While Sebastian Stan has been working consistently for the past decade—in movies like Black Swan and last year’s The Martian, and the TV shows Gossip Girl and Once Upon a Time—this summer he got a high-profile break with a vastly expanded role in the film Captain America: Civil War. As Bucky, Stan became a vital role to the latest chapter in the Marvel film series, starring alongside GQ Style cover Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Mackie. And speaking of GQ Style, Stan tried on the season’s slickest sunglasses for the debut issue. We caught up with the actor last week on one of those perfect NYC spring days, the kind that give him anxiety, and talked social media, his relationship with the fashion community, and his thoughts on Bucky and Captain America’s rumored gay relationship.
GQ: Are you based in New York?
I am, I am. I’m seeing this beautiful weather right now. It’s so pretty it’s giving me anxiety.
Because I feel like I have to go live life, every day.
What do you do when it’s nice out, to take advantage?
Oh, the usual. Just run six miles, read a novel, go out until three. Everything. [laughs] I’m joking. Probably like five minutes of each of those things.
Can you just run around the streets?
Yeah, it’s New York. Nobody cares. I ran by the West Side Highway yesterday; it was fantastic.
Do you ever get double takes?
No, but today I did run into a fan on the street that I recognize from some of the conventions. Some of the fans are so loyal you end up seeing them again and again at different things. So I ran into her on the street, and you always think, Oh, hey. I thought I know you. But then you think…Is this really a coincidence? I never try to share my location, you know?
You mean on social media?
Yeah. Well, I was so against social media for such a long time, but now I can’t live without it.
You’re very active on Instagram.
It’s part of the world that we’re in now, it really is. I understand the way that it fits into my business, in all of our businesses. Like the other night at the CFDA Awards, where I went with Todd Snyder; it was a great opportunity. A) It was a fun night, and B) It’s a great partnership. And then I feel like you have to connect with fans; individual connection is important. It never used to be that way. It used to be—I’m talking 30, 40 years ago—the less people knew about you, the better, the more different roles you could play. There’s a pro and a con to the whole thing. What I find is that the individual connections you have with fans that transpire—once you get a great message or see some artwork, it’s really humbling. I see it as a plus in that regard.
You have a strong theater background. Will you be doing more of that anytime soon?
I love it. I wish I could do more of it. With theater, it’s about a more specific window. It comes down to availability. The commitment there is every night, eight shows a week, and I feel like it’s even more important to connect with the material and to really like what you’re doing, because you’re doing the same thing every night. So you’re looking for something like that, but that fits in a very specific window. It’s not easy to find that, but I’m always looking for it. Theater is the most challenging thing to do, it’s just you out there with no rope. You can’t call time out, you’re on a roller coaster.
You went to that famous theater camp, Stagedoor Manor, when you were younger. What was that experience like?
It was a magical, magical place. The time that I was there was a very particular time. First of all, there were no cell phones. The first thing they did when you get there is say you’re not allowed to contact your parents, you’re not allowed to contact your friends. There were no distractions. You were forced to embrace your environment. It breaks you out of your shell, and I ended up with some amazing friendships from there. I met my manager there, and we’ve been together for 17 years. It’s a really special place. It was heartbreaking saying goodbye and going home. It was fucking real, man. This was before Glee! This was like, are you at the cool table or not? Or at the respected table. There are always hierarchies and stuff—it’s just a product of those environments—but at Stagedoor, everyone was embraced.
What were you cast in?
I went two summers and was cast in musicals. I was Danny Zuko in Grease, and I was in the musical Sweet Charity and then in the musical On the Twentieth Century. They were great. I mean, singing isn’t really my strong suit, but I just really enjoyed it.
You’ve been warmly embraced by the fashion community. Is this something you’ve always been interested in?
You know, it’s important; everything goes hand in hand. How I understand it is this: For me, acting is the primary thing. When I work on a part, one of the things I love to do is to put together a collage of things, stuff I see or stuff that inspires me, images, whatever. I try to look at it from that standpoint. Sometimes, being involved with fashion, it can give ideas to different things. It’s like a movie in itself. It’s just a different way to think about it.
