Sebastian Stan on The Bronze and Captain America: Civil War

Interview Don Kaye
3/20/2016 at 6:21AM

Actor Sebastian Stan dishes on how gymnasts do it in The Bronze and what Bucky’s up to in Civil War…

The Bronze is the story of Hope (Melissa Rauch, who co-wrote the script with her husband Winston), whose performance despite an injury a decade ago during a prestigious gymnastics competition brought a bronze medal and fame to her small Ohio town. Hope is still living off that long-faded glory 10 years later, still living with her dad (Gary Cole), not doing much with herself and trying to milk her minor celebrity for all its worth.

When she is promised a sizable inheritance if she helps train a new gymnastics sensation -- risking her own tenuous “stardom” -- Hope finds herself back in the world of professional gymnastics and in the orbit of Lance (Sebastian Stan), a former star like her and now coach of the women’s national team. Lance is as self-obsessed, fame-hungry and narcissistic as Hope -- and they briefly rekindle their dormant romance with a sex scene that answers the question of how gymnasts do it.

Sebastian Stan’s film and TV credits include The Martian, Black Swan, Ricki and the Flash, Gossip Girl, Once Upon a Time and others, but The Bronze gives him a chance to stretch out with an improvisational-style comedy. He’s best known around here, however, for playing Bucky Barnes, the best friend turned enemy of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and this May’s highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War. We spoke with Stan about Civil War, The Bronze and his highly gymnastic sex scene when we sat down recently in Los Angeles.

Den of Geek: What were your first impressions of Lance when you read the script?

Sebastian Stan: Oh, man. Well, I was just laughing, really out loud, with my friend. And I just kept quoting the movie over and over again. Then I just kept thinking about the character later on, the day after, and then going to sleep at night. Usually when something sticks in my brain that prominently, I take that as a good sign. He was just this unafraid, bold, somewhat narcissistic, arrogant prick that was also just like extremely insecure and filled with a lot of emptiness. I thought the script was really just original and comedic and, at the same time, had a lot of heart. And I was a fan of (director) Bryan Buckley. So it was a pretty done deal for me at that point.

Had you worked with Melissa before?

No, I didn’t. I watched her after I met her and it I was amazed because her character in The Big Bang Theory is so different from who she is as a person. She’s also extremely different playing Hope. It just shows you how she disappears sort of in her roles. But yeah, I think she’s really, really talented.

What did you find in Lance that you could emphasize with?

Well, I think there was a moment towards the end of the film where you kind of see a little bit the cracks through this sort of heavy exterior that he puts out. That was the only moment in the movie where I felt you get to see some of the reasons as to why he is the way he is, also just kind of how his story ends up. It kind of made me feel at least like, “Oh, I think it’s OK if we really go for it.” I think this movie was not afraid to show those flaws of these characters.

You said that you felt like you were comedically challenged working on this movie, especially in terms of doing improv.

Oh, yeah. It’s still very new for me, but that was the exciting part, to want to sign up for a challenge like that, because Melissa and Thomas (Middlemitch) and Cecily (Strong), they’re all really comedic actors. They are just so witty and off the cuff. For me, I just had…because I have a European background, even though I’m very Americanized, still, in my mind, my thought process is very different. So I always wonder how that’s going to read across, because in my head it might make sense, but sometimes the way it comes out it might be different.

Fortunately, Bryan was just so encouraging for me to just kind of go out there. I think you just have to sort to jump in the water, which is why this was such a good experience for me in terms of comedy. To me, it’s a lot about taking risks and staying fearless. I think that’s a big basis of what improv is.

Did you look into the whole gymnastics culture?

I did, yeah. I looked at all the men’s Olympic teams from a few years ago, all the way to going back to ’87. I’m like, just who were the guys? Who were the people that inspire the others? Then I actually was following some of them on Instagram and social media, which was great because I got to kind of get a little bit of insight into their inside world, so to speak. And I got to see them out and about in life with their friends.

So I had this idea at one point through someone I knew that Lance always had a backpack with him that had the essentials in it or, like, what he needed. He just had this really immaculate, expensive, epic backpack that had a change of clothes in case he needed to hit the gym last minute, or a couple protein bars, a book on like…maybe Trump’s Art of the Deal could be in there. You know what I mean? So just kind of little things like that that would give me an idea of who the guy is.

What do you think the movie says about celebrity culture?

I think it says a lot. Look at Peyton Manning. I think football players deal with it a lot. But yes, our industry certainly has a fair share of it. I think the idea is that there is a dark side to success. There is definitely an underbelly underneath all the glamour and success that is quite taxing on people. I think that this movie explores a little bit of what loss of childhood is about, for example, and being rewarded to the extent that these gymnasts or athletes are rewarded so early in their lives where their psyches are still forming. Their careers kind of come to an end around 25, 27 years old. You’re not even a man really at that point.

