Marvel’s Avengers Behind the Performance - Jeff Schine / Captain AmericaSpoiler Warning: this article discusses story events in Marvel’s Avengers. We recommend you play the game before reading on.
Every team needs a leader and few are as capable as Steve Rogers. As Captain America, he’s a symbol of the Avengers, and all the good they do for the world.
To portray such a character requires an equally inspiring performance, and in Marvel’s Avengers, Jeff Schine more than pulls it off.
We talked to the actor about how he won the part, the thrill and pressure that comes with such a beloved character, and his heartbreak at Cap’s fate in the game.
How did you react when you found out you were going to be Captain America?
Truthfully, the very first thing was: ‘oh s**t’!
I was so, so pleased, but immediately felt the pressure and responsibility. I mean, this is Captain America, right?
Maybe that pressure was self-imposed, but it was clear to me that this was going to be no small project, and therefore no small feat. But yeah, I remember being excited and really honored - and just looking at my wife and going: ‘wow.’
It’s one thing to be standing in your underwear claiming to be Captain America when you’re 10 years old, but then for someone like Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, and then Marvel, to say: ‘Would you like to be Cap for a little while’… it’s amazing. I remember feeling very humbled almost immediately.
Was that because you had a familiarity with the character? Did you read the comics growing up?
When I was a kid, I wasn’t as into comics - I was more into the art of comics than reading the actual stories. Not because I didn’t find them interesting, but because I could just never get past how much I enjoyed looking at the drawings. I actually think my first comics were about Iron Man actually.
Since then Marvel has entered the world in this massive way - I’m a big fan of the entire MCU and everything Marvel has been doing on those projects, for example. So knowing that I was going to be part of their family in some capacity definitely contributed to that feeling of pressure.
Then there’s Cap himself, right? I mean, if there ever was a symbol, that dude is a symbol. So portraying him is also an incredibly daunting task.
So how do you get over that pressure?
Honestly, you have to really distil it down and simplify it for yourself - I tried to take the magnitude away and just focus on the character himself. Basically, just be Steve Rogers and let everything else take care of itself.
Did you audition for the part first?
Yeah, I had to audition many, many times actually.
For the first audition, I had to self-tape, and I didn't know what the role was. The character had a different name.
I can’t remember what his name was at the time, but the scene was a close version of what ended up in the game, when Kamala Khan first meet Cap during A-Day.
I had no idea who this character was during the audition, but it’s funny because I was taping in my living room, wearing this brown leather jacket and my wife - who is not a comic book fan and had hardly seen any Marvel movies at the time - said: “You’re giving me vibes of… who’s that guy in the movies? The comic book character?”
And I was like, “Captain America?” and she was like: “Yeah him!”
So of course I said: “Yeah, okay honey. That’s very nice, but I think you just feel that way because you love me (laughs).”
But she called it! Day one and she called it.
So after the self-tape, I had a couple of casting sessions with Shaun Escayg, the game’s Creative Director, and then ended up booking the job. It was actually a fun process, but I’m glad I didn’t know it was Cap from the start.
Why not? Who did you think the character was?
Well, I didn’t know that it was anything to do with the Avengers.
A lot of auditions come across my desk and many of them are self-tapes for new projects. In games especially, everything is code-named and everything is super NDA (non-disclosure agreement). They barely give you any information, even after you book the job sometimes.
For me, it’s actually not helpful anymore to know all that stuff during auditions - it can kind of get in the way. It’s about what’s on the page, what’s the relationship between the characters, and then you make your choices.
For this especially, knowing it was Cap would have hurt me more than it would have helped me, I think.
So you got the part - how did it feel to be immediately killed off?
Oh man (laughs). So when we first got to set, I didn’t have a whole story. I only had bits and pieces, but don’t think that was intentional. I don’t think Shaun knew because he’s juggling so much.
When we’re doing the table read and we get to the page where… I’m dead and have no more pages, I spent the first four days of the rehearsal heartbroken because I finally get this incredible opportunity and I’m dead in five minutes!
