Farewell Captain America, hello Broadway

Hollywood actor Chris Evans makes his Broadway debut today as a charming but manipulative cop in Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero.
Hollywood actor Chris Evans makes his Broadway debut today as a charming but manipulative cop in Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Twice a week since he has been living in New York, actor Chris Evans has taken refuge in tap dancing, clearing his mind and working up a sweat in private lessons taught by a friend.

Evans, or Captain America, as he has been known in omnipresent Marvel movies for the better part of a decade, ordinarily splits his time between his native Boston and Los Angeles.

The lessons are not preparation for any role in particular, although Evans is hard at work on a pivotal one: his Broadway debut, as a charming but manipulative cop in Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, which opens today at the Helen Hayes Theatre.

The dancing, rather, is just a low-pressure new hobby. "It makes me feel like I'm a part of the music," Evans said.

Along with the play and the move to a new city, it is one component in an ad hoc but inevitable process designed to help the 36-year-old actor answer a nagging question: What do you do with your life after walking away from the role of a lifetime?

Since 2011, when Captain America: The First Avenger was released, Evans' face (and torso and biceps) has signified a marketable mix of principled strength and rank-and-file virtue as reliably as any in Hollywood.

He was a working-class revolutionary in the 2013 dystopic thriller, Snowpiercer; a stoic defender of the public-school system in the 2017 indie family drama, Gifted; and a cunning spy who risks everything to save a persecuted minority in the soon-to-be-released The Red Sea Diving Resort.

Then, there are the Avengers movies, in which the nobility of Evans' character is so unimpeachable that entire plotlines turn on the ticks of his moral compass.

In the Tribeca lounge, Evans volunteered his stereotype: "Taciturn men who are leaders, selfless and magnanimous."

Last year, he filmed back-to-back the final two Marvel movies for which he is under contract - Avengers: Infinity War, due next month, and a sequel planned for next year.

For now, he has no plans to return to the franchise ("You want to get off the train before they push you off," he said) and expects that planned reshoots in autumn will mark the end of his tenure in the familiar red, white and blue super suit.

It was in the midst of shooting Infinity War that Evans signed on for Lobby Hero, also starring Michael Cera, Brian Tyree Henry and Bel Powley.

The choice will give those wondering about Evans' frame of mind plenty to chew on: His character, known only as Bill, is essentially a narcissistic creep, with a vision of protecting the innocent that lifts a warped mirror to the actor's usual procession of do-gooders.

Although Lobby Hero is his Broadway debut, Evans is not a total stranger to theatre. He grew up in Sudbury, Massachusetts, outside Boston, in a family of performers: His mother was a dancer who later ran a children's theatre, his elder sister Carly studied drama at New York University and his younger brother Scott is a television actor who recently appeared on the Netflix comedy Grace And Frankie.

Evans is animated by the challenge of playing against type, but has surprisingly little anxiety about future prospects.

"I used to have thoughts of wanting to climb to the top of something or wanting to be somebody," he said.

"But when you get the thing that you think you want, then you wake up and realise that you still have pockets of sadness and that your struggle will reinvent itself, you stop chasing after those things and it's liberating because you realise that right here, right now, is exactly all I need."

Evans was wearing the urban camouflage of a black Nasa baseball cap with a cuffed brim pulled low. At about 1.8m tall, he is much less physically imposing in person than he appears on-screen, with the unassuming athleticism of the friend you forget does CrossFit until beach season comes around.

For the play, he grew a moustache and gained a super power of a different sort. "People don't recognise me at all," he said.

"I can look them right in the eye. It's like I'm invisible."

As has become the norm for star-driven plays on Broadway, Lobby Hero has a limited run - through May 13. When it is over, Evans will discover what it means to be a film actor with Captain America's face (and bank account), but without the job.

He wants to direct (his directorial debut Before We Go screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014) and to start a family.

When he has had his fill of tap dancing, he envisions many more hobbies, including sculpting and carpentry.

"I'm not afraid to take my foot off the gas," he said. "If someone said tomorrow, 'You're done. You can't do anything else,' I'd be okay."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Farewell Captain America, hello Broadway'. Print Edition | Subscribe