Less than two months ago, Chris Evans became a bona fide movie star as the title character in the comic book adaptation Captain America. But this week, he proves that his character actor alter ego is equally formidable with Puncture, a powerful little drama in which he plays a drug-addicted lawyer who takes on corruption in the healthcare industry. Based on a true story, the independent film challenged Evans as much professionally as personally, while offering him a welcome respite from the studio machinery of his superhero franchise.
Movies.com caught up with Evans last week via telephone to talk about his work in Puncture. In addition to discussing the delicate balance between telling a story that’s historically accurate and just highly entertaining, he compared the process of making this movie with his efforts with Marvel Studios, and reflected on how he derives enjoyment and satisfaction from projects of all sizes.
Movies.com: What initially appealed to you about this story? Are you ever swayed by the importance of a story, such as this one, or is it always about the character?
Chris Evans: Well, it’s like two birds with one stone. If you happen to find a script and a set of directors that you connect with, and at the same time you can have a story that has a message, that’s a beautiful thing. But for this film in particular, it was more about my connection not only with the script, but the character.
Movies.com: Where do you start with the details of a character like this who has an addiction, in order to make it authentic but give it real substance? These sorts of manic, drug-addiction performances have a pretty familiar iconography.
CE: Well, the good thing about this guy is that he was a real man, so I had the opportunity to go meet his family. I met his friends, I met his coworkers, I met his roommates, I met people that knew him his whole life, so it was a great starting point. I’ve never done a film like this where I’ve had this kind of well to tap into, so that’s where I began.
Movies.com: When you have that real-life context, where do you draw the line between taking creative license to represent him accurately but also tell the best story?
CE: I tried to stay as true to the stories that were told to me as I possibly could. I didn’t want to take too much of a creative license, because this was a man that lived, and these were a lot of people who were kind enough to give us this story. So my goal was to make sure that they were happy, first and foremost. And it’s not you’re playing JFK or Jim Morrisson, where you can watch footage and you can match a cadence and a speech pattern and a posture and a tone. I’m just going off of stories, so there already is a little bit of an artistic license there, and there already is an interpretation I have to make based on these stories that aren’t rooted in something concrete. They can tell me a million stories, but I can only get so close without having known this man, or without having seen video footage of how he was. So there already is a little bit of wiggle room, so my goal was to take their stories and do the bets I could to try to create a guy that they would see as familiar.
Movies.com: There’s a point two thirds of the way through the movie where Mike’s partner asks him why he cares. There’s some interesting ambiguity - why does he care? And is it okay if his partner is maybe right, that he likes winning more than he cares about the actual product?
CE: That’s very well said – there certainly is a shred of ambiguity. I mean, I think any guy this brilliant, as it is with most people of this intellect level, there is a selfishness that goes along with a certain level of genius, and as a result of that selfishness, a weight is left. And I think a lot of times, people that brilliant don’t realize what they do to the people around them, and I think this guy had hurt a certain amount of people in his life. And I think this case was a shred of redemption for him; I think it was something that felt good and pure and selfless, and I think while he was lost in a world – especially drug addicts, they’re easily the most selfish people on the planet. That’s just the way it is; that’s the nature of a drug addict. So I think this case was a way for him to feel selfless and a way to give back and like a I said [give him] a shred of redemption.
Movies.com: There’s a degree to which the film theorizes what happens to your character. How important, and why was it important, to hypothesize about those details?
CE: Well, it’s incredibly important because it’s a real story. This isn’t just a fictional tale about a topical issue, this is something that happened, and there’s a group of people who gave us this story. So my responsibility was to make sure we played it as accurately as we possibly could, just to pay our respects to the people who handed this story over. So if this is something that this character was passionate about, ad these were his beliefs, that’s what I have to get across. But it was important [to offer that suggestion] because that’s what his family felt; everyone I spoke to had a different opinion about how he died and why he died and what the cause was. And the issue is that when you’re handling a true story, you have to make sure you proceed with caution, and if his family felt passionately that this was a piece of the puzzle, we would be doing them a disservice to ignore it. So we really had to address every possible aspect when handling something that actually happened.
Movies.com: I don’t know if this was shot before or after Captain America, but what does a film like this provide you in terms of a balance from something like Cap where it’s so huge?
CE: They’re so different, and that’s why I love films like this. You know, you do something like Captain America, these six month shoots where the truth is it’s ‘hurry up and wait.’ It’s a very tedious process, there’s a lot of people invested and there’s a lot of money going into it, and as a result, it’s a very meticulous, slow burn. But on films like Puncture, you’ve got five weeks, and there’s no money involved, so everyone’s here because it’s a passion, and as a result you’ve really got to be on your toes. You come home at the end of the day after a day on a film like Puncture, and you really feel like you worked. You didn’t sit in your trailer for six hours, you came to set and you were acting all day. You performed a service that you were paid for, and that was your job, and you go home and you feel like you worked. It’s a nice feeling – it’s so different from those big studio films.
Movies.com: When it was first announced that you were playing Captain America it seemed like it was an intimidating challenge for you, even though you’d obviously done the Fantastic Four movies and other larger films. How much did that experience fulfill your expectations, and how eager were you to jump back into The Avengers?
CE: I actually did this film first; I did Captain America right on the heels of completing this film. And Captain America came with some strings attached, so I was a little nervous in the beginning. There were some elements of Captain America that in the beginning I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle. And the truth is, after all is said and done, all of the press that went along with Captain America, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. And that was a giant relief, because I may be stuck in that blue suit for years to come, and knowing now that it’s not the worst thing in the world, handling the press that goes with a film like that, it’s a big weight off of your shoulders.
Movies.com: Because of the opportunities that that film must be giving you, are you actively seeking counterprogramming sorts of projects, or because of that commitment is it tough to sign onto other things?
CE: No. I mean, obviously there’s going to be a piece of my year that’s going to be occupied by the commitment that I’ve made to Marvel, but Marvel’s fantastic about affording you the opportunity to do projects like Puncture – and that’s why I do movies like Captain America. You do these giant tentpole films to hopefully get films like Puncture greenlit; you know, a lot of these little movies have a hard time getting on their feet, and if you do these giant studio films, hopefully films like this become more realistic.
Movies.com: How do you gauge your experience on each film you do? Because not every film finds the audience it deserves, do you have to adjust your expectations about your enjoyment of each experience?
CE: I mean, I’ve been a part of so many films, and there’s no formula for a movie. I’ve seen horrible movies break box office records, and I’ve seen fantastic movies that nobody’s seen. So there’s no way to predict the life and impact of a film. For me, it’s about whether I like the movie. [Because] if it was easy to make a good movie, there would be a lot more of them, and the fact is that there are just not a lot of good movies. Films are these giant collaborations of all of these creative people and there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and as a result, you don’t always end up with a great product. So any time you make a movie, whether it’s big or small or seen by millions or by hundreds, if I’m happy with the product, if I’m happy with the film, and I had a good experience, that’s a success to me.