Chris Evans on his ‘shameless’ Tim Allen impression in ‘Lightyear’

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Trust me, Chris Evans had the same thought as you when he heard Pixar’s initial pitch for him to voice Buzz Lightyear — how’s that supposed to happen?

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“Initially, I was just told Pixar wanted to meet about an animated movie and when they said, ‘Buzz Lightyear,’ I replied, ‘How’s that possible?’ Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear,” Evans says in a Zoom call from Los Angeles.

But Evans, 41, took the meeting and immediately was sold by writer-director Angus MacLane’s (Finding Dory) ingenious idea to explore the origins for the fan-favourite character. The Buzz he’d be voicing was from a 1990s-era animated sci-fi adventure that Toy Story’s Andy fell in love with.

Chris Evans
Chris Evans Photo by Jesse Grant /Getty Images for Disney

The 26th Pixar film finds Evans voicing the overconfident space ranger made famous by Allen. In Lightyear, Buzz and a group of space travellers find themselves stranded on a hostile planet. As Buzz tries — and fails — to get his fellow explorers home, he jets off on experimental hyper-speed missions that take him just a few seconds while years pass for his comrades.

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Eventually, he has to learn to work with others and forms a team that consists of Sox (Peter Sohn), a scene-stealing robot cat, and a trio of upstart recruits (Keke Palmer, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi). He’ll also have to face off against a robot invasion led by the evil emperor Zurg (James Brolin).

Buzz Lightyear and Zurg in a scene from Lightyear.
Buzz Lightyear and Zurg in a scene from Lightyear. Photo by Disney/Pixar

After almost a decade of playing Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lightyear is the latest in a series of projects that have found Evans carefully plotting his next act. Later this summer, he stars opposite Ryan Gosling in the Netflix spy film The Gray Man. Next year, he’ll appear alongside his Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas in Apple’s action rom-com Ghosted.

But on a recent Friday afternoon, Evans spoke more about Lightyear, finding his way as Buzz and his new love for … cats.

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I imagine voicing Buzz wasn’t an easy thing to say yes to. What sealed the deal for you?

“Angus said that when he was a kid, he was obsessed with Star Wars. He had all the toys and for him and his friends that movie was their whole world. So, when he saw the first Toy Story movie and Andy’s love for Buzz Lightyear, he always thought, ‘What is the movie that Andy, and all of Andy’s friends, saw that made Buzz such an icon in their world?’ This, would be that movie. When he said that, it all made sense to me.

Buzz Lightyear in a scene from Lightyear.
Buzz Lightyear in a scene from Lightyear. Photo by Disney/Pixar

“In my mind, there are a lot of Captain America dolls out there that are speaking dolls that aren’t my voice. So, I thought it could be OK if we had a different voice for these two different characters.”

What was the biggest difference between voicing Buzz and playing another iconic character — Captain America?

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Certainly, with Captain America we have to address the fact that there are a lot of people — the baked-in-the-cake fanbase — that have an interpretation of the character. So, you have to honour how people see him. This isn’t a character that’s brand new to the world, so you can do whatever you want. You have to incorporate what the fanbase is expecting to some degree.

“But this was even (more challenging). Someone else has played this role. I know this character as someone else. All of these iconic lines were already delivered very well. So, it was intimidating in the sense that you started out feeling a little bit like an imposter.

Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) and his robot companion cat called Sox (voice of Peter Sohn) in a scene from Lightyear.
Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) and his robot companion cat called Sox (voice of Peter Sohn) in a scene from Lightyear. Photo by Disney/Pixar

“My first couple of sessions, I was doing a shameless Tim Allen impression and it took a while to allow it to feel a little more personal and I could have space to make my choices. But I was still using Tim Allen as the blueprint.

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“The truth is, this movie is supposed to be the version of the toy, so there’s meant to be some overlap. So, you can still use Tim Allen as your North Star, and honestly, why wouldn’t you. He was perfect.”

I know you’re a dog guy, but did Sox — the robotic feline — turn you into a cat man?

“Yes, certainly. I can’t tell you how many people who have cats say to me, ‘But my cat is just like a dog.’ And I always think, ‘Well, then just get a dog’ (laughs). I have nothing against cats or any animals. If anything, I think cats are gorgeous and I have a lot of respect for their nature. But sometimes, I’m not sure they like me, and my ego is a little too fragile to handle that. I need a dog who is just desperate to see me every time I walk in the door.”

Lightyear is in theatres today.

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