USAToday.com — It wasn’t long ago that most of the explosions in Sebastian Stan’s on-screen life were of the sort caused by catty teen girls on New York City’s Upper East Side.
The stage-trained actor has left the TV soap-opera drama of Gossip Girl behind. Now, he’s armed with a cool costume, heavy weaponry, an abundance of psychological issues and, well, a metal arm as the complicated antagonist of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Drawing from a Marvel Comics story line, Stan’s Winter Soldier character is actually Bucky Barnes, the best friend and former partner of Captain America (Chris Evans) from World War II.
Like Cap, Bucky was thought to be killed in the line of duty. But instead of being encased in ice for 70 years like his buddy, Bucky was brainwashed and turned into an assassin who now works for Hydra. His mission: Eliminate Cap, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and pretty much anyone who gets in Hydra’s way.
“Bucky had to essentially become like part machine,” says Stan, who reprises the role from 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
While the Winter Soldier is essentially a new character, the actor revisited some aspects of Bucky he established in the first movie for continuity’s sake — which are important when Cap and his new foe figure out their connection in the heat of battle.
“Those are some meaty scenes, because it is a meaty concept,” Evans says. “Waking up 70 years later is heavy enough, and then seeing someone you thought was dead — that’s big. And he’s evil!”
Evans says Stan is a perfect foil as a fellow thespian: “Some actors are more giving than others, and he looks at acting as a team sport, which is the way it should be.”
Stan’s in it for the long haul, too: He signed a nine-movie deal in 2009 before The First Avenger started production. The Marvel movie machine was just starting to build, but Stan, 31, could sense even then that there was something special brewing.
“There’s a feeling like you’re being inducted into this private club, and you’re at this point where you can get into this place,” he recalls. “These guys sitting across from me are going to blow the roof off, and, my God, if I have a chance to be here with them for part of it, I’d feel lucky and I’d enjoy the ride.”
The most exotic thing Stan had to wear in the first Captain America movie was vintage Army gear, but he’s tricked out as his Winter Soldier is transformed into something more than human.
“You had the mask, your hair is really long, and you don’t recognize yourself a little bit. But that was a good thing,” Stan says. “Sometimes I feel, as actors, we all try to escape our own skin. You get so comfortable doing certain things, and you need to have a chance at mixing it up and doing something different.”
There were a couple different metal arms he used, including one “hero” limb that was shiny but not exactly flexible. He made it work, though, because Stan wanted to make the action scenes look good.
His first day on set was spent filming the Winter Soldier’s first appearance in the movie, as he bombs Nick Fury’s SUV and looks on while the fiery carnage flips past him.
That scene featured a mixture of him and his stunt men, he says. “Do you think there’s an insurance company that will ever let a car fly by me on the first day of shooting? You just do as much as you can, and the rest you leave to the professionals.”
And playing a man of action like the Winter Soldier, there was plenty of stuff exploding regularly nearby.
“Of course, when they first tell you that, you go, ‘Whoa, really? This is going to be great!’ Then you have about four people coming up to you and giving you 50 safety procedures,” Stan says. “There’s a part of you that’s a little wary, going, ‘Well, I hope I’m not too close to it.’ ”
But, he adds, “when you have something blow up next to you, I mean, come on, you’ve gotta admit it: Something about that feels very empowering.”