Yesterday I did a thing I haven’t since 2008: I bought a ticket to a fan convention. This one is a whole other level of different, though. In 2008, I a la carted my way through a Supernatural Creation Con, and while I met and hugged and asked questions of and got autographs from and pictures with many of my favorite secondary players on that show, I assiduously avoided the stars, save for the one question I asked Jensen Ackles during the panel appearance. (Video exists, but I’m not linking it. Short version: Yeah, Jensen probably would have been friends with Dean Winchester in high school.)
The ticket I bought yesterday to attend the Wizard World Chicago convention next month is a so-called VIP package, which gets me early floor access, some limited edition goodies, premium panel seating and at least two opportunities to up-close meet actor Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’m so nervous I might hurl. Which I keep reminding myself is silly: This dude is not even two years older than me, and by all accounts presents himself as the sweetest, hammiest, most gracious nerd imaginable. It’s also not like the five minutes total of one-on-one interaction this will entail will be earth-shattering; my goal, really, is to have fun and be classy. But I also keep thinking about what I’d want to communicate in those few minutes, and it gets complicated, especially now that I’ve put my finger on what it is about his performance as the Winter Soldier that hits me so hard.
Let me break apart a few things about this first. I’m in no way convinced I’m going to have some revelatory soul-to-soul experience. Whatever a celebrity does in public, on the record, is a performance, albeit a fascinating one. Chris Evans, for instance, became super interesting to me after I read Edith Zimmerman’s GQ cover story on him, which deconstructs, complicates and then tentatively rebuilds his narrative as a regular guy from Boston who hates most of his filmography. I never had any feelings about Selena Gomez whatsoever until Flaunt did a feature on her that mixes magical realism, patron saints and young adulthood in a way that I still can’t get out of my head. When Sebastian Stan roundly charmed the pants off all of Tumblr for his appearances and interactions at a convention in Philadelphia last month, I thought: Smart. He’s won himself a hell of a following, a hell of a lot of buzz and maybe a little more clout for a guy who also plays down or apologizes for most of his past projects.
I’m deeply fond of that version of this guy: known goober Sebastian Stan, Sebastian “Too Many Hugs” Stan, Instagram user imsebastianstan, whose gym selfies give me life. I’m also deeply fond of MCU actor Sebastian Stan, who has more feelings and thoughts about Bucky Barnes than anybody. Watching or reading him understand and explain or defend his character falls on a spectrum of competence porn for me that also extends to the months of training and rehearsal that let him act out what I think is the most stunning fight scene of all time. I really like it when people care about what they do. I think it would be fun to talk to him about his work in an in-depth way.
Fans by nature invest so much meaning in stories, and often find the most incredible fulfillment in systems that virtually leave behind the original story and the people who helped make it. If you watch the whole panel from Philly Con (and it’s a delight; both Stan and costar Anthony Mackie are hilarious and charming), you’ll see some crossed wires in the questions people pose to the actors, which is totally understandable. For many fans (myself included, I won’t lie), Captain America: The Winter Soldier has become a daily touchstone of significance and community and enjoyment; for the actors, it was and is a job, nothing more or less mysterious.
Stan’s work is what I can know, and what I can actually address. I’m keeping a list of things I won’t say to him, even if, by enjoying his interviews, I feel like I’ve found human commonalities that signify something:
- I see you’ve been filming in Ohio recently. I’m from Ohio! A different part than where you’re filming, but hey! That’s a thing.
- I see that you also deal with the thing where you look like you’ve got two black eyes even if you’ve slept well the night before. Olive skin, what a gas!
- I understand you drew on Band of Brothers for your characterization of Bucky. Band of Brothers is why I’m a journalist! We should talk about our Easy Company feelings sometime.
- I hear you like space. Who doesn’t like space?
- Hey, we’re kind of the same height!
Writing them out like this helps me really not say them.
But the nugget, the little personal truth that I’d want to communicate in a very short span (or maybe not; it might be too personal, and too at odds with the breezy laughs I’d want for the rest), is a bit tougher.
There’s this scene in Winter Soldier where suddenly we realized that this actor who’d previously mostly made waves as a guest on Gossip Girl or Once Upon a Time could actually act his goddamn heart out and break all of ours in the process. Stan’s character, who is Captain America’s childhood best friend and who has been warped into a terrifying assassin by decades of torture and brainwashing, is starting to remember who he is. He attacks his handlers, forcing them to give him the space he needs simply to sit and think.
There’s this look on his face, in his eyes. And I couldn’t figure out why it affected me so much until I read this:
INT: How do you mentally prepare for a role like this in terms of playing someone who does not know who they are?
SS: Well, it’s funny the way things happen in life. I just don’t wanna get too down here or anything, but my stepdad was actually recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he’s been going through that for at least the last two years. And so it was interesting because while that process was very painful as an observer, it was one of the things that I found to be very helpful for me.
That shook me. When I saw that, I wanted to say, Me too. I saw that look on my mother’s face. It was brain cancer. One of the only ways I kept sane was to make art about it. Me too. It was real. Thank you.
Because here’s the thing about Bucky Barnes: He comes back. He comes back. He reclaims himself. He comes back.
Someone should get to.
That’s a big anvil of feelings for a photo op or the autograph line. In the end, I don’t know how much I need him to hear that, but I think I did have to say it somewhere.
So yeah. Fans tend to invest a lot in stories that are someone else’s day job. But, you know. Sometimes it’s a set-up; sometimes that was always going to happen.
I was waffling about buying this ticket. A friend convinced me otherwise with a comment on an anxious post I made elsewhere: “I feel like…this fella is a pretty big deal for you. It would probably be a lovely experience, and an even lovelier memory.” She’s a good friend with consistently good ideas; I was glad I followed through pretty much at once.
Thanks, Sebastian. You did good work. I’m excited about what you’ll do in the future. You seem really lovely. And I’m looking forward to meeting you next month.