Was that guy playing Mace, the slightly gruff, grouchy engineer in Sunshine really the preppy jock type playing the romantic comedy lead in Not Another Teen Movie? Drew Turney gets to the bottom of the Chris Evans enigma.
Somewhere between 2001 and early 2007, Evans found time to star in uninspiring high school comedy The Perfect Score and the tightly wound, high concept thriller Cellular. And a little superhero movie you might have heard something about from a couple of years back, called Fantastic Four.
This week he reprises his role as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four; Rise of the Silver Surfer, but the question is, where is Chris Evans headed next?
“I love that movie and was so pleased to be a part of that project,” Evans says of the role of the headstrong engineer of the Icarus II in Sunshine, Danny Boyle’s follow up to the 2003 zombie smash 28 Days Later. “It’s so nice — not just the final product but the process. There was two months of rehearsal time and very in-depth preparation, from going to see films and going to lectures to taking classes in scuba diving and riding in a zero gravity plane. There was so much homework to be done — which I feel is necessary for any good film — and it was just such a nice process.”
Director Boyle took Evans and his co-stars through a rigorous boot camp-style preparation process where they ate, slept and lived in a student dorm to prepare them for the rigours and stresses of the Icarus II’s close confines — preparation that shows. Front and centre during the pre-production, rehearsals and shooting, Sunshine would have been a very different beast to Fantastic Four. We’ve all heard how slow moving the shoot of a big budget blockbuster can be — waiting around for hours for cues while sets are moved, expansive shots are set up and the director deals with a million details besides just his coddled stars.
Was it hard to act in such an extravaganza by comparison — boring, even? “Yeah, it feels a bit more tedious,” Evans says. “There wasn’t as much rehearsal time for one thing, you just dive right in and give it a shot. Sunshine felt much more like a project of passion.”
Which brings us to the topic of character. Johnny Storm is the same fratboy party guy you’ve seen in a million teen comedies, slasher films and fish out of water thrillers. With his charm and pin-up looks, Evans must have been able to coast. As Sunshine’s Mace, it looked like a very different headspace for the performer.
“Johnny’s a bit more available,” Evans confirms, “he’s a happy guy, he’s in a good mood. Everyone at some time in their day is just in a good mood — there’s some part of your day where you just feel great and Johnny lives in that moment all the time. So it’s a lot of laughs and a lot of smiles and it’s easy to funnel in what’s happening around you through that kind of filter.
“Mace is a bit more internal. He’s more complicated but he doesn’t always choose to express himself. He doesn’t mince words and he bites his tongue. It’s kind of a lot of contradictions that just adds more layers and you feel like you’ve definitely worked as an actor.”
Speaking of performance, it’s a quality sadly lacking in most midyear event movie fare. Any star worth his or her salt must know they’re there to look cute and give the CGI guys a frame of reference. Can Evans indeed coast through a role like Johnny Storm? “That’s dangerous and risky because if don’t try too hard I think you’ll see it in the final product and be unhappy,” he thinks. “This is not only permanent, it’s your job. If you’re not going to put 100 percent into it, it really isn’t worth doing.”
Ironically, you can see Evans giving the role of Johnny his all. Does he really think the project calls for it or is he — like many actors — a natural show off? “I guess showing off could make sense if you mean being able to expose yourself. It’s being able to be vulnerable, it’s being able to shut off your third eye and recognise that you’re about to make a fool out of yourself in front of 30 strangers and they’re all right next to you so you have to check your ego at the door. In a sense I can relate that to showing off, so in a way that’s accurate.”
And if exposing vulnerabilities dramatically is an actor’s stock in trade, it’s something we might see more of from him in the future. After rising through the ranks of pretty-face-for-hire, Sunshine marked a departure for Evans, one he’s keen to pursue further.
“[Sunshine was] not only a personal favourite of mine as far as genres go but at this point I’m not focusing on the genre so much as focusing on the director,” he says in talking about his keenness not only for more dramatic roles but the chance to write and direct. “I’m interested in making good movies and I think where you find a good director good films tend to follow. If Danny Boyle called me tomorrow and asked me to do a broad comedy I’d probably do it. I think if you have a good captain — a good storyteller — you’ll end up with a good movie.”