Chris Evans is ready for audiences to see him in a new light.
Nearly a decade after making his first appearance as the noble Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the 2011 film Captain America: First Avenger, the actor appeared to put down the shield for good with last summer's epic Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the MCU and Evans' ninth. And now, he, like the few other Avenger actors who saw their MCU road come to its end last year, prepares to do the impossible: Chart a new path outside of the juggernaut that elevated his career to heroic heights.
He made his first stab at reinvention last fall with the clever whodunnit Knives Out from director Rian Johnson. In the hit film, which featured a murderer's row of talent including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson and more, Evans starred as Ransom Drysdale, the uniquely-named nephew of (and suspect in the murder of) recently deceased Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a spoiled trust fund kid who wants for nothing—except maybe a moral compass.
"It’s one of those scripts that you burn through—the type of movie that I like a lot and that I don't think gets made often enough," Evans said of Johnson's script in the film's production notes, released by Lionsgate. "I typically play magnanimous good guys and leaders, so this was a fun opportunity to play someone who is just out for himself. It was great to have that chance to stretch."
"It was fun in the wake of his fantastic Marvel arc to play with how the audience perceives Chris," Johnson said of casting the actor. "You get to see more of his range and how great his acting chops are."
It's all a part of the actor's bid to leave the MCU behind him, something that might not be all that easy—"When you're playing a character for a long time, you start to see the parallels between what the character's going through and what you're going through. You start to look at your own conflicts and circumstances through the eyes of someone who might handle it better than you would," he told Men's Journal of playing the honorable Cap for a decade last April. "It felt like graduating high school or college, you know? For the last month of filming I was letting myself go to work every day and be a little overwhelmed and a little nostalgic and grateful. By the last day, I was bawling. I cry pretty easy, but I was definitely bawling"—but feels, to him, a necessity.
"Momentum is a real fallacy, in my opinion," he told The Hollywood Reporter in March 2019. "But it has a really strong hold on a lot of actors' mentalities. You really believe that while the ball's rolling, you gotta keep it rolling. I could be wrong, but to me — I just don't believe in that. I don't think that's real."
To prove it, he's intent on using these next few years to pursue project that speak to him while keeping an underlying desire to walk away from the business altogether at bay.
"Every couple of months, I decide I'm done acting. This has been my thing for decades now," he told fellow Avenger Scarlett Johansson in a chat with Variety Studio: Actors on Actors. "I'm always looking for a way out, but I do love it."
Keeping that love alive is a foray into television with the Apple TV+ limited series Defending Jacob, playing the father of a teenager accused of murder. (The first three episodes of the adaptation of the best-selling 2012 novel of the same name, co-starring Michelle Dockery and Evans' Knives Out co-star Jaeden Martell, debut on the streaming service on Friday, April 24.) "I think TV right now, those creative minds are given a bit more freedom," he explained to Johansson, before reflecting on his experiences making films in the conglomerate studio system. "It feels like movies sometimes get inundated with studio notes, and all of a sudden, what was once an original idea becomes boiled down to the lowest common denominator, and then you have no one's favorite movie but everyone's lukewarm movie. I think that's why people may be turning away, and looking to things like streaming service shows that actually are innovative."
On the experience of filming the series—his first regular TV role in two decades since the short-lived 2000 Fox series Opposite Sex—which filmed in the Boston suburbs, Evans told Esquire in their April/May 2020 issue, "It felt like I had a regular nine-to-five job. I'd sleep in my own bed; I'd see my family on weekends. A lot of times you have a bit of a nomadic lifestyle as an actor. You live out of suitcases and in cities you're not familiar with. Doing Jacob made me feel like I was home but still doing what I love. It was incredibly comforting."
While the single actor hopes to start a family down the line—"I really want kids. Yeah, I do. I like pretty pedestrian, domestic things. I want a wife, I want kids. I like ceremony. I want to carve pumpkins and decorate Christmas trees and shit like that," he told Men's Journal—and might, one day, return to directing after his first attempt with the 2014 film Before We Go—he's looking for a good script, he told THR—he's simply allowing the fruits of his MCU labor to let him luxuriate in riskier moves.
"When you can relax a little bit, when acting doesn't feel like this weird pressure cooker of grabbing the next vine before you let go of the one you got, that's when it's fun," he told Men's Journal.
And he's not concerned with what people think of him, either. "I don't put myself in a box. I don't have some huge plan in terms of what my goals are. I just kind of wake up and follow my appetite," he told Esquire. "I'm at a point in my life now where I have the very, very fortunate luxury of pursuing what I want to do. And I don't corrupt that process by thinking about how other people see me."
As for whether he might ever pick up Cap's shield down the road, like, say, in the upcoming Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, due on Disney+ sometime in the near-ish future, Evans isn't ruling anything out. But don't hold your breath.
"It's not a hard no, but it's not an eager yes either. There are other things that I'm working on right now. I think Cap had such a tricky act to stick the landing, and I think they did a really nice job letting him complete his journey," he told Johansson. "If you're going to revisit it, it can't be a cash grab. It can't be just because the audience wants to be excited. What are we revealing? What are we adding to the story? A lot of things would have to come together."
After all, Steve did get his happy ending. And the actor is hesitant to undo the work it took to get there.
"It'd be a shame to sour that. I'm very protective of it," he added. "It was such a precious time, and jumping onto the movie was a terrifying prospect to me. I said no a bunch of times, and there's a million and one ways it could have gone wrong. It almost feels like maybe we should let this one sit."
Instead, we'll just have to settle for watching Evans spread his wings and go wherever the winds take him. And, to be honest, that's more than good enough.
Defending Jacob premieres on Friday, April 24 on Apple TV+.
(Originally published on November 27, 2019 at 3 a.m. PT.)