Chris Evans may now be forever associated with his iconic performance as Captain America, but it’s easy for people to forget the guy is an honest-to-God actor. He proves it once again playing strung-out junkie attorney Mike Weiss in Adam and Mark Kassen’s indie drama Puncture. Weiss is a brilliant lawyer with more than a couple of serious vices who gets involved in a case of a safety needle designed to save nurses’ lives that was being suppressed by hospital purchasing organizations.
It’s based on a real case, and we sat down in New York with Evans to discuss playing a real-life (now-deceased) junkie, how that may or may not have interfered with his superhero duties, filming Marvel’s The Avengers in our city, and the continuing legacy of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
ComingSoon.net: This is very much a story of ideological perseverance, almost Frank Capra on crack. Your uncle, who’s also named Mike [Mike Capuano], is a respected congressman. Did he inspire your role at all in terms of that drive to enact social change?
Evans: God, no. I look at that guy and I can’t even believe I’m related to him. He dedicates his life to helping people. I make movies. We’re in very different worlds. He blows me away.
CS: Not necessarily you in real life, more your character Mike Weiss in this movie and his moral barometer.
Evans: I gotta be honest, I think… it’s tricky, you don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but from what I can gather in speaking to everyone who knew Mike they were all kind of like, “I love him but I want to f**kin’ kill him.” I don’t think he was this crusading guy. This happened to be one case where he was at a crossroad with his own demons and this was a shot at redemption. I don’t think he set his life out to help other people, on the contrary. I think he was one of those extremely brilliant men and that type of genius is synonymous with a certain selfishness and alienation and I think people like that leave a wake and people closest to them are left in the path. I think, for the most part, Mike was not the most thoughtful guy. I think he was kind of out for himself. This case came along and gave him the opportunity to feel better about the choices he made. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy like my uncle, per se, who’s out there constantly doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do. I think this case just got under his skin at the right time in his life.
CS: So he was a Type-A personality.
Evans: Absolutely. A lot of the times with those Type-A personalities you end up with some sort of vice, his just happened to be drugs, and I think he was in a bit of a rut, a hole, and he found a way to do some good and that was a change for him.
CS: In the movie, Mike’s a very high-functioning drug and sex addict. You were in pretty terrific shape for the film, so was there any pressure from yourself or others to pull a Christian Bale or was that inconsequential?
Evans: To this day I’ve never seen a photo of Mike Weiss. From what I can gather he was a pretty thick human being. He wasn’t like some skinny junkie. You wouldn’t see him and say, “God, this guy’s obviously a heroine addict.” He was a very plump individual.
CS: I saw a picture of him.
Evans: Oh, you did?
CS: He looked a little like me.
Evans: (laughs) I’d never seen a picture of him, but his brother tried to show me his walk, the way he moved. I was like, “Was Mike big?” He was like, “Yeah, he was.” “Like, husky?” He was like, “Oh yeah.” So I almost feel like its cliché to lose a lot of weight to play a junkie. Paul Danziger, his partner for years had no idea this guy was a heroin addict, so I don’t think the outward look of a drug addict would have been the right approach to who he was, based on the people I met.
CS: I personally have never taken any drugs, but…
Evans: REALLY!?? You’re missing out, dude! You never smoked weed?
Evans: Let’s smoke some weed, bro!
CS: Maybe later, we’ll hang out. But I know a lot of people who do and they outperform me by miles. There are just some people in this world who have brains to spare.
Evans: (laughs) Yeah, you’re right. That’s it. I was talking with his college buddies, and they said the guy could do what would take people a week to do in four hours. The guy would never be in the office because he would come in and in a few hours get everything done for the whole week. There are book lawyers and there are courtroom lawyers. Some are good at research and doing paperwork and some are good at performing, and they said this guy was better at both than any lawyer they’d ever met. He could do it all, and then go shoot up. He was just on another level.
CS: What was your experience acting opposite your director, Mark Kassen?
Evans: It was great. It’s really nice having a director who’s an actor, because if you’re not feelin’ it… there were a couple of days when I came to the set and I took “bad actor pills” or something, you come to the set and you’re just off. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t get my sh*t together.” When you’re having those days it’s nice to say it to another actor. It was a team, it wasn’t me vs. them. We were all in the same boat.
