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Chris Evans On His Directorial Debut ‘Before We Go,’ Filming In New York, & ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’

Chris Evans On His Directorial Debut ‘Before We Go,’ Filming In New York, & ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’

There’s little more terrifying in the movie business than directing your first feature film and releasing it into the wild. That fear multiplies by several degrees when you’re already a major movie star. That’s the scenario Captain America himself, Chris Evans, finds himself in with “Before We Go.” The film, which premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, follows a young couple’s night in New York City. When Abby (Alice Eve) gets robbed and misses her train back to Boston, she finds herself stranded in the city with no money and no one to call for assistance. Luckily, she meets Pete (Evans), a struggling musician who volunteers to help her out and get her back home. They end up spending the rest of the night wandering around the city, discussing their lives and relationships.

It might seem weird that a man best known for his work in superhero movies has chosen a romantic comedy for his directorial debut. However, as Evans explained during our interview, he is a big fan of the genre and responded well to the script, which was penned by Ron Bass, best known for writing the screenplay to “Rain Man.” Evans seems relieved to be done with the shoot, yet is excited that the final product is finally starting to make its way in front of audiences. (The film was shot this past December before Evans took off to film the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” hitting theaters in 2015.)

Below, Evans speaks about when he first decided he wanted to direct a film, how difficult it was shooting it in New York City, and how it felt going back to acting after he was finished directing “Before We Go.”

Congrats on the film. I am sure directing your first feature can be a…
[Makes vomit noise] Thanks, man.

Exactly.
It’s good to be done. It’s intimidating to be talking about it, because I am so used to being an actor, where your job is a small piece of the puzzle.

The burden isn’t all on you.
Nah. It’s like, I did my job. If I didn’t like the movie it’s not my fault. But this time, if you don’t like the movie, that’s my fault [laughs].

So you went through test screenings for this film. How did those go? I assume they aren’t fun, particularly for a first-time director.
They went well. But it’s emotionally challenging. You have to read things where you’re like “Oh god!” And that’s OK. I am sure every movie I’ve made even as an actor had multiple test screenings. And I am sure there have been horrible things written about me. But I never have to see them! And with this process you have to see them, and that’s tough.

When did you first decide you wanted to start directing?
God, I guess I would say always. Which may not be the most accurate statement…

Like prior to acting?
No, no, not prior to acting. I’ll say initially acting was my first love and that’s what I pursued. But then, so far as even my first day on a film set, and just watching how things were set up, I just said “I think I want to be in charge.” I am very much type-A. I am a bit of a control freak. And the more movies I made, the more experiences I had as an actor, and then you finish your job and then you go away and then six to eight months later you see the product. And a lot of times for me, it’s like, No, that’s not what I thought this was gonna be. Fuck! So that’s disappointing. Eventually I got to a point where I would take jobs because I read the script and I would see the movie in my mind, and you take the job and you see the final product and it’s very different from the movie. And you say “Man, I think if I were in charge I could have made a better movie.” That’s obviously a wildly arrogant thing to say…

Well, you also need some arrogance if you want to be a director.
Yeah, you need arrogance in any creative endeavor.


Exactly.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It just got to a point where…part of me thinks I could tell a good story. But more than that, I got hungry for something different. You know, you do something for a little bit of a time and you say “This is great.” But I just wanted something different. I just wanted to try something else. Even growing up I always liked creating things. Whether it was building a fort or writing a song or drawing a picture. As an actor, acting is like playing a sport. You do this thing that’s intangible, and while it’s happening it’s great. But then when it’s done, there’s really no tangible product. Someone else is capturing it and turning it into something tangible. While you’re performing it’s this fleeting experience that’s wonderful when it’s happening. But then it’s gone and it’s over. And that’s great. But someone else is in charge of turning it into something. And even when you watch a movie later you’re like, OK, I guess I made that character. I like the feeling of making things. It’s very very rewarding. And filmmaking is that type of experience, where you’re forced to collaborate with so many people. You’re involved in the beginning to end, you’re involved with so many elements, and when it’s done, you’re like I made this movie.

Your character in this movie is a trumpet player. Do you know how to play the trumpet now?
No, I suck. That fucking instrument is hard!

You did a good job miming it in the film!
Yeah, we literally hired a trumpet player and we were like “play these songs,” and we videotaped his fingering. So I memorized his fingering. I was like, I will do the fingering accurately. In terms of actually making the sound, pshhhhh. That shit sucked! And I tried but it sounds like a dying cat.

Another observation: I am not a Boston fan by any means, but I always appreciate when a director is able to sneak in a reference to their favorite team, like you do with the Red Sox championship here.
[Smiles and starts clapping] You’ve got to squeak it in!

