09/23/2011 09:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chris Evans In 'Puncture': From Super To Anti-Hero

There's just something about Chris Evans and needles.

Over the summer, a set of experimental injections turned the 30-year old actor into iconic comic book hero Captain America, ripped with muscle and fueled by the earnest virtue of his unblinking moralism. The film earned strong reviews and opened number one at the box office, catapulting his star to new heights. But for all the newfound success and accolades, it's a different needle that truly pierces Evans' heart.

Downshifting from 3D stadium seating to indie picture houses, Evans next stars as a frenetically brilliant, drug addicted lawyer in "Puncture." The film, the true story of a pair of small town Texas lawyers that take on an evil medical conglomerate, sees Evans play a functioning drug addict who lives life on the very edge. If Captain America action figures stretch stars and stripes over a super soldier body, a plastic model of attorney Mike Weiss would be its demented twin, instead covered in tattoos and scruffy beard wet with cocaine nose bleeds.

It was a part Evans was set on taking almost immediately after he began reading the script.

"Twenty pages in, it's one of those movies that I read that, if you really start liking something, I find that i just get on my feet and just start saying lines," Evans told The Huffington Post. "You almost start acting it, just feeling what it feels like with the words in your mouth. Halfway through, before I even knew where the movie was going, I was like, I wanna do this, I like this guy, I like this character."

Weiss and his partner, Paul Danzinger, are hired as the only firm willing to take on a lawsuit brought on by a nurse pricked by an HIV-positive patient's syringe. Now dying from the disease, she's suing to help make sure the ingenius accident-proof needles invented by her friend are used in hospitals to help others avoid her fate. Thanks to an array of secret kickbacks and bribes between hospitals and Group Purchasing Organizations, the inventor can't even get a meeting. The film sees Weiss cascade between philandering junkie to whip-smart crusader fighting passionately for the cause, even as the powers that be -- and his own, more cautious partner -- urge him to drop the case.

That juxtaposition, the often violent clash of his selfish and selfless ways, was part of the role's great appeal.

"It's a fun balance between -- he's such a vile guy. He has so many horrible qualities, but he still has to be likable," Evans explained. "So it's fun trying to toe the line between someone who you kind of want to strangle and someone you don't want to cut out of your life. He's still got this genius, he's still brilliant, he's still charismatic, he's still all these fantastic things, but kind of a dick. It's fun to try to find that balance.

Brought the story on a cold submission by Paul Danzinger himself, directors Adam and Mark Kassen warmed to it immediately. "Our assistant read it and said, You've really got to pay attention to this. It's raw but there's something here. And we really felt, wow, you know, if we can really take it and maybe give it some great structure, we can do some things," Mark explained. It helped that there was an emotional hook to it, too; their father owned a medical supply company and mother who worked as a nurse for over four decades.

Once they began their search for a star, their agent brought up Evans' name. Having seen him in the acclaimed but rarely seen Danny Boyle-directed space drama, "Sunshine," they decided to give him a look. What they saw was a dramatic actor waiting for his opportunity to reach beyond the poorly reviewed budget busters in which he had largely found himself cast.

"We wanted to make sure that someone in this role, you could fall in the trap of being self indulgent performance," Adam Kassen said, "and we wanted someone who could go deep, who could be touching, who could be thoughtful, but also could be charismatic or exciting and electric. And in Chris you have all of those combinations."

That the story was a true one presented unique challenges for both the Kassens and Evans in their strive for authenticity. Luckily for the directors (Mark also starred, playing Danziger), having gotten the story from his partner in the first place, Weiss's family and friends were eager to help make the movie as real as possible.

"His brother was in the movie, his family came down with them. Judges, lawyers, doctors, people consulting on how he actually dressed," Adam said. "They'd judge, they'd stop and say 'He wouldn't stand like that,' so people brought a real high level of authenticity. And we find, when you're going to have all these true stories, as producers, it's actually usually more interesting than stuff you make up."

The participation was a mixed blessing for Evans, who had never played a real life character before. He often called upon those who knew Weiss best to pick their brains, with the information proving both helpful and daunting.

"I don't know Mike. I can't watch -- it's not like I'm playing JFK where I can watch video and get a cadence and a tone and a posture and dialect," he continued, frustrated but careful to express his gratitude for their openness. "You're just telling me stories. I can tell you a billion stories about my best friend, what are the chances you're going to get up and be him, even with all the stories in the world? So like I said, part of my brain is eating this information, loving it, and the other half of my brain is panicking like, man, I hope I do this justice. I'm never gonna be Mike, but I hope I get somewhere close."

One recurring comment did make a lasting impression and helped to guide Evans's performance: Weiss was a polarizing figure.

"He was a dick. He was a complete dick. He was the kind of guy you wanted to kill. Everyone I talked to, everyone I talked to that knew him, had some sort of beef with him," Evans laughed, recalling some awkward conversations. "They were all kind of like, f*cking Mike. Mike was kind of a piece of sh*t. Everyone thought he was kind of a dick. But I think that's what comes with that level of brilliance. Anyone I know that's that clever and that intelligent, it's isolating. There's a seclusion that comes with that that type of intellect, and oftentimes, it's selfishness, and they leave a wake. A lot of times, people dear to them are left in it, unintentionally."