I was just at the Public School show a few days ago. I loved the whole thing, from the venue, the music, the theme, the overall feelings, the lighting—it was a whole performance. I’ve gotten an education on Fashion Week, and I can appreciate it a lot more now, when you see a designer really putting a show together. It is artistry, and these guys have a creative voice. Every detail counts; it’s amazing.
In Captain America, you were looking really fit, too. How much of your work is about looking like a character, versus the internal life of a character?
I’m a firm believer that the outer life of a person really informs how you act. When it comes to characters, Jack Nicholson says let the wardrobe do the work. What you’re wearing, you are presenting to the room. What you’re wearing, how you’re behaving, it tells people so much about who you are. The wardrobe informs the character so much. So in Civil War and the Marvel movies, growing my hair out—and, yes, I was not wearing a wig; I grew my hair out and added extensions to it—I love that. This movie I just finished filming in L.A., I bleached my hair blond and it changed the way I was dressing and how people were reacting to me. And to me, you’ve got to be in shape 24/7, unless a role requires you to gain some weight. Plus, I enjoy being athletic, and that makes me feel good.
So do you go to the gym? Or play sports?
Look, the weather is really nice in New York right now, so I try to get outside. I play basketball or take a jog outside. It’s a typical New York mentality of trying to get outside and take advantage of the nice weather. Sometimes it’s even nice to pop around to different gyms in the city, so you’re not always doing the same thing. But I’m a firm believer of giving yourself 20 to 30 minutes of activity per day, even if you just go for a walk. It’s going to make your day better.
But do you have a more specific regimen for a movie? Like what about Captain America?
Yeah, well, for this last one, I think I went a little overboard. I got up to 200 pounds, which I have never done in my entire life. I knew I was going to be surrounded by these fucking mammoth guys, left and right. It was for my own confidence. It was crazy, because suddenly you’re this bigger dude, your clothes don’t fit. The fitted jeans don’t look so good anymore. And it takes a toll on your social life. Suddenly you have to eat a very specific amount of very specific foods. I can’t just go off-the-cuff for a meal, I have to eat every two hours. I was literally eating in the middle of the night. Sleeping, getting up, peeing, going to the fridge, downing two chicken breasts, and going back to sleep.
It’s not food, it’s fuel.
Right. And you see your body transform, but also your energy level drops. Your body is always processing food. There’s pros and cons, but you gain a respect for people who do this. It helped me feel like I fit into that world better.
What’s next for you?
There’s this movie I did called I’m Not Here, with J. K. Simmons, Michael Monroe, and Mandy Moore. The tagline is: A man strives for redemption when he meets a flawed and fearless woman. It takes place in the ’80s, and it’s a great script; it’s a little bit different. Michelle Schumacher, J. K.’s wife, directed it, and it’s a big passion project for them. I play a newly married father, and I had a young kid named Jeremy who’s so talented playing my son. And I’ve always been a huge Jim Carrey fan, and comedy has been this not-so-secret passion for me. And he’s producing this Showtime series called I’m Dying Up Here, about comics in the ’70s, and I have a part in that as a stand-up comic.
Is that a comedy?
No. Listen, yes, it’s funny, but it’s really about the career beginnings of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams, all those guys from the ’70s. But it’s dark, man, because as funny as those comedians were, there was a dark side. This show really captures that double-edged sword of fame that fueled the long, sleepless, drug-filled nights of that era.
Is there anything official with the next Captain America film?
There will be, I just don’t know when. It’s kind of like this weird mystery. It’s fun and nerve-wracking. The best way to describe it is that you just get a phone call one day that’s like, “You’re going to report to set,” and off you go. We all get along really well, so it’s really fun. My relationship with Anthony Mackie is one of the perks of my life, knowing that man. It’s fun. It’s very collaborative. Everyone knows what the goal is; we all want to make something that’s great and different and that surprises fans. We all just assume our roles in the puzzle. There’s no drama.
There’s this obsession with your character, Bucky, and Captain America being in love and kissing. Have you seen this? Do you have any thoughts about it?
Look, man, I think it’s great. Movies are for people to relate to in whatever way they want. No one here is ever going to point a finger and say what’s right and wrong. For me, it’s like, Awww. It’s cute, it’s great. If someone takes the time to think about that, that’s great. I don’t think of the character that way, though. But there’s no right or wrong answer.