At some point, not long after Chris Evans finished the seventh of seven contractually obligated Captain America performances with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, he left Los Angeles. The idea was, well—there were a few ideas. One was getting out of a town that Evans associates with “Pavlovian anxiety.” Another was going back home to Massachusetts, where Evans grew up and where he’s often resided since 2014. When he steps off the plane there, he says, it “takes me back to a place when life was not just simpler—that’s too reductive—but to a time where I was more pure, I guess; where my ego and my insecurities weren’t such a dominant force that I had to push against.” At his house just outside Boston, Evans says, “I really take my time.” Just thinking about it makes him smile. His voice turns boyish, sweet, soft: “I can’t believe I’m 42.”
Evans has been working steadily and successfully in Hollywood for more than 20 years. But he has not always felt in control there. When he was younger, he acted in a lot of what he now describes as “bad movies.” His first real successes in the industry came by way of a series of characters who were “jocky pricks,” he says: handsome, muscular assholes whose smugness was their most memorable quality. And then came Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America, a character so defined and iconic—unlike other Marvel heroes, Cap has basically been the same virtuous guy since the day of his invention in 1940—that Evans’s main job was as much to be a caretaker as it was to be an inventor or an explorer.
None of these roles line up all that precisely with the way Evans is in his daily nonworking life, a fact that suits him. “There are some people that you meet and you just think, Man, that’s a movie star,” he says. He is adamant that he is not one of them. “I love to act,” he says. “But it’s not something that I couldn’t live without.” He has had enough success to be financially secure for the rest of his life, and probably a few lifetimes beyond. But despite that success, or maybe because of it, he is interested in, well: anything but the grand narrative of Chris Evans. “When I don’t pay attention to myself at all,” he says, “and just, you know, question why black holes exist, that brings into perspective a macro understanding of the fact that I’m even here is a miracle. It’s like shooting a bullet with another bullet. I mean, the fact that any of us are here is unbelievable. And that kind of just brings me a sense of deep peace. And I don’t have any more thoughts or questions about my own career.”
Before we met, I’d had this idea that in Evans’s life and work could be found all sorts of interesting notions about what it is to be a leading man in a modern film industry that is even now fighting for a sustainable logic. I thought: Last year alone he filmed three projects—Apple’s action comedy Ghosted, with Ana de Armas; Netflix’s Pain Hustlers, a sly, clever movie about the opioid crisis; and Amazon’s upcoming Christmas movie Red One, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—that seem to tell a story about Hollywood in 2023, where the streamers are dominant, the actors and the writers are now on strike, and guys like Evans are trying to find their version of the careers that sustained their predecessors, where art and commerce coexist and original storytelling is still possible.
Then we met and Evans told me that all this, while potentially interesting to someone, is something he personally would prefer to never think about. It’s why he left Los Angeles in the first place. In Massachusetts, he says, he pays close attention to the passing of the seasons. He will literally marvel at a flower. “The fact that trees are green blows my mind,” Evans says. There are those who wonder at the universe because they’re naturally disposed to contemplate themselves as a small speck in a giant and ever expanding galaxy. And Chris Evans is probably one of those people, on balance. But mostly, these days, he marvels at the universe as a defense mechanism. “I’ve just learned early on that when I go small, I suffer,” Evans says. “When I look at my own life and it’s under a microscope, or when I consider my own experience, it leads to cyclical unhappiness.”
He’s not too sure about conversations like the one we’re having now either. “Even on the way here I was just thinking how much I dislike these things,” he says. “And I was like, Well, if that’s what you feel, say that.” But Evans also tends to read the stuff people write about him, and he hasn’t been happy in the past when he reads himself telling journalists he dislikes these things. “I’ve certainly gotten sick of hearing myself say that. Sometimes I’ve read it, I’m like, Shut up, Chris. Who the fuck cares? Shut up! Like, you’re just so complainy. Because you don’t want to seem that way. But like I said, I sometimes go into interviews with the mentality of: Say exactly what’s in your brain. Just say what’s in your brain.”
So what’s your mentality today, exactly?
“Um,” Evans says. “To say that I don’t know what my mentality is.”