But they learn the reward centers in their brain and so on. So it does create a monster a little bit in people, I think, at least in this movie. It sort of deals with that a little bit at the root; you know, what happens when the Olympics are over? What happens when the training is done and you go home? What happens when your body gives out and you are not able to compete like you used to? We’ve certainly seen that be a tragic sort of movie with a lot of different celebrities. So that’s all part of the film.

Have you ever met anyone in this business, without naming names, who had that kind of Hope-like type of personality and was dining out on past glories?

I don’t think I’ve shook anyone’s hand that was like that, fortunately. But I’m pretty sure I’ve been in a room with people like that at some point one way or another.

Is this peculiarly American, this type of culture?

To me it seems it is. To me it seems so. I think in America, much more than Europe, there is that…Think of the world of pageants. Think of the world of arm wrestling. Just competition period I think is different here than it is in Europe. It’s the idea of better, stronger, faster. When is it enough? Is it enough that you won a gold or is there something else after? You know, there’s got to be something better.

I think my character in this film represents that sort of ideology of someone that’s like, “I want to be better. I want to be stronger. I want to be faster.” Lance Tucker is the kind of guy that will be 50-something one day and will be on the growth hormone, will be the guy that will try to live with the times and be youthful forever.

Let’s talk about the sex scene in the movie. It was obviously a show stopper. How was that done? Were there doubles involved?

We had doubles. Bryan allowed me to do, I want to say, about 80% of it. It was a lot of fun. It was also one of the first scenes I shot. So it was like, “Well, I guess I’m going to get to know the crew right now.” I was close to everyone after that. I imagine it’s probably what shooting a porn would be like. You’re really self-conscious about every single angle and on what camera that may end up, so to speak. The idea was to make what was in the script, and what was in the script was the most epic, elaborate, crazy, bizarre gymnastics sex scene that was ever written. And that was what we were going for.

My wife and I were watching and I noticed she’s laughing. She said, “Did you ever hear about the joke: how do gymnasts fuck?” I guess that’s it.

That would be it! You are like, “My god. They’re so flexible. Who knows what is possible for them?” That’s what the scene asks, is what would it be like?

I’m going to ask you a couple general questions about Civil War. One thing that’s interesting is that there have been some screenings and people have said that even though you’ve got all these other Avengers in the movie, it’s very much a Cap/Bucky story. Did you find that to be the case?

Absolutely, yeah. That is really the truth. The attention shift in the movie and sort of the nature of the movie is…people will understand why it’s not an Avengers movie, story, per se, because it’s tonally on the same par, if not more brutal, than Winter Soldier. And that really has to do with the Russo (Brothers, directors) and the remarkable writers that we have. So yeah, there’s a lot of the unfinished business from The Winter Soldier movie and still dealing with a lot of the stories that have been implicated in all of the other movies. But it’s definitely a Captain America movie.

Most of your stuff in the last movie was with Chris and Scarlett. Was it fun for you to start interacting with more of the other members of the family?

Yeah, yeah. Of course. I mean some of them I didn’t work with. Others I did. But it’s really like a family. Some of those guys, including Chris, they’ve done these characters way more than me. I’ve only had three movies at it. And every time I do it I discover something new about my character. Like some other thing will pop in my head and I’ll go, “Wow. I didn’t think about that before.” So they are a little bit ahead of me in terms of, I think, having played their characters in so many more movies.

But regardless, it definitely feels like a family and everyone has a really good way of sort of respecting each other’s space and process while, at the same time, it can be like the best fraternity party there ever was with the likes of Anthony Mackie, and Jeremy Renner, and Paul Rudd. I mean they’re all just…they are just all great guys. So there’s a good experience with them.

Were you surprised with Bucky’s arc in this film, where he starts and where he maybe ends up?

I’m always surprised because I never know where they are going to take it. I never know where they are going to take the story. So I’ve learned at this point to not really have expectations when I read the scripts. I’m just kind of pleasantly surprised. I knew this was a massive movie. And it was much more of a relief to me, like, “Oh, cool. I’m the script! I’m in there enough. I’ve got more than one scene. Amazing.”

But yeah, it’s always a surprise. Like I said, the minds behind all of it are incredibly impressive to me because I couldn’t hold onto so many plot points as they are able to do.

Are you in the Avengers: Infinity War movies? Do you know?

I don’t know yet. I haven’t been told. I have no idea where I’ll fit into any of that.

What’s next for you immediately after doing press for this one?

I’m doing an indie with JK Simmons and this young actress, Britt Robertson, I believe her name is. She’s great. That will be shooting at the end of the month and I’m excited about that because I’m a huge fan of his. I’ll have to think about how to tell what the story is about maybe next time. It’s called Steve’s Umbrella.

The Bronze opened on Friday (March 18) and is out now in theaters.