Captain America star explains why he was intimidated by his role in the new film, Puncture.
Actor Chris Evans
Tavis: Chris Evans is a talented actor who many know, of course, from his roles in the summer hits “Fantastic Four” and, of course, “Captain America.” In addition to the new film, “What’s Your Number,” you can also see him in the new drama, “Puncture.”
The film is based on a true story, and so here now a scene from “Puncture.”
Tavis: You’re playing a real character here, Chris. How’d you like it?
Chris Evans: It was great. It was a little intimidating, because it was a real character and the people who gave us the story, the Weiss family and his partner, his law firm partner, Paul Danziger, is the guy who wrote the script and gave us the script.
Everyone was so willing to share with us whatever they could, and that’s great but it’s nerve-wracking. You have to approach it with a lot of respect.
Tavis: Having done this now for the first time – that is to say, playing a real-life character – would you have preferred what you had, which is relying on family and friends and law partners, to give you a sense of who he was or prefer to have had him around?
There are other actors, of course, who play characters who are still alive who they have access to. Which one do you think would have been more intimidating for you, if at all?
Evans: God, it’s a tough call. It’s a lot of pros and cons. If you’ve got the guy around, then they’re going to expect a sync with who he is. You’re going to have to match speech pattern and cadence and posture and things like that, which would have been fine. There would have been a lot of meat on the bone.
But not having him around afforded a little bit more artistic license.
The only problem with that is the people you’re making the movie for first and foremost are the family and friends of Mike, and the worry is that I’m just getting stories from them. They’re just telling me tidbits about who he was and the way he acted, and as a result you can’t match speech pattern and cadence. I don’t know those things.
So the concern with not having him around is are these guys going to see the movie expecting to see Mike, when I can only get so close to center from stories. So I guess I kind of dodged the question – I’ll say now that I’ve done it this way I’m used to this way, and it was a good experience. So I guess I wouldn’t change the way I was able to approach the project.
Tavis: I’ve got more questions about the project. It just occurred to me that I should probably ask you to explain what the project is.
Evans: Yeah, good idea. Good idea.
Tavis: People are like, wow, love that you got Chris on the show, but can you clue us in, Tavis? (Laughter) What are you talking about? What is the film about? So you’re on.
Evans: Sure. It’s about two Houston lawyers back in the late ’90s. They took on a case. Hospitals were not using the safest products available for their staff, and what they ended up finding out was that these purchasing organizations within the hospitals had contracts with these manufacturers, and it ended up being Payola.
These companies would end up getting a direct kickback for the products they would buy from these manufacturers, and there was an inventor who created a safety needle. The needle could only be used once, but it would retract. So a retractable safety needle.
All in all it would end up costing pennies more to make, but like I said, these hospitals have these contracts set up with these manufacturers, and as a result they have – the number is insane.
It’s 800,000 – 800,000 accidental needle sticks a year for the front-line healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, who are contracting things like hepatitis and AIDS, and with every single accidental needle stick you’re looking at millions more dollars in follow-up costs and testing and lawsuits and things like that.
So in the grand scheme of things, you take a step back, it would have saved money over time to have switched to the more effective needles, but like I said they had these contracts with these manufacturers and it was pretty corrupt.
Tavis: And you end up playing an attorney.
Evans: I play an attorney, Mike Weiss, and myself and my partner took this case on. The thing about Mike was that he’s – everyone I spoke to said that Mike was easily the most brilliant lawyer, person, they had ever met. They said there are some lawyers who are book lawyers who do the research and some lawyers who are courtroom lawyers who do the performing.
They said this guy was a master of both, and unfortunately he also happened to be a pretty heavy user, pretty bad drug addict. A very, very high-functioning drug addict, but he kept it quiet. No one knew until, unfortunately, he passed away, he ODed.
Tavis: How much of that – when I got the film I was struck by – and I talk to actors, of course, all the time – but struck by the complexity of character that you have to embody. This lawyer, to your point, who’s brilliant, on the one hand, and awfully good at what he does in the courtroom; on the other hand, he himself is a drug addict.
How much of that was a turn-on for you in wanting to play the character, that complexity?
Evans: Well, I read the script and I just liked the character. Whether it was a true story, whether it was a topic that needed to be discussed socially and something that needed some light shed on – I’ll be completely honest, I just liked the character at first. The rest was all bonus.
The rest, if we can actually address an issue that needs to be discussed, that there are people dying, that obviously was a motivating factor. So I’ll admit, selfishly, it was more about my connection to the words on the page.