And this is maybe another glimpse of what it’s like to live in Chris Evans’s head, which even he would escape if he could. And tries to, more or less every day.
“Chris is extraordinarily introspective,” Lisa Evans, his mother, tells me, laughing. “Even when he was a little boy, just before bed he would ask me these intense questions, and I’d look at him and say, ‘Oh, my God.’ You know, his question is like: ‘Mom, who am I?’ ”
Evans says sometimes he looks at his dog, Dodger—whom Evans regularly posted to his millions of followers on Instagram until he woke up one day this past summer and decided to deactivate it, for all the reasons you’re probably beginning to understand—and feels something that is almost like envy. “What he’s not thinking about is yesterday,” Evans says. “What he’s not worried about is tomorrow. He’s actively engaging in the moment in this really, really clean way. And this all feels a little basic, but he’s a little teacher, isn’t he? He’s like a little example of what we should be doing. And he’s just so honest, so pure, so good. He has no idea that I’m famous. He has no idea. And he can’t know, which is like this, it’s like an airtight thing. I mean, he’s famous and he’ll never know. He can’t, it’s like an impenetrable character trait. He can’t be corrupted.”
New York is sweltering, outside, but inside the Greenwich Hotel, in a little bar off the lobby, it’s cool and pleasant and feels like nowhere in particular at all. Evans is dressed not unlike the way you might imagine he’s dressed: Red Sox hat, beard and glasses, black T-shirt. Evans carries himself with the dreamy reserve of the theater kid he was. “A little late bloomer, a little socially awkward,” as he describes that kid. “I didn’t really want to leave my house. You know, one of those guys. You have the one or two friends, tops.”
When I ask his mother if this is the way she remembers it, too, she laughs. “Confirmed,” she says. “He didn’t do well with big groups of kids.”
Still, Evans had an idyllic childhood: Lisa, his mother, would later become the director of a theater company that Evans and his siblings attended, his father was a dentist, and his uncle, Mike Capuano, was the mayor of Somerville and later served two decades in Congress. Even Evans’s Hollywood story was charmed, at first: He parlayed a high school internship with a casting agency in New York into an agent of his own, and then got cast in a pilot, Opposite Sex, in Los Angeles shortly after he graduated. When he moved, it was to the Oakwood apartments near Toluca Lake, a perpetual hotbed of young, aspiring actors. “When you first show up, you’re excited, and there’s a lot of hope and dreams,” he says. “But you’re also a little delusional.”
This was Evans’s jocky-pricks era. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in 2005’s Fantastic Four—Evans’s first Marvel go-round—was like this. So was the character he played in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and 2011’s What’s Your Number?, and so on. “I came up as an asshole,” Evans says. “And I got cast as a lot of assholes.”
Because of this, he sometimes gets the vibe, talking to a person he’s just met, that that person thinks: Chris Evans once stuffed me in a locker. But if anything, it went the other way for Evans, in the days when he was around lockers, he says. He is a nice, thoughtful guy in a really pure way, in a way that almost makes you worry about him. His defenses against the world are somehow both elaborate and, in the end, not all that helpful. “He’s been public about this, he does have anxiety,” his mother says. “But I watched him learn how to manage—he’s really great at taking the focus off of himself.”
But he is also great at playing assholes. “I think sometimes opposites are appealing,” David Yates, who directed Evans in Pain Hustlers, says. “It’s the fun of reaching for something that he’s not.” And Evans has had some fun. Memorably, and recently, in Knives Out, as a sneering dickhead in a great sweater. In last year’s The Gray Man, as a gleefully sadistic hit man alongside Ryan Gosling. And in Pain Hustlers, in which he plays a fast-talking opioid salesman with pliable ethics and a deep enthusiasm for strip clubs. “I think, if anything, playing Captain America”—honest and deliberate and infinitely scrupulous—“was slightly against type,” Evans says.
But there is type and then there is reality, and one wonders, I say to Evans, where he thinks he falls in real life—toward the hyperverbal, charmingly abrasive guys that made his reputation or the earnest, stolid superhero that made his career?
