Chris Evans has starred as Captain America in seven movies. And in cameo appearances in four more films. The combined box office for those 11 movies exceeds $4.6 billion.
So, no, Evans is not surprised when fans approach him about Cap.
“That’s usually what they lead with,” he said. “I mean, not to say that people haven’t seen [my] other films and, on occasion, have a nice thing to say. But if I’m spotted in a crowd, it’s probably because of the Marvel stuff.”
But it takes only seconds to get past his Captain America image in the Apple TV+ series “Defending Jacob.” And not just because Evans is sporting a full beard.
He stars as Andy Barber, a Massachusetts prosecutor who’s great at his job; is in love with his wife, Laurie (Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”); and proud of their 14-year-old son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell, “It”).
But Andy and Laurie’s picture-perfect life falls apart when Jacob is charged with brutally murdering a classmate.
The eight-part series, based on William Landay’s novel of the same title, is less a mystery — although that’s a big part of it — than it is an examination of what happens to parents when their child is accused of a terrible crime.
“It’s about a family who’s experienced this extraordinary situation, this nightmare, this thing that both tears them apart and pulls them together in some way,” said director/executive producer Morten Tyldum.
And Evans “loved it.”
“It was the first time I’ve been able to play a parent,” he said. “Being a parent, I would imagine, unlocks depths of love that you didn’t know you were capable of. And I think that only raises the stakes and makes things more interesting.”
Dockery agreed that “Defending Jacob” is “so much more about the characters” than about the murder. “It’s a real kind of exploration into how would you respond as a parent … and what lengths you could go to to protect your child,” she said. “I was just so instantly drawn to the project.”
It took Evans a bit longer to get on board, but once he read the script he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“I can be capricious at times, so I take my time,” he said. “It’s the type of thing that … sticks in your head for some reason.”
His meetings with writer/executive producer Mark Bomback and director Morten Tyldum left him “more encouraged, more excited. Eventually, it just kind of felt like I had to do it.”
In no small part because “Defending Jacob” is not a show with easy answers. It’s easy to defend your child when he’s clearly innocent; it’s harder when there’s evidence that would lead you to believe maybe he’s not.
“I have a 12-year-old and I will always look at him in the best light possible,” Tyldum said. “That’s just because that’s how you are as a parent. There’s no way of not doing that because you have this love and you will always defend him, on some level. … I think one of the interesting things that attracted us all to this series is that it questioned those instincts. How far would you go, how far would you go in defending your child, both to yourself, and to the world?”
The first three episodes of “Defending Jacob” start streaming Friday on Apple TV+. The remaining five episodes debut one at a time on Fridays through May 29.
EVANS AND MARTELL • The actors who play father and son in “Defending Jacob” have worked together a couple of times before — once playing the same character.
“My first-ever project was me playing a younger Chris Evans in this movie called ‘Playing It Cool,’” said 17-year-old Jaeden Martell, who was just 11 at the time.
The two were never on set at the same time and didn’t meet until late 2018, when they were both in the cast of “Knives Out,” playing different roles and appearing in scenes together.
When Martell was auditioning for “Defending Jacob,” Evans “came up to me and he’s like, ‘Are we doin’ this? Are you going to be my son?”
EVANS’ SECOND TV SERIES • This is not the first time Evans has been a regular in a TV series, but it is the first time in 20 years.
He was just 18 when he co-starred with Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us”) in “Opposite Sex,” a Fox show about teenage boys who enroll at a prestigious private school and discover it only recently went co-ed and almost the entire student body was female.
“Opposite Sex” was essentially dead on arrival. It had been filmed in 1999 but was held until the summer of 2000, and it disappeared after eight episodes. And we’re left to imagine how different Evans’ career might have been had the show been a hit.
“Defending Jacob” is also eight episodes, but it’s closed-ended and there are no plans for a second season. And it’s extremely difficult to see how there could be a second season, given the way the first season ends.