What’s It Like to Play a Superhero? An Interview With ‘Captain America’s Skinny Steve Rogers, Chris Sarris
Chris Sarris is a normal dude from Cleveland, Ohio. Co-workers describe him as “the guy in the office that says ‘This is what we did’ when giving a presentation to the boss, even though he did all the work.” Chris also has a bit of a secret: He played Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Well, not that Steve Rogers. He played pre-superhero Steve. Pre-bulging biceps, helicopter-grabbing Steve. Just like Captain America, Sarris underwent a transformation from ordinary dude to superhero, portraying “Skinny Steve” (with a facial assist from star Chris Evans) in a flashback to Cap’s past with his friend Bucky Barnes.
Of all the unsung talents bringing Marvel’s unending universe to life, Sarris has to be one of the least appreciated. I know Sarris as a friend’s co-worker; when I found out his unbeatable “two truths and a lie” trivia fact, I had to talk to him. Sarris sat down with me to explain how playing a superhero (specifically one associated with good-hearted wimpiness) affects an average person.
What exactly do you do now and has the role affected your day-to-day at your job? I’ve heard there were nicknames.
Currently I work as a motion graphics animator/video editor. When people at work found out I was in the movie, especially back when it had yet to come out, it was a lot of fun because there were a few comic book fans in the office and it took a little while before everyone believed me. To this day I still have people occasionally call me “Skinny Steve," and I won’t lie, I kind of get a kick out of it.
Tell me the story of how you got the gig as Skinny Steve’s body in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
A year or two prior, The Avengers was shooting a little bit in Cleveland and they were looking for extras. Basically you just stand in line for five hours then fill out some paperwork hoping you’ll get a call. A couple people I know got to do it, but unfortunately I didn’t. I was kind of bummed about it, but when Winter Soldier came to Cleveland I figured I would get another chance.
One day my parents had the local news on and I heard that the movie was looking for a couple of speaking roles to be filled by local actors. So I immediately looked at the casting call and one of the descriptions (Thin Guy) fit me exactly: “White male, 20 - 25 years old, 5’4” - 5’8”, 110 - 120 lbs.” It was just too perfect for me to pass up. I went to the call a couple weeks later and it was packed with dudes that basically looked a lot like me - short thin dudes. Probably 200 of them packed into a library downtown.
After a few hours, the casting director lined us all up and started telling people to go home. Some were too tall, too bulky, whatever. She whittled us down from 200 to about 20 and gave us an “Okay, thank you, we’ll be in touch.” Maybe three weeks later I get a call asking me to go and audition. This ended up being kind of weird because according to the guy I spoke to, callbacks had already happened the day before but they “lost my contact information,” so I was the only person at this callback in an empty studio with some dude videotaping me - nearly shirtless - as I ran lines.
That’s super creepy.
There was definitely a moment where I thought to myself, “Is this legit?” Well, it was, because a few hours after getting home I got a call from the casting director telling me that I had gotten the part.
Did it freak you out seeing another person’s head on your body? I feel like that’s the ultimate existential crisis.
Seeing the finished project, no, it certainly doesn’t freak me out to see Chris Evans’ face superimposed over my own. What was much more intense was seeing my own face in the scene.
There isn’t anywhere I, or anybody for that matter, can see it unfinished anymore. But when I was on set there were monitors set up where they could review the takes, and I remember at one point glancing over to one and seeing my own mug and thinking, “Holy s---, I’m going to be in a movie.”
Did you know that Paul Warren, one of the VFX body doubles for The First Avenger, was also Daniel Radcliffe’s body double in the Harry Potter films? You could have a career at this sort of thing.
I hadn’t heard that, but I have heard a lot of misinformation about the “Skinny Steve” role in general.
As far as I know, the primary actor who played Skinny Steve in The First Avenger was a guy by the name of Leander Deeny. He did exactly what I did, but a lot more of it. The performance is done first by Chris Evans, then Skinny Steve replicates his movements, and the final shot is a composite of the two with CGI work included as well.