Evans’s answer to this, I’d say, is not particularly clear, except in the sense that it’s authentic to him: digressive, confessional, allergic to definition one way or another. “It’s funny,” he says, “I’ve been told that I’m an extrovert. Even though I think we all kind of feel like introverts to some degree. I’m a pretty open person. I like communication. I’m not sure how much I believe in astrology, but I’m a Gemini and I’ve had enough ex–girlfriends tell me, ‘You’re such a Gemini.’ And one of the qualities of Geminis is communication. We like to share and converse and just be candid. I, kind of to a fault, will dump my brain out unapologetically. Sometimes whether I’m asked to or not. But that type of emotional sharing often comes with physicality that I’m comfortable in, you know, body language and cadence. There’s a commonality to that character type”—meaning, the abrasive guy, I gather—“that I think I feel comfortable with.”
But, he says, in total earnestness: “In terms of, you know, morality, in terms of your personal integrity and the man you want to be? I’d like to believe I have more in common with Captain America. He sets a pretty high bar.”
Captain America. First seen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, a fun, quippy World War II movie that came a few years after 2008’s Iron Man, which starred Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, of course, was shockingly successful, and basically set us on the increasingly narrow path, American movies–wise, we are still walking to this day. The first Avengers, which combined Evans and Downey alongside Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner, came out in 2012 and made $1.5 billion. It’s been Marvel all the way down ever since.
Evans got in just late enough, in terms of when he was offered the part, to know what he was getting into. “I was really apprehensive about taking the role initially,” he says. At the time, he was nearly 30. “I remember in my late 20s having a real shift in how I felt on set, how I felt promoting films: a little more anxiety, a little more uncertainty. You always end up questioning, Is this what I should be doing?” To the extent that he recognized the trajectory he was on, it didn’t feel like a great one. “I just wasn’t sure if I was moving closer to myself or further away. And something inside me kept saying that I was getting further away—that something about this industry wasn’t healthy.” The work was messing with his psyche, his sense of joy, even his sense of self.
So he said no a few times before he said yes. Negotiated down the commitment, in terms of how many movies he was going to owe Marvel. Weighed the positive and the negative—“the pros were that I’d be able to take care of my family forever; the cons were that I would become deeply, deeply unhappy with fame and loss of control”—and then, in the end, put on the suit and became the man.
“I often think about the parallel world where he said no,” Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, says. “Robert Downey Jr. gets a lot of attention, deservedly so, for being the foundation of this studio we have here. But in many, many ways, Chris Evans was one of those additional pillars that the house would not be standing today, if not for him.”
Looking back on it now, Evans says, he mostly just feels gratitude. He did not in the end lose control, or become deeply unhappy. “I love playing that role,” he says. “I feel connected to it in a way that when you revisit a character so many times you can’t help but try to absorb some of their traits and measure yourself against them.”
And beyond gratitude, a bunch of feelings that he chooses not to examine at all. “I think sometimes it feels like almost nothing in my career or life is really happening to me. It feels like you’re watching someone else do it, or you feel like you’re spectating. So when you get asked questions like that”—the question, for what it’s worth: Did Evans feel like he was able to walk away from the character with his sense of independent self intact?—“you’re like, Shit, I don’t know, ask him. Oh, it’s me. Oh, fuck. That’s right. I don’t know. I just feel like I’ve been sitting here watching it happen to that guy with everyone else. So sometimes you feel very outside of it. Like I said, the time in the field has shown that the more you spend thinking about those things, the less happy you are.”
“I think the world knows he did a spectacular job,” Feige says. “And a lot of it was getting out of his own head.”
What Evans does notice, what he will allow himself to think about, is freedom that the reported tens of millions of dollars he received for playing the role of Captain America provides him. “If I wanted to stop everything now, I could,” he says. “Which is incredible. And that’s a blessing beyond words. Specifically, because life is unpredictable and anything can happen.” Evans is still an anxious guy. But now he’s an anxious guy who knows, somewhere in that swirling mass of anxiety, that he has the resources and power to take on whatever thing may come. “I’m a bit of an overplanner. I try to set things up so that any sort of future curveball that happens, I’ve planned for it. And that’s ostensibly exactly what Marvel’s provided.” He can relax. “And part of that relaxing is just, uh, putting my brain down, putting my anxiety down. And the analysis, the kind of planning for tomorrow. I don’t have to do that as much anymore, and I can just be present.”
