Sunshine - Chris Evans interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
PREPARING for and then filming Sunshine for director Danny Boyle was, according to Chris Evans, a “treat”. The 25-year-old is an actor who loves both a physical challenge and an intellectual one. Sunshine provided both.
Boyle also called in physicist Dr Brian Cox to help explain the science behind the project, set up flights so that each actor could experience zero gravity, organised screenings of classic science fiction films like 2001 and Alien and, immediately prior to filming, put them all together in student digs for two weeks in a bid to break down barriers and help them bond.
The preparation paid off handsomely, explains Evans in this interview conducted in LA in March…
Q: It seems like the cast went through a lot of preparation for this film. What was the toughest part of the movie for you?
A: I don’t look at it as something we had to survive. It was a pleasure. It was a real treat not only to get that type of education in a short amount of time but doing a project that was so filled with passion.
Q: Did being part of The Fantastic Four help in any way given that you’d already dealt with a lot of special effects?
A: You know, there really wasn’t a whole lot of special effects for us in Sunshine. Most of the special effects in this movie were done in post production. The majority of our scenes were on a set and it was very tangible – we had the entire set right there in front of us.
The special effects were space shots, or shots of the ship or the sun, stuff that we didn’t have anything to do with (as actors). And the sets we worked on were fantastic. You should have seen our spaceship, just brilliant. And it really helps when you have something that good to work with.
Q: Your character is very gung ho and masculine. Did you have to train to get in shape for the role?
A: It sounds so cheesy, but I kind of work out on my own time anyway, so not really for the most part. There were a few fight sequences that Cillian (Murphy) and I had where they had a fight choreographer come in and work with us but for the most part, not too much. And you know, I enjoy that physical stuff. It was fun.
Q: What sort of mental preparation did you have to do?
A: Well, that’s where it got tough. We did a lot of preparation for this. We went to a lot of lectures, saw a lot of films, we did the zero gravity planes and the scuba diving. Danny (Boyle, director) did such a good job of reminding us of how many layers there are to each character.
I mean, even though we have issues that we have to deal with at hand – for example, if the captain is outside of the ship risking his life to make some emergency repairs – the undercurrent is: “You have been in space for 16 months, you’re going to save the world, you’re confronted with the fact that you might not come home.”
There are so many other moving parts at any moment and Danny does a great job of reminding you of that. It’s like trying to juggle 12 balls in the air so the mental job of creating this character was actually really rewarding and it was a challenge but it was great.
Q: Talk us through the gravity plane. What happens exactly?
A: There are a couple of types of gravity planes. The “vomit comet” is a huge plane, a massive plane where you can fit 30 people; it’s just a cargo plane that has been gutted. With that you scream up in the air and on the way down you get like 30 seconds of free fall and we didn’t have that. We had this little plane and it’s actually a bit scarier. It’s a little two-seater plane, single propeller, it looked old and crappy – it did not look safe!
There are two of us going up, whoever’s turn it is and the pilot, and you take off down this little grass runway in the middle of nowhere (in the UK). And the guy flying, I can’t believe I trusted this guy, he looked like he could barely read (laughs). But you take off and you’re flying for a while and you have a little joystick too. And he’s controlling the plane and after a while he’s like: “OK, get a feel for it..” And amazingly you could control this plane. And then he says: “Are you ready?” And you’re climbing up, gaining altitude and then you make this massive dip back down and when you make that dip, you see that little gauge go from 1, 2, 3 down to zero and for about 6, 7 seven seconds you are completely weightless and everything in the plane is just floating around and you can take coins out of your pockets and they float around. It was really cool.
And then you pull back up and the gauge goes to 4 Gs and you can barely lift your hand. That’s worse – the skin is tugging off your face, it’s pretty wild.
Q: What do you want from life?
A: Well, it might sound crazy but I want not to want. And I know that sounds nuts. I want to be present, and I know that sounds crazy too. I think we very often live in the future. Very often you spend a lot of your life looking ahead thinking about the future, thinking about your past and this separates a lot of consciousness and spreads you out and adds more stress and worry when the fact is all that we really have is right now, the only thing that is real is this moment and I think when you are really in that moment, it’s blissful.
I don’t spend much time in this moment because my brain is conditioned in other ways. I’m conditioned by my culture to be concerned about things and remember my old histories and try not to make mistakes in the future. You are never just right now, right here and if you could be right here right now you’d hear the ocean that you don’t normally hear and the footsteps you don’t normally hear and you know, things would just be different. I’m not living that way but I’d like to.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
A: I think when I was about 16, 17. I’d always loved movies. For a while I wanted to be a painter, I just thought that was what I would do and it was what I always did. I was a bit of an art snob. And then I did a play when I was 16 and I just loved it. And it combined with the fact that I loved movies – I think movies can strike a chord in a way that I don’t think many things can.
So I thought maybe I would give acting a try and by the time I was a senior I had done five or six plays that I just loved. I moved to New York just to give it a shot and it went well and the first opportunity I had on film just sealed the deal. The contrast with theatre is that you have to play to the back of the audience and with film you can be as subtle as you like and really try and mirror reality, that’s the fun part of acting, trying to be authentic.
Q: You’ve talked about taking life classes and being concerned about your spiritual life but you are in an industry that is often driven by other concerns…
A: Exactly. And I’m subject to fall victim to all of them – I have fear, I have ego, I’m insecure and these are all things that if I don’t figure my head out now, if things keep on going well for me they could all backfire. You know, if I’m not in the right of mind for this it could be a problem.
I have to arm myself with certain methods of thinking that just aren’t what I know. I’m stuck with cultural conditioning and I’ve got to get rid of that, because this mixed with that could be disastrous. Your ego could just run away with you and you could be so dependent on what other people think of you, everything.
Q: Did you have a religious education?
A: Well my family is Italian and I grew up in the Catholic Church but you know the church was just a place to have religious discussions. It wasn’t forced upon me and we didn’t go to church every week.
Q: The film poses some questions about religion versus science. Do you have a view?
A: Well, I guess I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I don’t necessarily believe in god, at least not the man with the beard and robes and things like that. God can be whatever you want it to be, they actually said this in class last week, it’s the universe, the thing that connects all of us, this innate energy that’s in the air, animals, trees, that’s God; it’s this constant living thing and in essence the sun is the creator of that, the sun is kind of the maker of all of that.
If you were responsible for keeping the Sun going, keeping it from dying, that would play into your ego. And that’s the beauty of the film, there’s this constant contrast the characters are going through – you’re flying to the sun in this vacuum of space confronted with your own insignificance because the vastness of space makes you feel so obsolete. And the contrast is you’re going to save mankind, you’re going to meet your maker and that’s going to play into your ego. So you’re constantly wrestling with that and how is your psyche going to react to that? It could implode on itself. It’s fascinating stuff for a thriller.