Why the linchpin of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies — and walking image of American fortitude — is giving it all up to play a villain on Broadway (and learn to tap dance).
Chris Evans has a theory about tap dancing. “Tap is waiting to have its day,” he said one recent afternoon, sitting in a TriBeCa hotel clubhouse around the corner from an apartment he’s been renting since last month. Mr. Evans, or Captain America, as he’s been known in omnipresent Marvel movies for the better part of a decade, tapped as a child and still has sincere reverence for the form. His theory is that tap dancing today, like competitive hip-hop dancing in the early 2000s, is generally undervalued and ripe for a comeback.
“If you walk down the street and you see someone tapping,” you stop in your tracks, he said, using an unprintable word, “because it’s awesome.”
Twice a week since he’s been living in New York, Mr. Evans, who ordinarily splits his time between his native Boston and Los Angeles, has taken refuge in tap, clearing his mind and working up a sweat in private lessons taught by a friend. The lessons aren’t preparation for any role in particular, although Mr. Evans is hard at work on a pivotal one: his Broadway debut, as a charming but manipulative cop in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,” which is now in previews and opens March 26 at the Helen Hayes Theater.
The dancing, rather, is just a low-pressure new hobby (“It makes me feel like I’m a part of the music,” Mr. Evans said.) Along with the play, and the move to a new city, it’s one component in an ad hoc but inevitable process — not quite a rebirth, more like a re-orientation — designed to help the 36-year-old actor answer a nagging question: What do you do with your life after walking away from the role of a lifetime?
Since 2011, the year “Captain America: The First Avenger” was released, Mr. Evans’s face (and torso, and biceps) has signified a marketable mix of principled strength and rank-and-file virtue as reliably as any in Hollywood. He was a working-class revolutionary in the dystopic thriller “Snowpiercer,” a stoic defender of the public school system in the indie family drama “Gifted,” a cunning spy who risks everything to save a persecuted minority in the soon-to-be-released “The Red Sea Diving Resort.”
And then there are the Avengers movies, in which the nobility of Mr. Evans’s character is so unimpeachable that entire plotlines turn on the ticks of his moral compass. In the TriBeCa lounge, Mr. Evans volunteered his own stereotype: “Taciturn men who are leaders, selfless and magnanimous.”
Last year, he filmed back-to-back the final two Marvel movies for which he is under contract — “Avengers: Infinity War,” due in April, and a sequel planned for next year. For now, he has no plans to return to the franchise (“You want to get off the train before they push you off,” he said), and expects that planned reshoots in the fall will mark the end of his tenure in the familiar red, white and blue super suit.
It was in the midst of shooting “Infinity War” that Mr. Evans signed on for “Lobby Hero.” Also starring Michael Cera, Brian Tyree Henry and Bel Powley, it inaugurates the nonprofit Second Stage Theater’s recently remodeled Broadway venue. The choice will give those wondering about Mr. Evans’s frame of mind plenty to chew on: His character, known only as Bill, is essentially a narcissistic creep, with a vision of protecting the innocent that lifts a warped mirror to the actor’s usual procession of do-gooders.
The play’s director, Trip Cullman, sent the script to Mr. Evans betting that the potential to subvert his image would be too enticing to pass up.
“I had this inkling that he may not have had the opportunity to show what he can really do as an actor,” Mr. Cullman said. “A lot of actors are afraid to play someone unlikable, but I think he really has an egoless desire to serve the work.”