So New York City isn’t exactly the easiest place to shoot, particularly for your directorial debut.
Totally not. That was our biggest challenge. If I want to continue to directing, I keep saying “The next thing I do, I am not doing New York.” Because the problem with New York —and I love New York, it’s a beautiful setting— is that it’s fucking expensive. Like shooting at Grand Central [Station], that shit is fucking expensive! Grand Central, we had two days. So we shot the beginning of the movie and the end of the movie in two days of filming. My first two days directing! And my producers made it very clear: “We have two days. That’s fucking it! You better get what you need.” So you’re just so fucking stressed. It was a 19-day shoot. It would be nice to have some more time, it would be nice to have a setting where each day wasn’t so costly. It was so pricey. If we didn’t make our day in New York, we’re going to get hit financially. So it would be wonderful if we shoot the next job in, I don’t know, Louisiana.

I read that you did a first edit for this film on iMovie.
Yep. Well, first of all, iMovie is fucking phenomenal! That shit is fucking great! We finished the movie right before Christmas, I was supposed to go into editing mid-January, and then I had to leave mid-March. So we had eight weeks to edit. And I had some producers who were friendly with me, and they were like, “listen, that’s a very short amount of time. Are you ready to hurry?” I was like, “you know what? I am going to fucking do this shit.”

Hey, it’s your vision, you might as well give it a shot.
Yeah, I know what I am doing. Give me the fucking dailies. So they sent me the dailies, and I just started plugging them into iMovie. I went onto YouTube, literally [searched] “How to use iMovie.” I learned how to use iMovie from fucking YouTube! And it actually wasn’t that hard at all. I got through about 45 minutes of the movie. I met my editor through Skype, and he’s a great guy. I told him “A lot of great directors have their editor edit while they’re filming.” 

Really?
Yeah, no shit! That’s what they do. Editors cut the movie while they’re filming. I was like, “no! Don’t show me anything. I have a whole movie in my head. Let me do my movie and we’ll compare. You do yours. I am not above using your version, but I don’t want to see it yet. Let me get mine out first.” So over Christmas and New Year’s I just sat in the bedroom I grew up in in Boston and would just edit. I got about 40 minutes done and I went back to LA and said “Here’s my cut.” And he said, “Well here’s my cut.” And we just compared cuts. We had very different interpretations of the movie, but ultimately he was phenomenally valuable.

So you filmed this before you started filming ‘Avengers 2’? Did Joss [Whedon] know you were directing a film?
Yep.

Did he give you any tips?
No, he didn’t give tips. No director can give tips. It’s like asking an actor what to do. You can’t give tips. Because you can’t give someone tips on how to act. You can give someone tips on how to behave. So they couldn’t tell me how to direct. Edgar Wright is a good friend of mine and he would be like, “Listen, don’t be above advice. Don’t forget your surrounding people and what they’re doing. These are people who do this for a living. Lean on them. Use their advice. Don’t let your pride turn this into an island.”

Be arrogant but not too arrogant.
It was like, have your vision, but be brave enough to ask for help. That’s the best thing you can say even to an actor. Don’t go in there with tunnel vision. You’re surrounded by talent. Use that talent.

Was it weird going back to acting again right after you directed the film?
Um, yeah! Good question! No one has really asked that.

[Laughs] I try.
It was fucking awful. Because you go back and you [laughs]…you just realize how many discussions are had as a director and a producer about the actors. And all of a sudden you’re on “Avengers” and you’re just like “Oh man, I know who is seeing these dailies, I know what these discussions are.” You are not aware of how scrutinized you are as an actor until you’re correcting what you’ve done. It’s like, there are 12 cooks in the kitchen watching every single day. And it’s intimidating, so it’s a little tricky to go back to it and try to maintain the same sense of confidence.

As you continue to do Marvel movies, do you worry about having to continually raise the stakes in each film while still giving the audience what they want?
Well luckily it’s not my job! As a director, when you go back to acting, you go “oh all I have to do is act?! Good luck guys! I will be in my trailer!” That’s the beautiful thing of going back to just acting. I don’t have to worry about it. You obviously care, but when you’re doing a movie as big as Avengers, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, there are a lot of people who are very concerned with those expectations, because these movies are meant to satisfy a huge number of people. On these movies, you almost don’t want to get in the way.

It’s a huge machine.
It’s a machine. And if you start getting in the way and saying “Well, this is what I want,” they’re like, “well shut up.” They know what they’re doing, and your job is just to execute whatever they ask of you.

Catch up on all our coverage from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival here

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