I remember coming home to my wife and saying: I don’t want to be a jerk, but I’m disappointed. I mean, I’m grateful for the part, but… you know (laughs).
On the fourth day, there’s talk of other scenes happening. I pull Shaun aside, and say: “You gotta level with me man, am I dead or not?” And then he outlined the whole story for me.
You must have been relieved.
Yeah, man! I mean, I was gutted before - you work so hard to get there and then you think it’s gone in five minutes. So for that first week, it was a bit of a rollercoaster (laughs).
Did you do much research before you started filming, or were you already familiar with Captain America?
I already knew a little bit about Steve’s background and story. I mean, it’s hard not to - he’s one of those characters that you don’t even have to try to research - you’re going to get pieces of the lore just by being out in society.
So I didn’t really need to do a deep dive - I had a good sense of who the character was, where he came from, and how he was existing in the world currently. Once I digested everything I know about the character, I had to let it go because it’s really about what was in this story.
I had conversations with Shaun and the creative team about what Cap’s arc would look like, where it was going in this game and where it might continue into the future. Then it was about taking that version of the character forward.
Many of the heroes in Marvel’s Avengers go through dramatic changes, and are battling particular demons, but Cap seems intentionally portrayed as this very ‘classic’ version of the character…
That was something definitely Shaun and I discussed. I was pretty clear from the start that we were going to hold true to a lot of the characteristics that Cap is known for - that altruism, the leadership, the big heart, and the selflessness.
There are challenges with playing a character like Cap because he's straight and narrow. He doesn’t fall back on sarcasm or wit often, he doesn’t use a flowery language. He’s inspirational. Sometimes by his words, but more often by his actions… so he’s basically very upright and direct.
There’s a risk that he could be a kind of cardboard cut-out of those characteristics.
How did you avoid that?
There were some little things of my own that I wanted to contribute. I didn’t really try to clean up my own natural East Coasty kind of vibe because I wanted it to come through that he’s a kid from Brooklyn with leaning super-heavy into an accent.
But we also explore other parts of Cap, which don’t always get to see. What I think is so great about out story is that he questions himself and his leadership. How does he feel about coming back a second time - leaning into those questions gave me a lot to work with.
In this game, you get a lot of that vulnerability, some of that uncertainty, which is what contributes to his allure as a leader. Especially in the world as it is now - I think some humility from leadership is always a great thing and we get to see that from Cap.
I think we definitely get to see that in the latter part of the game…
There’s a moment where Cap gets back on the Chimera standing in front of his suit, helmet, and shield. He’s pulling these things off the wall and settling back in. There’s this big sigh where you know he feels the weight.
He has to step back into this leadership position and ask himself: Am I even the right man for this job? Maybe they were better off without me.
It’s hard for him because in the beginning of the game, he had to make this incredibly difficult choice, and despite the potential consequences, he at least wouldn’t have to live with them.
Now he’s back, and he does have to live with the decision he made, which for someone who values life as much as he does is difficult to bear. How do you sacrifice some for the many? How do you weigh those scales?
I love that scene - it’s a part I really related to.
Stepping outside of the character for a second, it’s like, how do I step into this role as a pivotal part of a group of actors who are icons in my world - in the world of voice acting and motion capture. For me, there’s also that weight.
I’ve been around for a while and have been on mo-cap stages. Worked with many amazing people, but it’s definitely different when you’re stepping on the stage with Nolan North (Iron Man), or Travis Willingham (Thor), or Laura Bailey (Black Widow). Then there’s Crystal Dynamics, and Marvel too… it’s like wow.
And I give a lot of credit to Sandra Saad. For me, it would have been tough if this was my first mo-cap job, but she handled it so gracefully.
Were you daunted about working with such well-known people?
Fortunately, everyone we’re talking about are good people. You’re more battling your own version of their personalities than who they are in reality (laugh).
