind. [Laughs] He’s probably just a good guy. He was probably holding out for Peggy Carter and he’s a little more old-fashioned in that sense.… He’s a very human guy. That’s why I like him.”
The actor also expressed some frustration. He wanted to muddy Steve’s clear conscience.
“Cap puts what he wants last,” Evans said. “For so long, he just refuses to bleed on people. So it’s hard to explore a guy who doesn’t want to make waves with his own personal conflict. That’s why it’s kind of exciting to look forward to Cap 3. I think we really scratched the surface on something great.”
Captain America: Civil War — July 2015
This movie did it to Steve Rogers again. Just as he found a place to belong, it was taken from him.
“In most of the movies, there’s no question of who we should be siding with — we all agree Nazis are bad, aliens from space are bad,” Evans explained. “But… I don’t think [Steve] has ever been so uncertain with what right and wrong is.”
In this film his aged love Peggy Carter finally passes away, and his found family of Avengers is shattered as the heroes turn on each other over whether the governments of the world should control the superpowered.
Cap also turns against Iron Man over whether Bucky Barnes, now free from the mind control that made him the Winter Soldier, should be held responsible for the crimes he committed against his own will.
Obviously, Evans was Team Cap all the way.
“Had Bucky not been brainwashed he’d be doing the same thing Cap is doing, taking orders from S.H.I.E.L.D. and fighting for the country, and then he realized S.H.I.E.L.D. was corrupt,” the actor said, in between shots of him and Mackie’s Falcon having their shield and wings confiscated by the governmental group enforcing the Sokovia Accords. “But Bucky’s a different situation. He obviously couldn’t make these choices.”
Friendships matter to Cap, and to Evans. (When the movie came out, he told EW he was still good friends with Charlie, the friend who inspired the pure-hearted portrayal.)
The whole point of Civil War was to test the audience’s loyalty, pitting two heroes against each other. “There’s really no wrong answer here, and it’s just a matter of who we are as men — you know, Tony Stark and myself, in terms of which side of the aisle we come down on,” Evans said.
The change now is: Cap isn’t marching anymore. He’s not following orders. He’s following his own compass.
“Steve has always been of the people, for the people,” Evans said. “He’s very democratic, he wants to hear all points of views, but there are times where if you just believe wholeheartedly in something.”
Rogers believes so strongly that he’s right that he throws away everything else. The story ends with him no longer a hero, but a fugitive.
It would take something major to bring the Avengers back together again. Something cataclysmic.
Avengers: Infinity War — July 2017
Thanos, the Mad Titan, fueled by contempt for an overcrowded universe, seeks to wipe out half of all beings by gathering the space-, time-, and reality-warping Infinity Stones. This is not the occasion for good guys to fight among themselves. A much bigger threat looms.
One bright spot is Cap gets to hang with Thor again.
The two Chrises — Evans and Hemsworth — were shooting their reunion on the fields of Wakanda when EW visited. The two actors were workshopping their exchange amid the ferocious alien army of Thanos.
“I’ll be like, ‘Short hair now? Good choice,’” Evans said, while miming a right hook against an invisible Outrider creature.
“And I’ll go, ‘Yours, too. The beard. Very rugged,’” Hemsworth says. They head out in front of the cameras to shoot, but before they can complete their takes, lightning crackles nearby and a thunderstorm sweeps over the horse field outside of Atlanta that’s standing in for the savanna of Wakanda.
It was harder than ever for Evans to talk about Steve Rogers’ arc this time, maybe because it was drawing to a close. Both he and Johansson admitted they didn’t even see a whole script.
“I was like, I don’t want to see pages! I just want to see the whole thing,” she said.
Evans explained, “We had to fight to get an actual paper script. There were giving us either pages or bits on an iPad. It’s been tricky.”
Also, the aggressive plot meant there wasn’t much time for backstory or new personal exploration. Still, Evans was trying to find unexplored dimensions for the character.
“I think Steve is a little newly calloused in the ways of the world,” Evans said. “Steve’s a bit more hardened now because he’s seen more, he’s learned more.”
But there was never any question: Steve Rogers would put aside the grudges and return to battle.
Evans said that after all these story arcs, Steve Rogers has finally suffered “a disruption of a belief system. I think what’s left is the only thing you can trust: friendship.”
Throughout his stories, Captain America has always fought for the people he cares about.
Avengers: Endgame will show us if that fight can ever bring him peace.
This article appears in Entertainment Weekly’s new Avengers: Endgame issue, on stands Friday. You can buy all six covers, or purchase your individual favorites: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, and Ronin. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.