Chris Evans is known to millions around the world as Captain America, but he’s harbored a desire to direct for a long time and has now realized that dream with Before We Go, a low-budget independent romantic drama. He also stars as Nick Vaughan, a trumpet player who’s hanging around Grand Central Station in New York late one night when a woman named Brooke (Alice Eve) rushes past him to make a train but drops her phone. He retrieves the device, she misses her train and the two begin a strange night of adventures as he attempts to help her get back to New Haven, Connecticut by morning – while the unlikely pair slowly reveal to each other why she needs to get back and what he was doing in Grand Central at that time anyway.
For Evans, choosing the film on which to make his debut as a director came down to a simple set of circumstances. “Speaking perfectly honestly, it’s a matter of trying to find something that you are passionate about, that you connect to, but also something that the producers are willing to let you direct,” he remarked in a recent roundtable discussion in Los Angeles. “It’s not like, being a first time director, they’re throwing Aaron Sorkin scripts at you. I can’t tell you how many scripts I read that are shit.
“Then you realize that they are shit because no one is touching them and that is why they are coming to me,” he continued. “Its tough trying to find something that is available, that they’re willing to let you direct it, that you still are connected and passionate to. So this script was the closest thing to that and it just felt manageable. The script went through a lot of incarnations and it was massaged quite a bit, but it still felt like something I enjoy.”
Shooting a movie with essentially just two characters in it might seem like an easy way to go for a novice director – until you realize as you’re watching the film that Evans the actor is in every scene of the movie, a test for Evans the first-timer behind the camera. “I liked wearing both hats,” he said. “I’m a bit of a control freak so I enjoyed the responsibility.” But he also admitted that the very thing he liked about the script made it challenging to direct.
“Some scenes are five or six pages long, so if you are doing one full take and covering all of this dialogue, it’s not necessarily easy to run back and watch the scene on the monitor,” he explained. “You’ll double your workload over the night. So you kind of have to go with your gut, trust your producers, and just say, ‘Do we have that?’ It’s nice to have a flow going as an actor but as a director in the editing room, you kind of wish you had spent more time in the director’s chair just to watch the scene manufacture.”
But Evans also revealed that watching himself act from the vantage point of the director was a sobering experience: “It is tough watching yourself in the editing room. You really learn all your little crutches, your tricks, and your moves. You realize that editors know where all the bodies are buried. I wanted to call every editor I’ve ever worked with and say, ‘I’m so sorry. Don’t tell anybody what I do.’ It’s really eye opening. It’s tough to articulate what you learn but you do learn what you like, versus the things that are unusable. You remember the process that you were going through from take to take. It’s very educational.”
One person that Evans relied on for his expertise during the filming of the movie was cinematographer John Gulesarian. “Like Crazy is one of the movies that I used as an aesthetic template, so we ended up using the same DP and he’s just so fantastic,” gushed the actor. “Being a first timer you don’t necessarily have the technical lingo to express the look you want. It’s like you know what flavor you want to taste, you just don’t know the ingredients that go into it. The beautiful thing about movie making is that we all know cinema so you can reference other films and say, ‘Okay, that! In that film, what is that? How can we do that?’ Luckily I had a lot of people who were willing to be patient with me and walk me through it. But he was there for every step of the way including storyboards, scouting and all that.”
When it comes to expertise behind the camera, Evans’ own resume as an actor boasts a list of directors he has worked with – folks like Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Anthony and Joe Russo, David Ayer and Joss Whedon – whom he could theoretically call and ask for advice. “I did talk to some guys,” he said. “They knew I was doing it. The Russos, Edgar Wright, and even Mark (Kassen, Before We Go producer), who directed Puncture. The general consensus, given that they knew I was new, was: don’t be afraid to lean on people — you are surrounded by very talented people in their respected professions. Don’t pretend to know it all — you don’t. Ask for help if you need it, and trust the talent of the departments. You have to check your ego at the door and be willing to look foolish.”
Having admitted that he’s “caught the bug” when it comes to directing as a result of doing Before We Go, Evans also confessed that he could envision a point in the future where he’s not doing ny acting at all. “Listen, I love acting and I will always love acting,” he said. “Being a creative person, I think most creative people are relatively fickle. I think we search for an outlet and I think that evolves. That’s the beauty of being creative; it changes from day to day.
“Acting does come with a lot of strings attached to it — it’s not like you can just sit in your room and act,” he added. “You’re not a painter. You’re not a songwriter. So there is a much broader dance that you have to subscribe to. But given my experience as a director, I absolutely am in love with it, and the lessons I’ve learned and the tools I’ve adopted from this one, I’m very eager to tackle the next one. Who knows how that will evolve, who know when that will change. I couldn’t say that it will only be this or only be that, but I certainly have the bug.”
In the meantime, acting is still very much a part of the picture for Evans, and now that Before We Go is out, the next time we see him will be May 2016 when he dons the shield again as Steve Rogers in the sure-to-be-epic Captain America: Civil War. Evans (who recently said he’d be happy to extend his Marvel contract, his earlier thoughts on acting notwithstanding), whose Cap is a cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was candid in his assessment of Marvel’s impact on his career.
“Without the Marvel films I never would have this opportunity (to direct),” he elucidated. “The notoriety Marvel provides is what allows me to put myself in a movie and get it on its feet. That’s just the nature of the foreign pre-sale model. As an actor, I think just the nature of life experience — what Marvel brings in terms of making a movie of that magnitude, the ripple affect that has on me personally, emotionally, and mentally, that can only aid you in any creative endeavor, whether you are a director, actor, musician, or anything. So it’s certainly coloring my experience.”
Before We Go is out now on VOD and in limited theatrical release.