Tavis: This question might sound a little strange, given what you’ve just said now, that you just liked the character, that was enough for you, but how are you making choices these days, balancing out the big blockbuster stuff with this indie stuff that you just happen to like the character?
Evans: Well, you go to these little movies and it’s a five-week shoot and everyone’s there for no money and the pace is extreme and you’re going through eight, nine pages a day and you really have to call on every part of you as an actor to be ready and prepared.
The big budget movies move a little bit slower. Like I said, I’ve been a part of a few that haven’t gone well because you can get a sense of a creative vacancy, you can get a sense of maybe this studio might be kicking out a product.
I was lucky enough on “Captain America” to have one of the best experiences of my life.
Tavis: Although you didn’t want that experience, famously in this town.
Evans: No, yeah.
Tavis: So the story goes, and you really thought you didn’t want to do this.
Evans: Well, I was just scared. I had had a bad experience. If anyone’s seen my movies in the past, (laughter) they’re not all that good. It’s a tricky thing, making a good movie. You’ve got all these creative people, all these cooks in the kitchen. If it was easier to make good movies, there’d be more of them. There aren’t.
Unfortunately I’ve been a part of a few that missed the mark, and in the past 10 years of filmmaking it always felt like the smaller ones had a better chance. They just didn’t have the platform.
So taking on “Captain America” was intimidating just because it’s a big, giant movie, it’s one of those movies that it’s a gamble – you win big or you lose big. “Captain America” came with all those strings attached, so there was a little bit of nerves going into it. I decided to do it, and thank God, thank God, because it was so great.
Tavis: Now you’ve got to reprise this in “The Avengers?”
Evans: Yeah, we got “The Avengers” coming out, which was another fantastic experience. “Captain America,” Marvel has changed my life. Marvel gave me a shot seven years ago with “Fantastic Four.” Without that shot I wouldn’t have even been in the “Captain America” discussion.
So I owe a lot to big budget films, I owe a lot to Marvel. So to badmouth that type of film in any way is insane, and I never would. But there is a difference in making big movies versus small.
Tavis: All that said, before my time runs out, the thing you’ve just said now that most interests me that I want you to unpack for me is what you learn as an actor when you now can sit here, admittedly and publicly and with humility, to even say, “Hey, I’ve been a part of films that flopped.”
What do you take away from that as a thespian when you do stuff that does flop?
Evans: You look back and you say, “Is there anything I could have done differently? What could I have done?” Again, it’s a lot of creative people and you have to know your boundaries as an actor. You can’t step on toes. You can’t give suggestions when it’s not your place.
The director is the painter, I’m the paint. You are making the calls and I’ve got to run the plays. But there is – with “Captain America” I’ve never felt so involved. People like Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard, and our director, Joe, really gave a – they made it feel like a welcome place to give suggestion.
Any time I’ve been a part of a film where it hasn’t worked out I look back and say, “I should have spoke up. It didn’t feel right on the day or it didn’t feel right during research. Why didn’t I say anything?” Again, because you’re trying to not step on toes and cross boundaries. But again, it’s a collaboration. Everyone’s here working together.
Tavis: Which means it ain’t all your fault.
Evans: Well, yeah.
Tavis: You’re acting like, “What can I do?” (Laughter) There are a thousand people on this. It’s not just you.
Evans: Of course, of course, of course. So that’s why going into it you want to make sure you have people that you work well with together. I’ve taken movies where I’ve had one meeting with the director and it was brief, and then you jump on board and then you get to the rehearsal process, and you say, “We don’t really click. This isn’t really gelling the way it should in this kind of creative platform.”
So I guess it’s about just doing your homework and making sure you know who you’re going to be working with, and then once you are working, try and be involved. Obviously it’s a fine line, you have to toe the line, but if you have something to say, say it. It can’t hurt.
Tavis: Chris Evans is a busy guy these days. The new film out now is called “Puncture,” and he’s also in another film called “What’s Your Number” that we didn’t get a chance to get to tonight. But “Puncture” is a good film. I think you’ll enjoy it, I promise you. And next year, “The Avengers?” Next year?
Evans: Yeah, May.
Evans: That’ll be good. That’ll be really good.
Tavis: Just a prediction here – I think that’s going to make a little money next summer.
Evans: You think? (Laughter) Well, if we get out there and people – you’ve got to pound the pavement.
Tavis: Just a little bit. (Laughter)
Evans: It’s going to be a good one, I’m telling you. From what I’ve seen, it looks fantastic.
Tavis: Chris, good to have you here, man.
Evans: Thanks so much.
Tavis: My pleasure.
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