Like, you might assume Marvel is a scary group - but they’re actually really cool. They’re big comic book nerds and just like the cast and the guys from Crystal Dynamics, everybody’s there to just do something awesome.
Once you get past your own internal dialogue making things scary, it’s a great place to play. It couldn’t be a more supportive group, top to bottom.
What was the most enjoyable thing about working with them?
I mean, Nolan's a trip. Nolan's got like stories for days and voices forever. You put a quarter in him, and he’ll just go for the rest of the day (laughs).
There was a lot of camaraderie on set. Everybody got along really well and it was a lot of fun. I know Travis tells that story (Editor’s note: he did!) but there were quite a few scenes where Cap drops down in the middle and sends Thor and Iron Man off to do something.
Nolan and Travis have to stand there for, like, eight minutes - he’s got his hands down like he just took off with his thrusters, but he’s stuck there take after take. We’d all just laugh because it’s hysterical to see him stuck there in his little onesie suit, frozen for minutes at a time (laughs).
Travis mentioned he had a physical hammer on set. Did they give you a shield prop?
Yes, but for me it wasn’t a prop - it was the shield. The only shield there has ever been.
I mean, it was wood with foam and sort of cobbled together, but it’s about where your imagination goes, and as far as I was concerned, what they were handing me was the actual shield. It might as well have been straight off the screen.
I was so excited when they first handed it to me. It’s such a fond memory that I even recall exactly where everybody else was on set and was such a great moment.
I hope it’s not the last time I get to pick it up. I remember thinking: they’re going to have to pry this from my hands, because I’m not putting this thing down! (laughs)
What scenes or moments are you most proud of?
There’s a scene with Black Widow that I really love. It’s when Cap returns to the Avengers and sees her for the first time. There's just a sense of quiet vulnerability between the two of them.
There are also the intelligence files in the game, and particularly one I recorded that I really liked. The gist was that it was Cap questioning coming back for the second time, as a letter to his love. It’s just heartfelt and raw, and I remember after we recorded it, a couple of engineers in the booth were, like, “Wow - that was a powerful moment.”
I haven’t actually found it in the game, so I can’t hear it again, but I remember being really connected to that moment.
What’s it like seeing those moments you imagined play out on screen in the finished game?
There's the way you envision it as it's going down and then, with the amazing work of the artists and creators, how it all actually comes together.
It’s great. I think it visually represents the weight that I felt when I was just pouring the lines out on set and trying to ignore the two cameras in my face and the leotard (laughs).
Is there any disconnect between how you imagined it during filming and how it looks now?
There always is a little bit. It's certainly more detailed and beautiful than the way I envisioned it. Shaun does a really good job and his vision is so clear. I always felt pretty connected to what was actually going to be happening in the story. He really paints the scene for you.
That’s so valuable - for example, the scene where Cap comes out of the chamber. You have all kinds of things to think about - how many things are connected to me? How much junk is in the way? Was I frozen? Is there steam? Shaun has laid all that information out and all those little contributions add to the scene.
Then to see all of this realized is so rewarding. Not to be self-deprecating, but the contribution of us actors is only a small part of a much, much larger group of people who painstakingly create all this stuff, and their work is represented in the final scene.
We’re nearly out of time, so in the spirit of Captain America, do you have any inspirational advice for people aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
About acting? The first thing I would say is be a student. Always be ready to learn. I never stopped learning either from peers or by seeking out new information and experiences.
If you’re trying to specifically do voice acting, I would say start reading, and start reading out loud. Pick up books, candy wrappers, newspapers, magazines - whatever it may be and just read it out loud.
Then, more importantly than anything else, make sure you love it. If it’s something you love so much you’d do it even if you weren’t getting paid, then pursue it because it’s rewarding, and challenging… and amazing.
Many thanks to Jeff for taking the time to talk with us. You can see him wield the mighty shield in Marvel’s Avengers - out now for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Stadia.
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