From director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer), the family drama Gifted tells the story of Frank Adler (Chris Evans), a single man raising his young niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), after the death of her mother. Mary is sweet 7-year-old who also happens to be a brilliant math prodigy, and Frank is trying to give her a normal life, but his intimidating mother (Lindsay Duncan) has plans for Mary’s future that don’t include him.
During a roundtable at the film’s press day, actor Chris Evans talked about his attraction to films that touch on family dynamics, working with his young co-star, how the film made him reflect on his own childhood, and working opposite a cat. He also talked about how he’d love to continue playing Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that he’d like to direct again, but that he’s taking time to find the right project to get excited about.
Question: Superhero movies are great, but was the opportunity to tell a real human story like this what made you want to become an actor?
CHRIS EVANS: I wish I knew! I think I wanted to become an actor because I just loved movies, whether it was watching something like Kramer vs. Kramer, or the old Batman movies. I just wanted to be a part of cinema. Personally, this is a little bit more of my speed. I really like films that touch on family dynamics. But, I like all movies.
What was it like to work with McKenna Grace?
EVANS: She’s a little angel. She’s great. You remember that this is fun, that this isn’t a job, and that it kind of feels like summer camp. She came to set, every day, just exploding with energy. She knew everybody and wanted to talk to everybody. A lot of times, on film sets, between takes, actors go back to their trailer. She was just always going, always moving, and always happy to be there. You really remember how lucky you are. She’s almost 11, going on 40. She really has a maturity that is shocking.
You’re not a parent, yourself, but you’re playing a parent, even though you’re technically her uncle. Did that make you reflect on parenthood, at all?
EVANS: It made me reflect on what my childhood was like, more than anything else. My sister has kids and all of my friends have kids, so I know what it’s like to be a parent today. Maybe not intimately, but I have the broad strokes. Working on this film, it wasn’t necessarily about my awareness of what parental duties were like, but about what it was like being a kid, especially in an adult world. As a kid, I cried the first day of everything, you name it, whether it was school, camp, or whatever. I was very timid. So, more than anything else, what it brought to light was that my childhood was very timid. I was really nervous, as a kid. I had one friend until maybe 8th grade, and it would change, each year. I always had one friend, and if that friend was sick, I didn’t talk to anyone at school.
How did you feel about your cat co-star, Fred?
EVANS: I am not a cat person. I respect cats. I think they’re beautiful creatures. I just don’t think they like me. They’re like horses. They can smell that I’m not a cat person. I pet them and they look at me like, “Who is this guy?” When a cat claws, I go to pieces and just freak out. I panic.
What was it like to work with Octavia Spencer?
EVANS: Octavia really has this maternal instinct, and it just came out in full force. She really took McKenna under her wing and it was such a sweet thing to see.
Can you talk about your character Frank’s decision to give up his own life and career to move and take care of this child? What do you think his motives really were?
EVANS: The initial conflict is between Frank and his mom. I think a lot of the movie is about parents and kids, and watching a parent be too overbearing and expect too much out of a kid. He watched his sister have that dynamic, and to some degree, felt like the second fiddle. Frank was probably a pretty clever mathematician, as well, but when the light is shining on your sibling, it’s easy to feel forgotten. So, initially, his decision to abscond is not only the loyalty to his sister, but probably born out of a little bit of resentment towards his mom. The needs of Mary, to be honest, may have been pretty far down the totem pole, in terms of his priorities. As Mary grew, he recognized that she needed certain things, but initially, his motivations were a little human and probably flawed.
For the Marvel movies, you have a full work-out routine. What was it like to relax from that to film Gifted?
EVANS: The best! It was the shit!
Are you really going to be done playing Captain America, after the next two Avengers movies?
EVANS: It’s really not up to me. My contract is up. I’m not going to sit here and say, “No more.” I think Hugh Jackman has made 47 Wolverine movies, and they somehow keep getting better. It’s a character I love, and it’s a factory that really knows what they’re doing. The system is sound, over there. They make great movies. If they weren’t kicking out quality, I’d have a different opinion. But, everything Marvel does seems to be cinema gold. And like I said, I love the character. The only reason it would end is ‘cause my contract is up. After Avengers 4, my contract is done. Talk to Marvel. If we engage further, I’d be open to it. I love the character. It’s almost like high school. You certainly always look to senior year, and then, all of a sudden, senior year happens and you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m ready to go.” It’s tough thinking about not playing the guy.
Are you looking to direct again?
EVANS: Yeah, I am. It’s tough, trying to find content. The first time I directed (Before We Go), to be completely honest, we found a little broken script and tried to give it a spit polish. If you’re not writing original content, you have to find available scripts, and the truth is that most available scripts are going to bigger directors than me. So, you really end up having to find little diamonds in the rough. And I’m looking. No disrespect to the first film that I directed, but it really was born out of the opportunity. Someone was willing to give me a chance, so I said, “I’m gonna take it, regardless.” The second time out, I really want to make sure it’s a project that I wake up thinking about.
Gifted opens in theaters on April 7th.