Look quickly at Chris Evans and you’re bound to see him as a pretty-boy actor, one of those open faces that would seem more suited to an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog or a fraternity kegger than a nuanced drama. Look quickly at the roles he’s chosen, like in “Fantastic Four” or “Not Another Teen Movie” or “The Perfect Score,” and you’re bound to think of him as silly and lightweight, a hotshot who, as Human Torch/ Johnny Storm, actually plays, well, the consummate hotshot.
Look quickly at Chris Evans, however, and you’re bound to miss the most important thing about him — this boy can act.
“Well, he’s a superb actor, and I’m not saying that just ’cause he’s in my film. I think he’s brilliant,” director Danny Boyle said of the 26-year-old actor, whom he cast in the sci-fi epic “Sunshine.” “He’s a very talented guy, a thoroughbred really. He’s a bit of a Mary Poppins — he can pull anything out of the bag.”
“Anything,” of course, isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when thinking of Evans’ most popular roles (which actually are pretty much his only roles — the “Cellular” star has only appeared in 10 films). To the casual observer, his characters tend to be more similar than not — so similar, in fact, that it’s tough to look at his filmography and not wonder if Evans isn’t just playing some amplified version of himself.
Not so, said Boyle, who cited a lack of opportunity — not skill — for the misperceptions about Evans’ talent.
“The casting director [for ’Sunshine’] said, ’You should meet this guy, he’s underestimated by people.’ He came in the room [and was] superb. I cast him and that was it,” the director recalled. “I hope he can get stuff that shows his talent ’cause he’s really very special.”
For Evans, “Sunshine” was that special opportunity, a chance to show a different side of himself while simultaneously working for one of his favorite directors: “Two birds with one stone,” he said (see “Danny Boyle’s Space Odyssey, By Kurt Loder” ).
“At the end of the day us actors are here to make good movies — that’s what I love about this business. [But] if you don’t have a good director you won’t have a really good movie,” Evans said. “So if you’ve got a good director inviting you to work for him, you jump at that opportunity. And that’s what Danny offered me.”
Working for Boyle offered benefits beyond making a good movie, however, strengthening Evans’ belief that in order to be a successful actor you have to “check your ego at the door,” he said.
“A lot of times as an actor you are experimenting, you’re trying things and you need an anchor. If you’re trying something and you’re getting off the path, you need your director to come in and reel you in. [You need to tell him,] ’I trust your internal barometer of what’s good and what’s bad and it’s going to protect me,’ ” Evans revealed of his process. “Danny could have said, ’Try the next take in Spanish,’ and I would have said, ’All right.’ ”
Johnny Storm no more (at least until producers call for a threequel), Evans will soon take that lesson into more eclectic fare, from playing the dimwitted lead in “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, to a cop alongside Forest Whitaker in James Ellroy’s “The Night Watchmen” to an Iraq War veteran in “Under the Blue Sky.”
It’s a mix that pleases Evans, he said, smiling broadly. “I like to go see movies that are dramatic. I like to get internal when I watch films. I like to cry when I watch movies. I like being emotional,” he divulged. “The truth is, I like acting, period.”
Do yourself a favor — look closer.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Sunshine.”
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