However, I’ve had multiple people assure me that I was not Skinny Steve, but that the entire performance is just Evans with CGI. Those are just anonymous people on the internet getting their information from who-knows-where, so I don't really care if they believe me or not.
How do you feel about Chris Evans?
I have a lot of respect for Chris Evans. He’s a real professional and it was really eye-opening to work with him. I didn’t get to talk with him too much because when we were on set I would be watching him perform and then we’d switch places, but the couple times I did speak to him, he was a pretty nice guy.
He's also a very good-looking guy, and I would have no problem being able to superimpose his face over my own in real life. I feel like that would increase my Tinder matches.
Have you ever used your secret stardom as an opening line in a bar or on a dating app?
Sort of. I never open with Captain America, but since it is without question the most interesting thing about me, I do try to get it out there in conversation. The funny thing is, maybe like 33 percent of people care. Being in Cleveland, a lot of people know somebody who was either an extra on Avengers or Winter Soldier, so when I tell them they assume that’s what I was too; an extra. So I try to explain like, “Well, it was different, I ran lines. I had a trailer. My name is in the credits. I played Captain America (sort of)!” Some people think it’s really cool and some people don’t, and that’s fine. I’m not special for being in a movie, I just got to have a special experience and I love to tell people about it.
Now that it’s been almost three years since the film came out, has the role had a notable impact on your life?
I would say yes. As somebody who dreamed of being an actor when I was younger, this was seriously the most incredible experience. And on top of that, I’m also a legitimate Marvel Comics fan, so it was absolutely perfect.
The way I see it, if I never get another acting job of that caliber again, I will always have that experience to look back on. Although I wasn’t on set very long, every moment of working on the film was surreal because everybody treated me as if I was just as important as one of the stars. It was seriously incredible. Oh, and an excellent added perk is that my family constantly buys me Captain America branded merchandise as gifts.
Did the experience change your ideas about manliness? Did you start working out? How did playing a “skinny” character affect your self-confidence? Would you do it again?
I don’t think so. I’ve had people ask if it was a blow to my self-esteem or anything, and really I can’t say it was. It’s not like before the movie I was under the impression that I was some Adonis. I went from being me to just being me, but also I was Captain America once. It was definitely a net gain.
I didn’t work out and bulk up because I have exactly zero willpower and that would also really cut into my playing video games time. I just don’t know if that’s a sacrifice I am willing to make. As for being “Skinny” anyone again, I’m not sure if that's in the cards for me. I’ve probably put on like 40 lbs since the movie so I’m not the rib cage with skin I once was. I still have no muscle structure, but the middle of me has some jiggle. It’s not great.
I will say this though, at one point I was totally teased by the casting agency about [Captain America: Civil War].
I had gotten a phone call asking if I would be available to work on Civil War and I said, “Yes, totally,” but I knew I would have to lose some weight. For a little while I was eating 500 calories a day, which was not easy.
Unfortunately, I would later be told that I was no longer needed. I was told the script underwent changes and the part was no longer in the film, although I would later learn this wasn’t completely accurate. By sheer coincidence I ran into one of the writers of Winter Soldier at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. He was somebody I spent a lot of time talking to while I was on set so I recognized him in a crowd and said hi. I asked if there was ever a “Skinny Steve” sequence in Civil War, and he told me no.
More likely, the casting agency was just getting in touch with me since I had worked on the previous film just to have somebody on deck for the role if it came up again, without necessarily knowing if they would be needed or not.
That’s so cruel. Think of all the calories you missed out on! Even though you weren’t in it, whose side are you on in Civil War?
Oh God, you’re going to make me pick sides? Well, it’s not easy, but I suppose I’ll go the expected route and side with my boy Cap. Tony has Spider-Man in his corner and I’m a total web-head so it’s hard for me to say that, but oh well.
Holy s---, what an awesome movie Civil War is though, am I right?