The press day for Fox Searchlight’s “Gifted” is my favorite type: everyone is sweet, there’s a humbleness in the air, and no inflated egos are in sight from both the media and the talent. Our roundtable is the size of a dining room table, and the journalists here are an eclectic bunch: me, a high school senior, an editor from the Toronto Sun, a woman who works with gifted children, a nun and more.
It’s such a nonchalant day that when Chris Evans walks in, I almost don’t even notice until he has pulled out a seat for his young co-star, 10-year-old Mckenna Grace, and takes a seat next to me. When I tell him that I cried and grown men cried at the screening last night, he pats me on the back, excited about the reception his film has received.
“I cry a lot in movies,” I say, and he nods and says, “So do I.”
“You didn’t cry?” he exclaims when a journalist speaks up. “You cold-hearted—” he starts, and breaks off, laughing.
As Grace and Evans begin to talk about working on the film and working with a one-eyed cat (“I gotta be honest, I’m not a big cat guy,” he admits. “I feel like they don’t like me.”), I am thinking about how this humble press conference must be very different from what he is accustomed to.
After all, this is Captain America himself. He’s kicked Hydra’s ass on-screen, traveled to red carpet premieres all over the world, and presented at the Oscars. And yet this mega-Patriots fan puts on his star-spangled suit to visit kids in hospitals, raises money for Christopher’s Haven, and brings his sister as his date to the Oscars. Not to mention, adopts a dog from the animal shelter “Gifted” was filming in.
Yet Evans does not see himself as a hero. This is something he shares in common with his character in “Gifted,” Frank Adler. However, I mention that Adler and Steve Rogers share a lot in common—they both have the spirit of “I can do this all day” and will fight for the people they care for and what they believe in. I ask Evans what he wishes he could approach with that same spirit.
“Not to turn it all political,” he says, haltingly. Then he gathers his thoughts. “But I think politics is a tough arena to maintain a certain amount of humility and compassion. Inevitably, in politics, the nature is compromise—it’s messy. So you have to know going into it you’re not going to get everything you want, and you have to respect the fact that we may disagree but your opinions are valid. I think the patience behind a political career may be more than I am able to muster, so maybe in that arena.”
Evans has thought about entering politics. But doubt creeps in.
“It’s tough, it’s scary, I really respect anyone who’s given themselves to public service in that capacity—I truly don’t know if I have the patience or the knowledge,” he says. Someone points out that not having knowledge didn’t stop some of the current politicians in the public eye. He laughs, leaning back and putting his hand on his chest, exuberant. Then he takes a moment to think.
“In order not to become just the fog, we have to remember we’re all in this together. A lot of people don’t like hearing that phrase. There are so many people who are directly affected in deep ways that I can’t relate to as a white man,” he reflects. “And it’s tough for a lot of people to hear that and get behind it. But it’s true—we’re all in this together. And it’s a tough thing to champion especially now. And I think whenever I tweet something out, not everyone agrees with me and I may not be right. Keep that in mind, and you can more effectively get the point across and not lose allegiance.”
Evans looks massive next to his tiny co-star, Grace. In the film, he plays a loyal, protective uncle Frank Adler and she plays math genius Mary. And though one is a dog person and one is a cat person, they share a lot in common. Grace speaks out her mind through lenses of compassion and humility, something her parents must have instilled in her.
“I think we all go through a time that we feel like we’re different or don’t fit in,” says Grace when she is asked about connecting to her character, Mary. “And Mary feels that a lot. I feel like we all go through a time like that in our lives.”
This whole time Evans is gazing at her with pure adoration. The room is equally floored at her grace and eloquence. When I ask him what being a kid looked like for him, he immediately glances over at Grace and shakes his head.
“I was not the way Mckenna is,” he says. “She is the most confident person I’ve ever seen. When I was 10 or 11, I was one of those kids hiding under my mom’s shirt. I cried at the beginning of school. Mckenna gets up on chairs and gives speeches. She’s so confident and free and honest and it really just is impressive. I don’t think she knows she is a kid.”
For Grace, being a kid means simply making the most out of life.
“Every day could be my last so I try to enjoy it as much as I can,” she says, and Evans chuckles at the wisdom coming from this pint-sized human being. “Gotta be brave.”
It’s not hard to see why Evans adores Grace. Though she’s not a math prodigy, she’s in fifth grade doing sixth grade math, she proudly tells us. To remember all the calculus equations she had to write down on set, she turned it into a song, and she still remembers it. She churned out emotional take after take effortlessly—in fact, her crying on-screen is what brought many people in the audience to tears.
“Marc the director was really great. He gave me five to ten minutes [to prepare],” Grace says, referring to the director of “500 Days of Summer” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise. “No one wants to go to that dark place, but I just had to think about some things I usually wouldn’t have to think about.”
Evans chimes in, “Really powerful stuff. She would leave the set, the whole set has a certain environment, everyone’s quiet and Mckenna comes in and she’s poised,” he says. “It’s easier to do a scene if you begin the scene crying, but if you have to be centered in the beginning and work yourself throughout the scene, it’s challenging. She came on and knocked it out of the park.”
In the film, Grace’s character Mary stands up to a bully on the bus. Evans witnessed a similar scene growing up, and to this day his mother’s reaction to it is something he still carries with him.
“I remember going home that night and feeling terrible and being upset to my mom. I was young but still, I knew that this matters,” he says. “Before I was lying in bed she was tucking me in and whispering in my ear—I can’t tell you the exact thing she said, but it was something along the lines of keeping your heart pure. But the way she did it—it was one of those things that even at the time of that tender age, I knew this mattered. This is something important. It’s foggy but I know it happened, and I know it meant a lot to her. But I’m glad I remember it in any capacity.”
It’s a sweet picture he has painted for us, and one that perhaps has in a way guided his life. Be kind. Keep your heart pure. Live fearlessly. Maybe that’s what made him go to New York after high school instead of taking the usual path to college. Maybe that’s what made him take initiative to intern with casting directors to have a shot of auditioning for movies. Maybe that’s what lead him to say yes to the role of Captain America despite all his misgivings about the commitment.
“To be honest, it could be a cocktail of naiveté mixed with confidence but certainly at the time I didn’t have much doubt,” says Evans about pursuing acting as a high schooler. “A lot of that I attribute it to the people around me, my parents, who said go for it. Go to New York. You can do it. As a result, even though it wasn’t the path that most people are taking, I never had sleepless nights thinking this was a mistake. I can’t take credit for the bravery because I didn’t know any better.”
This humility shines through. It’s too easy to get caught up in stardom, but he maintains a level head about it. Even if in 50 years he’s still known as Captain America, he doesn’t mind.
“It’s none of my business. My work is not for the idea of it. I do it, I release it, whatever happens, happens and I go back to living my life in a very present capacity. So the idea of it in the future or the reflection of it in the past is not relevant to me,” he says. “In my opinion, it’s not only a waste of time but also indulgent in the wrong thing. To some degree, the tricky landscape of acting is that it tempts the ego that you are something more than what you are. When you look at yourself as a story that’s somehow separate and relevant in any capacity, I think that’s dangerous terrain. I think it’s healthier to put all your energy into staying present and doing what you do. And when you’re done, you release it and it’s not longer your concern.”
“Gifted” hits theaters on April 12, 2017.