A new Vanity Fair piece charts the behind-the-scenes work of Marvel casting director Sarah Halley Finn and the castings that might have been. For instance, Daniel Craig was an early candidate to play Thor for Kenneth Branagh‘s 2011 film, as was Charlie Hunman, Alexander Skarsgård, and Joel Kinnaman. Or before he became Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman was seriously considered to play Drax in “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” and Lupita N’yongo was for Gamora. And as many already know, Chris Pratt tired out for several MCU roles before landing Peter Quill/Star Lord, including Thor and Captain America.
Speaking of Steve Rogers, VF’s piece goes into great detail over the casting process for the super soldier, and how Chris Evans initially didn’t want the role. What’s more, Evan deeply regretted accepting the part until he realized the movies he signed out for weren’t, in his words, “sh*tty f*cking movies” and he wasn’t “contractually obligated to make garbage.” Marvel fans may already know the backstory to Evan’s casting, but the actor is surprisingly candid about his scruples over joining the MCU, and recalls thinking it would be a career-ending mistake. Obviously, it wasn’t, but it may surprise some how difficult it was for Finn, Kevin Feige, and company to convince Evans to take on the Captain America mantle.
Many actors auditioned for Steve Rogers before Marvel approached Evans for the part. And the list is intriguing: Ryan Philippe, Garrett Hedlund, Jensen Ackles, Chase Crawford, Wyatt Russell (in his first-ever audition), and John Krasinski all tried out for the Captain America role, with Krasinki making the final cut. Sebastian Stan tried out too, but Halley recalled that “we saw something there that was a bit darker, a bit edgier” in Stan’s screentest that was perfect for his future role as Bucky Barnes in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Of course, Pratt showed up to audition too, but although intriguing nobody thought he was right to play Rogers.
Like Finn, Feige remembered Steve Rogers as one of the toughest roles to cast. “Casting Captain America was super hard and it took a long time,” Feige recalled. “I started to think, ‘Are we not going to be able to find Captain America, and if we can’t get Captain America, what are we going to do with Avengers? Is the whole thing going to fall apart?’” Finn knew what Marvel was looking for, but no one they auditioned felt quite right, and others looked down at the project entirely. “We knew the central core of qualities we were looking for,” Finn said, “but the property was not well-known. People didn’t get it, it seemed a bit ‘B,’ it seemed a bit dated.”
Enter Chris Evans, who Finn remembers from an early Marvel film as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, in Tim Story‘s “Fantastic Four” movie for Fox. “My oldest two boys and I had seen “Fantastic Four” maybe 50 or 60 times,” she said. “We kind of went round and round and came back to Chris.” And Finn liked Evans for several reasons. “He was American. We’ve cast a lot of Brits, but we wanted to cast an American,” Finn recalled. “And a great actor and funny and charming and affable and all of that. But then beyond the obvious qualities, I think there were the other ones that were a little harder to discern: his humility, the sense that he had a moral compass, that he was very relatable. He has this vulnerability as well as strength, so we could take him from skinny Steve to Captain America.”
Evans had already declined an initial offer for the part, but Marvel Studios invited him for another meeting. “Bringing him in, showing him the artwork, showing him what was happening in this movie,” Feige remembered of the pitch, which included a nine-movie deal without even auditioning. “He took a weekend to decide,” Feige said. “That weekend was tough.” But the deal couldn’t persuade Evans to change his mind. “Getting the offer felt, to me, like the epitome of temptation,” the actor said about . “The ultimate job offer, on the biggest scale. I’m supposed to say no to this thing. It felt like the right thing to do. You see the pictures, and you see the costumes, and it’s cool. But I’d now woken up the day after saying no and felt good—twice.”
So why didn’t Evans sign the deal? Because the actor was afraid a nine-picture deal wouldn’t allow him downtime away from the limelight, especially if “Captain America: The First Avenger” was a hit. “I like my privacy,” Evan explained. “The good thing about movies is there’s a lot of freedom built in: you make a film and then you have time off. If one of those films hits and changes your life, you have the opportunity to . . . run away. If you want to. Take some time, reassess, and regroup.” But Marvel had a backup plan to convince Evans: have Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr., call up the actor and encourage him. After Marvel scaled back his commitment to only six movies instead of nine, Evans reconsidered. “Maybe the thing you’re most scared of is actually the thing you should do,” Evans remembered thinking at the time.
But even after Marvel announced their casting choice in April 2010, Evans worried that he made the wrong decision. On the set of the first “Captain America” film, Rogers remembered thinking, “‘This is it. I just signed my death warrant; my life’s over.’ I can’t believe I did this. This isn’t the career I wanted.” But once he realized the films he was making were better than he expected, his mood lightened. “The biggest thing I was worried about was making sh*tty f*cking movies,” Evans continued. “I don’t want to make shitty movies and be contractually obligated to make garbage.”
Evans reluctantly committed the part, workout regimen and all, and as Marvel fans know, it paid off. Evan’s least favorite part of becoming Captain America? All the food he had to eat to transform into a superhero. “Just eating all the time,” Evans recalled. “You think it sounds nice, but it’s not, like, cheeseburgers. You have to eat these bland, naked pieces of chicken and rice. You’re just so full—it’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling.” But for Finn, she’s proud she landed the actor she wanted for the role all along. “Fortunately, that is not my job,” she said about Evan’s training regimen to become Roers. “My job is to find the embodiment of the character. Their [physical appearance is] somebody else’s job. But I would say that informs the process, right? There has to be a willingness to submit to the kind of intense rigors that it requires of you.”
So will Evans even return to the MCU and reprise his role as Rogers? According to a recent interview with GQ, the actor won’t rule it out. “Yeah, maybe,” Evans said about a Marvel comeback. “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.”
Besides, Evans’s coveted freedom by no longer being under commitment to Marvel must feel pretty good. The actor appears next in “Pain Hustlers,” which just had its world premiere at TIFF, and the Christmas actioner “Red One” for Prime Video.