Evans is, of course, aware of the story that now gets told about the comic book movies he was central to: that they were a tidal wave that changed Hollywood forever, ushering in a new age of interconnected franchise entertainment that quickly became the dominant model for the industry. In terms of box office, the Avengers movies and their assorted spin-offs are some of the most successful and lucrative films Hollywood has ever made. Evans takes only a very, very, very small amount of credit for this. “You kind of feel like you were just lucky enough to go along for the ride,” he says. “It’s like winning the Super Bowl, but you weren’t Tom Brady. I mean, you were on the team. You might have had a couple good plays, but it’s not your victory to own. You are a part of it, which is wonderful. And you’re a part of a cultural phenomenon.”
A cultural phenomenon that, most days, feels like something he is just watching, alongside the rest of us—perhaps as a particularly close bystander, but a bystander nonetheless. “You really do feel like you can converse with people as if you were a spectator too,” Evans says. “It’s strange realizing that you were a part of it and in some ways it lasted, you know, decades and in some ways it lasted a minute. It was over before it began. When I try to remember 2016, ’17, ’18, in the peak of it all, I kind of can’t really remember.” Evans was going from movie to movie and cameo to cameo across the Marvel universe, all filmed back-to-back. Eleven total movies in nine years. “It all goes by so quick. It’s just kind of the norm and another one comes out and you jump back into it, another one comes out and it’s just kinda business as usual. So I still don’t know if I’m far enough away from it to reflect properly. I mean, I feel the gratitude every day, but in terms of impact or meaning, I don’t know that I’ve really properly sat with it. Maybe on purpose.”
He laughs. “I don’t even have the impulse to reflect on it,” Evans says, “because I’d have to recognize that I was really there the whole time.”
These days, when presented with a new project, Chris Evans might look out the window of his house before deciding whether to do it. “Now it’s really about, well: What time of year are we filming?” His voice goes sweet and boyish again. “Am I gonna miss autumn? You know, I don’t want to miss autumn. I only have so many of them.”
He’s got other interests. “I could just make furniture for nobody and be happy,” he says. And while he still loves movies and actors and telling stories, Evans says, “I don’t want to—I’ve got to frame this the right way. I was going to say, I don’t want to waste too much time in this industry, but that doesn’t really feel.… That doesn’t sound correct. I don’t want to occupy too much space in an industry that I’ve already poured 20 years into.” He laughs. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m lacking some sort of—like, I think I’m a very driven person. I have a lot of energy. I wake up early, I get a lot done in a day, but it’s not always focused on acting. Sometimes reading a script is the last thing I want to do.”
Evans has not been on a movie set in 2023. “I haven’t worked all year and I don’t plan to, which has been lovely.” Last year, he worked nonstop on three different movies, an accident of scheduling that he regrets. “My girlfriend that I’ve had for a while, when we began dating”—a couple months after we spoke, Evans and his girlfriend, Alba Baptista, got married—“I was like: ‘Yeah, I do one movie a year. I try to never work now.’ And then, after like a few months of dating, boom, guess what? We’re living in Atlanta for a year. Get ready. And even when that year was happening, I was like, man, never again.”
Evans says he liked making all three movies. It was more that it was exhausting. And more than exhausting, well: It was a lot of Chris Evans, even for Chris Evans. Especially for Chris Evans. “I think as much as you try to keep the experience of making a film in a vacuum and isolate it from all the kind of egoic narrative that wants to break through,” he says, and just try to “create and be emotionally accessible and vulnerable and take risks, you can’t help but be aware of yourself. And as a result, there is a little egoic voice in your head that is aware of your past, that is measuring your future. It’s considering the story of yourself, which I think is fundamentally unhealthy and, for me, starts to erode some of my joy.”
I ask if, at the risk of considering the story of himself more than he wants to, he can reconstruct the logic that led him to doing each of the movies he did.