In the film, that dark side pushed him to an oblivion of drug abuse, philandering, thoughtlessness and incessant partying, while his fierce intellect turned him into a ceaseless problem solver; his vices often fuel his endless work ethic. To wit, Evans' first scene as the anti-hero lawyer sees him in a motel room amidst a crowd of hookers, dealers and other assorted characters, ignoring the cacophony for his case files, taking bumps in an almost absent minded refresher. He even organizes the shady assembly into a mock courtroom to run through a case that he will soon win.

During those drugged up scenes, which become more intense and desperate as the movie lurches forward and Weiss' downward spiral spins more out of control, Evans rushes to manic highs and crashes to vacant stares, gripping onto the case as his world crumbles. Playing those scenes came more naturally to Evans, who noted -- fortunately or unfortunately -- that he had taken sad mental notes as so many of his friends and family fought battles with addiction. Those moments allowed him to play those scenes with a more subtle touch than most. "You never want to overplay drugs," he said.

While Weiss continues his crusade, risking all to go toe to toe with a fearsome lawyer (Brett Cullen) representing the hospital conglomerate, he should at the same time become harder to root for as he is engulfed by his personal demons. That he remains a sympathetic hero as he reaches his lowest points -- falling asleep and missing crucial meetings he promised he'd attend, bringing a "sex therapist" to Danzinger's baby shower and propping up the illegal economy of Colombia himself -- is a testament to Evans' willingness to stretch himself and simultaneously channel both deep sadness and kinetic charm.

The way he sees it, even those positive traits and the unending devotion to the seemingly hopeless case were subject to internal conflict.

"Unfortunately, I hate to say this because you don't want to talk ill of the dead, but I really don't know if he's doing [the case] because he's this amazing guy. I think the truth is, like I said, he's a selfish man -- in my opinion, this case was like some sort of redemption for him," Evans explained, sighing at his frank admission. "I think it made him feel better about the way he's treated a lot of people in his life. He didn't make a career out of doing these type of cases, he wasn't known for being this incredibly compassionate guy, this is the one case that actually had some substance, and I think that, in my humble opinion, I think he might have liked the way it tasted in his mouth, doing something good. I don't think he did it too often, so I think he kind of ran with this one."

Shot on a shoestring budget and guaranteed only limited release, the multi-layered character and complex moral judgments offered by the role meant that Evans the actor still preferred to the blowout tent pole pictures in which he's so often found himself involved.

"I like these man, you know what I mean? This is just fun, there's more meat on the bone, the problem is maybe 100 people will see this movie, which is too f*cking bad. But this is more fun, this is the type of stuff I like to do," Evans admitted somewhat sheepishly, as if he was afraid to look the gift horse in the mouth.

"Cap was tough because he's such a good guy," he continued, noting the hero's lack of internal conflict and the counter-intuitive difficulty it caused him. "The reason he's chosen to be Captain America is because there's very few things that you could present to him that he won't be able to take on the chin. If you've got a guy who is really able to handle conflict, it's difficult to create a conflicted character, because he's like, I got it, I'm good, I'm Cap, I can handle it."

Still, Evans is not ungrateful for the impact that playing the hero has had on his career. Famously reluctant to take the part -- he actually rejected it while filming "Puncture" -- Evans was afraid of the longterm, multi-sequel commitment, as well as the months of press he'd have to do to promote the film.

"I'm happy with it -- there's nothing worse than having to promote a sh*tty movie, believe me, I know all about that," he laughed, alluding to some of the more poorly received blockbusters of his past. "And I liked Cap, I saw it and I said good, I like this, I have no problem telling people to go out there and see it... And I think I handled the press okay, I didn't have any meltdowns, no freak outs, they got me to do a f*cking talk show, which I had never done because I was adamant about that."

For an actor who has traded on his charm for much of his career, his discomfort with the scripted, live nature of those shows is fierce.

"I don't like doing sh*t with audiences, when you're on stage when there's a sh*t ton of people looking at you, how do you not get uncomfortable, I don't understand that," he said, almost getting uncomfortable as he explained it. "I'll never be cool with that, I don't know how people are. I got, not cool with it, but it wasn't the worst thing on the planet. I thought it was going to be, I'm going to f*cking shoot myself. I did a talk show and I made it, so I was like, alright, alright, maybe I can handle this."

Having just finished filming Marvel hero teamup film, "The Avengers," Evans has at least a few more go-rounds as Captain America on the horizon. The upside, beyond the fame and bigger paycheck, is that the recognition and star power has already begun to help land him better and more tempting dramatic scripts, whether they're major studio pictures or indies such as "Puncture" that his name helps to finance. Eat on the big feature, breathe off the small.

Evans' ambitions stretch beyond even the prestige dramas; eventually, he says, he'd like to move behind the camera. It sounds cliche, an actor establishing his artistic with the caveat, "but what I'd really like to do is direct," but Evans has already been working on a few scripts, fleshing out smaller, intimate stories more on the scale of "Puncture" than "Captain America." And so when, as he says, someone is "stupid enough" to let him direct, he's got a plan. And a role model.

"I'm kind of a sap. I like crying at the movies, I do," he admitted, detailing his love for the little interactions and moments that can be so important on film. "I like relationship stories, between mothers, son, brothers, sisters, boyfriend, girlfriend, I like human stuff, I like wordy scripts, I like Norman Butte dialog, I like a lot of conversation, so that's the type of stuff I'd love to direct."

Until then, he'll continue to grow his star, whether on the world stage or, if he has to, in front of just a handful of people at a time.