We're operating under a no-names rule, so I'm not asking if it's Jessica Biel who made this memorable first impression. She and Evans were serious for a couple of years. But I don't want to picture lovely Jessica Biel getting sick at Auntie Pam's or in the car or, really, anywhere.
East the bulldog ambles over to the table, begging for food. "That dog is the love of his life," Mrs. Evans says. "Which tells me he'll be an unbelievable parent, but I don't want him to get married right now." She turns to Chris. "The way you are, I just don't think you're ready."
Some other things I learn about Evans from his mom: He hates going to the gym; he was so wound-up as a kid she'd let him stand during dinner, his legs shaking like caged greyhounds; he suffered weekly "Sunday-night meltdowns" over schoolwork and the angst of the sensitive middle-schooler; after she and his father split and he was making money from acting, he bought her the Sudbury family homestead rather than let her leave it.
Eventually his mom and Josh depart, and Evans and I go to work depleting his stash of Bud Light. It feels like we drink Bud Light and talk for days, because we basically do. I arrived early Friday evening; it's Saturday night now and it'll be sunup Sunday before I sleeplessly make my way to catch a train back to New York City. Somewhere in between we slip free of the gravitational pull of the bachelor pad and there's bottle service at a club and a long walk with entourage in tow back to Evans' apartment, where there is some earnest-yet-surreal group singing, piano playing, and chitchat. Evans is fun to talk to, partly because he's an open, self-mocking guy with an explosive laugh and no apparent need to sleep, and partly because when you cut just below the surface, it's clear he's not quite the dude's dude he sometimes plays onscreen and in TV appearances.
From a distance, Chris Evans the movie star seems a predictable, nearly inevitable piece of successful Hollywood packaging come to market. There's his major-release debut as the dorkily unaware jock Jake in the guilty pleasure Not Another Teen Movie (in one memorable scene, Evans has whipped cream on his chest and a banana up his ass). The female-friendly hunk appeal—his character in The Nanny Diaries is named simply Harvard Hottie—is balanced by a kind of casual-Friday, I'm-from-Boston regular-dudeness. Following the siren song of comic-book cash, he was the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four films. As with scrawny Steve Rogers, the Captain America suit beefed up his stature as a formidable screen presence, a bankable leading man, all of which leads us to The Avengers, this season's megabudget, megawatt ensemble in which he stars alongside Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth.
It all feels inevitable—and yet it nearly didn't happen. Evans repeatedly turned down the Captain America role, fearing he'd be locked into what was originally a nine-picture deal. He was shooting Puncture, about a drug-addicted lawyer, at the time. Most actors doing small-budget legal dramas would jump at the chance to play the lead in a Marvel franchise, but Evans saw a decade of his life flash before his eyes.
What he remembers thinking is this: "What if the movie comes out and it's a success and I just reject all of this? What if I want to move to the fucking woods?"
By "the woods," he doesn't mean a quiet life away from the spotlight, some general metaphorical life escape route. He means the actual woods. "For a long time all I wanted for Christmas were books about outdoor survival," he says. "I was convinced that I was going to move to the woods. I camped a lot, I took classes. At 18, I told myself if I don't live in the woods by the time I'm 25, I have failed."
Evans has described his hesitation at signing on for Captain America. Usually he talks about the time commitment, the loss of what remained of his relative anonymity. On the junkets for the movie, he was open about needing therapy after the studio reduced the deal to six movies and he took the leap. What he doesn't usually mention is that he was racked with anxiety before the job came up.
"I get very nervous," Evans explains. "I shit the bed if I have to present something on stage or if I'm doing press. Because it's just you." He's been known to walk out of press conferences, to freeze up and go silent during the kind of relaxed-yet-high-stakes meetings an actor of his stature is expected to attend: "Do you know how badly I audition? Fifty percent of the time I have to walk out of the room. I'm naturally very pale, so I turn red and sweat. And I have to literally walk out. Sometimes mid-audition. You start having these conversations in your brain. 'Chris, don't do this. Chris, take it easy. You're just sitting in a room with a person saying some words, this isn't life. And you're letting this affect you? Shame on you.'"
Shades of "Sunday-night meltdowns." Luckily the nerves never follow him to the set. "You do your neuroses beforehand, so when they yell 'Action' you can be present," he says.