CS: You also have an awesome scene with Michael Biehn, who’s a legend for “The Terminator” and “Aliens.”
Evans: He’s a nutball.
CS: He is?
Evans: Oh yeah. He’s wild, man. He’s one of those actors… have you ever interviewed him?
CS: Never talked to him, but I read a recent interview where he talked about how he once bitched out William Friedkin on a set, and Friedkin was like, “I’m not gonna mess with this guy anymore.”
Evans: He’s that type, one of those classic cliché actors you hear about, throwing chairs through windows. He’s an artist, an eccentric wild one, but he’s great. He’s so talented.
CS: It’s cool to see him onscreen again. Now you started filming “Puncture” before you were cast as Captain America, but watching you as Mike I kept imagining that thing in “Entourage” where Vince had done “Aquaman” and then went to the studio and said he wanted to play Pablo Escobar. Were there any hints from Marvel Studios that maybe they didn’t want their hero riding the H-train in a movie?
Evans: The good thing about Marvel is they’re such a great studio to work for. If you’re gonna be sucked into some giant franchise where you’re playing some iconic character, you wanna be doing it with Marvel. Marvel’s great about understanding that we’re actors, we like variety and playing different characters. I’ve never heard a whisper from them one way or another about what I’ve done in my downtime.
CS: You guys just shot some of “Avengers” in our fair city. The fans came out, the pictures hit the internet. Clearly you’re a rock star now, the world’s your stadium… how does that level of success change the equation?
Evans: It’s been okay. I mean, it’s crazy when you’re filming, during the days we were shooting it was a hassle getting to and from places, but when the camera stops rolling my life kinda goes back to being relatively normal. Get a few people approaching me at restaurants, take a few pictures here and there. Nobody’s waiting outside my apartment, no one’s calling my mom’s house.
CS: It’s interesting that you and Chris Hemsworth had the luxury of knowing you were gonna get another shot even if the solo films tanked.
Evans: Yeah, but the worry was what if “Iron Man” did its job and then “Thor” came out and did its job and all I kept thinking was, “Man, what if I’m the weak link in this chain? What if ‘Captain America’ bombs.” Obviously I’m in “The Avengers” now, they can’t boot me, but still, you don’t want to be the one that’s not carrying the load.
CS: In both “Captain America” and “Punture” you’ve managed to nail that sense of earnestness without coming off as fake.
Evans: Thanks man… foolin’ ’em all!
CS: Another movie that people really loved was “Scott Pilgrim.”
Evans: Yeah, me too, man! I can’t believe more people didn’t see it, what-the-f**k? It was such a good movie. The first time I saw it I was like, “this is my favorite movie.” I love every second of that movie, and was so bummed more people didn’t go see it.
CS: Now it’s on permanent midnight rotation at the New Beverly in LA, once a month.
Evans: Oh really? I didn’t know that. No kidding.
CS: Would you like to do another really far-out, stylized performance like that?
Evans: I’d love to do anything else with Edgar Wright. If Edgar Wright asked me to do anything, ANYTHING I’ll do it. That was like one of the most fun, “Let’s just go somewhere nuts.” But if you’re gonna go somewhere nuts you need a director you trust, because if you’re going crazy you’re handing the performance over. You’re like, “Alright, I’m gonna put some wild sh*t down here, and then you’re gonna cut and paste whatever performance you want in the editing room.” Editing can change everything. If you’re gonna swing for the fences it’s a much more comforting feeling knowing you have a good director.
CS: You can totally step over the line.
Evans: You can take risks. I’m just gonna keep slinging sh*t at the walls, and I’m gonna trust you to go back there and find something good in all the mess, but if you don’t have a good director it can backfire.
CS: Do you think you would be able to sustain almost a Johnny Depp-level heightened performance like that for a whole film?
Evans: Of insanity? Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the fun of acting. It was a lot of fun coming to set every day. “Alright, let’s make an *sshole out of myself. Let’s really be obnoxious. Let’s go there.” It’s therapeutic almost.
Puncture opens in limited release this Friday.