“Sure,” he says, sighing a little and beginning with Ghosted, which came out in April to generally negative reviews. “Ghosted to me felt like a movie that I grew up on, a movie that maybe we don’t see very much anymore. And the question is whether or not audiences have outgrown those types of films.”
Is that a question you had going into it or coming out of it?
“Both. I didn’t think audiences had outgrown it prior, and I still don’t think they have, despite the fact, I mean, technically I think we did okay on, in terms of viewership. Critics didn’t like it. But that’s more the fault of the movie as opposed to the appetite of the audience. I think the appetite’s there, if it’s done properly. We could have been better.”
Pain Hustlers, he says, was a no-brainer. Emily Blunt, the star, is a friend of his. The director, David Yates, is “a lovely, lovely man.” And perhaps most importantly, it was “a really fun role. It was a role that I was excited to play because it was a real character.”
He grins. “And then Red One: I’ve just been looking for a Christmas movie my whole career.” Simple as that.
He’s right about the Pain Hustlers character, I should say. Fun part. Evans plays the drug rep, who is partially based on a real person, as a fast-talking New Yorker with an overflowing well of ambition whose moral self melts quickly and definitively in the face of temptation. It falls in the tradition of perhaps Evans’s happiest place in Hollywood these days, which is: not at the center of the movie. “I would run away from the leading man role every time if I could,” he says.
He has done this long enough to know the difference between himself and some of his peers. “Someone like Robert Downey Jr. walks in the room and he owns the oxygen,” Evans says. “He’s just such a presence, such a force. Magnetic in every way. Let him be the lead. Let him have the mic, let him say the lines. Whatever needs to be said. That’s fine. Because as an actor, there’s two sides to the profession, isn’t there? There’s the thing you do on set and then the things you do after. And it’s that after stuff that I still struggle with. And it’s that after stuff that some people are just phenomenal at and some people are just born to do it. I say: Let ’em. I’m not trying to fit into that box. So if a good supporting role comes along, I’m jumping at it. Just like Knives Out. I’m happy to be in an ensemble. I don’t need to carve out some sort of leading man niche for myself.”
Evans says that in many ways, despite the multiple movies the character headlined, Captain America felt like a supporting role too: “That was the beauty of working on Marvel films. You never really had to be front and center. Even in your own films sometimes. Quentin Tarantino said it recently”—on a podcast, Tarantino said, “Part of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood is, you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters, but they’re not movie stars. Captain America is the star”—“and I was like, you know, he’s right. The character is the star. You’re there, but you don’t feel the burden of it.” (Feige gently disagrees: “I think it’s something he was telling himself, and I think it’s something many of the Avengers, including Robert, would tell themselves, which actually was very helpful to the process. But in certain cases, including Chris’s, it’s not entirely true.”)
In 2012, early in Evans’s run as Captain America, he was cast as a rebel leader in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, a memorable part in a memorable movie that he nearly didn’t get. Bong, before meeting Evans, had only a vague impression of him as an actor, calling him in a French interview “the caricature of the muscle–bound American. I could see him as the captain of his high school football team.” Then he and Evans met. “I realized that he was an intelligent—almost nerdy—and very sensitive young man,” Bong said.
I ask Evans if this was the kind of thing that happened a lot, directors confusing him for the muscle-bound character he played for so many years. I mention to him the quote from Bong Joon-ho.
“I don’t know,” he says. Then he pauses for a long time, and when he starts talking again, it’s to himself, not me. “I guess I’m not being completely honest with myself. Maybe I.… You know, on the one hand, I don’t love these types of interviews because I don’t know if I always fit easily into a box. And sometimes I’ve read pieces that I don’t think accurately represent me, but you’re like: Well, you did say that, Chris. But then I can feel myself going down a rabbit hole of like, okay, well, then just say this. Don’t say that. Stop mentioning whatever. And then I’m like: Chris, what are we doing here? You’re all of a sudden concerned about crafting this narrative. You’re back on the potter’s wheel. For what? For who? For you? For them? This doesn’t matter. This doesn’t matter. This is just reinforcing some sort of an egoic narrative of who you think you should be, how you want to be perceived. It’s only going to lead you to unhappiness. Because even if this comes out exactly the way I want to be perceived, well that’ll be nice for a moment. But then it’s a matter of how do I keep that going? I should break the chain right now and stop caring about this.”
