‘Captain America': Sebastian Stan on playing ‘Winter Soldier’ villain

April 06, 2014 | 10:15 a.m.

In this weekend’s record-breaking Marvel sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” actor Sebastian Stan is the man behind the mask of the lethal assassin referenced in the title. The character is one from hero Steve Rogers’ past reborn in villainous form — and anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet and wants to preserve the surprise of the antagonist’s identity might want to stop reading now.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the film brings to the screen the famous 2005 comic book storyline by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting and puts Rogers (Chris Evans) inside a political thriller. Cap begins to uncover a conspiracy at the international espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and turns for assistance to allies including Scarlett Johansson’s spy Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, Anthony Mackie’s veteran Sam Wilson, who has his own heroic identity as the Falcon, and Nick Fury, the cagey operative made famous by Samuel L. Jackson.

He needs the help. The Winter Soldier is a pretty intimidating foe, Cap’s equal in terms of strength and speed but with a single-minded viciousness that gives him a dangerous edge.

Hero Complex sat down with Stan, who originated the role of Rogers’ best friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” about the challenges of taking a character from good to evil.

Hero Complex: Did it feel at all isolating to wear the Winter Soldier costume?

Sebastian Stan: It felt great at times and other times I wanted to stab my eyes out. There were just so many pieces, but it was all just part of the process and in a lot of ways it helped me get my head straight before we started shooting. It affected a lot of things for me in a good way. For the purposes of time we wouldn’t take it off because it’s just such a pain to take off the mask and the goggles, and then I would be sitting around set and people would be kind of uncomfortable because they couldn’t read my face or my expression. Even that made me understand how much more powerful it would be to just be still.

HC: Was that the greatest challenge for you on this film, mastering the physicality the role required?

SS: The time that I had on screen felt very specific to me, so with the time that I had, I felt like I had a lot of different things I was trying to implement in those scenes. So that was difficult because, yes, the physicality and using that to show what a threat this character could be, but at the same time you still have to see versions of the old character, of the old Bucky Barnes by the end of the movie. So with what I had available to show that, it was a challenge.

HC: Did you know when you signed on to play Bucky Barnes that this was the direction the story line would ultimately take?

SS: I knew eventually it would be a possibility, I just didn’t know when. The character was written in a certain way in the first one that he had a dark influence so I was just following that.

HC: How did you prepare to play this incarnation of the character?

SS: For the first one, I’d done a lot of period-type research. This one was more, I saw it as such a good opportunity to be able to watch great movies from the ’70s, the whole Cold War and spy program and thrillers. I found documentaries about the negative effects of war on people and post-traumatic stress disorder. I wanted to understand separately from what I was doing in the movie what kind of movie we were making.

HC: What’s your working relationship like with Chris Evans?

SS: I could do a million of these with him. He’s the right kind of mix of a professional taking things really seriously, being very dedicated and also just having fun, remembering that it’s fun, we’re having a good time. You can’t ever take yourself too seriously while at the same time know what shoes you’re filling.

A scene from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (Marvel)

A scene from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” (Marvel)

Chris has a hard job. I think it’s because he does it so well I feel like people might not know that right way, but it’s tough. That character, if anybody else was doing it, wouldn’t stand out so much. You’re playing a guy who’s from a different time period and who suddenly is trying to embrace the new world. That’s kind of a really hard downer in a way, so to find the lightheartedness and the comedy of that while at the same time keeping what makes him be Captain America, the sort of earnestness and genuine concern and search for honesty and deep truths, that’s why it’s so much more than the first one on so many levels. Sequels are tough. There are some good ones out there. I hope we’re among them.

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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