Finally, he stops his self-directed monologue and turns back to make eye contact. “So even though the Bong quote is nice, even though your question is good about how I’m perceived, even though I could opine on it for an hour, it is a step in the wrong direction. It feels like a step in the direction of caring about something that I’m really trying to not care about. So while I say I don’t like these interviews, that flies in the face of what I just said, because that means I care one way or another about how I’m perceived. My goal is to try and not care and just answer and just be honest.”
You mentioned writers trying to put you in one particular box or other. Do you have a sense of me trying to do that to you?
“No, not at all. Not at all. Actually, that’s so funny. My girlfriend’s really big into people’s energies and first impressions. I’m not so much, because I feel that I don’t always give off the same thing out of the gate. So I try to really reserve judgment. But you had a very, very nice energy when you first came in.”
I don’t know if you, the reader, needed to hear that last part. But I liked the compliment. And if Evans is going to be practicing honesty today, so will I. So in it goes.
He orders a beer. I ask if he’d ever go back to Marvel. “Yeah, maybe,” he says. “I’ll never say never, just because it was such a wonderful experience. But I’m also very precious with it. It’s something that I am very proud of. And like I said, sometimes I can’t believe it even happened. And I wouldn’t want the black eye if it felt like a cash grab or if it didn’t live up to expectations or if it just felt like it wasn’t connected to that original thing. So, no time soon. And ultimately I really hope to just maybe act a little bit less in my life. I have a lot of other interests. Look, by no means have I climbed any sort of a mountain in this field. I have no Oscars and I’m not lumped with other names that are at the top of the mountain in any way. But I also feel very satisfied.”
He’s directed once, with 2014’s Before We Go, a sincere little movie about two strangers sharing a couple of complicated days together—he’d like to do that again.
But again, mostly, he’d just like to work less. He says he knows it sounds silly, but he’d like to do more with his hands. “I like autonomous things. I’d like to just smoke a joint, put on some music, and like, get into pottery. You know what I mean? Seth Rogen, what he’s doing. It’s good for you, man. You just go to your workshop and make something. And how satisfying, how simple, how quotidian. I love acting, but you can’t act alone. I chose a profession that requires not just a lot of different artists, but it requires an audience.”
If he’s got a real goal left, it’s the only goal, which is: how to get out of a body and a brain that will not stop reminding him of all the self-conscious limitations we all face, and he in particular seems to face, in the moments when his brain moves in directions he’d prefer it not to move. “In my opinion, that’s what makes humans, you know? We’re sentient beings. We’re born into suffering. But we get the opportunity to shed that skin. The reason my dog fits, it’s because he doesn’t know about fitting. That’s the dividing quality. The lion, the bird, the cloud, the waterfall—the reason these things all work in harmony is because none of them are aware of needing to work. It’s our self-awareness that separates us. But also what causes our suffering. We think it’s what elevates us. I’d say that’s what actually makes us inferior.”
He’s got to go in a minute. But he’s got more thoughts about how to abandon thoughts entirely. He is aware of the paradoxes here. “We’re all desperate to make a mark, or be seen a certain way,” he says. “And this profession,” meaning acting, “certainly exacerbates that.” The tape recorder on the table between us: another paradox. You want to tell the truth, but you also don’t want to want anything at all. Which is what he’s working on every day. So, the mission, as Chris Evans describes it: “Can you simultaneously exist in a body that is aware of itself without the shackles that come with that ego? And slowly recognize that, and put that part of your self-awareness down, to just try and be the dog sitting in the field looking at a tree?”
And then he smiles and drinks his beer and shrugs and once again tries his best not to think about how any of this will look when it gets written down.
Zach Baron is GQ’s senior special projects editor.
The interviews and photo shoot for this story were conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of GQ with the title “Chris Evans Is Having Second Thoughts”
Photographs by Stevie Dance
Styled by Amanda Pham
Hair by Orlando Pita for Home Agency
Skin by Kumi Craig using Sisley