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Sebastian Stan on His Buzzy Sundance Comedy and How ‘Captain America’ Changed His Career

The Sundance Film Festival kicks off on Thursday night with the premiere of “The Bronze,” which opens in the same plum spot that launched “Whiplash” last year. And like ”Whiplash,” “The Bronze” focuses on hyperdevoted players in a niche world of competition.

“The Bronze,” directed by Bryan Buckley (he made the 2004 Sundance short “Krug”), tells the story of a washed-up Olympics gymnast named Hope (Melissa Rauch) who tries to regain her glory days in a small town. The buzzy comedy, which hasn’t screened widely yet, is already drawing comparisons to “Napoleon Dynamite,” thanks to quotable one-liners in its screenplay. Rauch co-wrote it with her husband Winston, and they cast Marvel heartthrob Sebastian Stan as an aging male Olympics medal-winner who serves as the love interest/archnemesis.

Stan, coming off a strong 2014 thanks to his pivotal role as the Winter Soldier in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” spoke to Variety about making “The Bronze.”

Tell me about the premise of the “The Bronze.”
It’s about the world of gymnastics. It’s a world we know very little about, and it’s a dark comedy about what happens to some of these triathletes that we see in competition who train since they are very young and their life just becomes about winning. Hope, after winning a bronze medal, lives in this bitter world, stuck in reflecting about the past and reliving her memories in a small town. I play Lance Tucker, who is the spitting image of her, an ex-gold medalist-turned-adviser-turned-mentor.

Do you do your own stunts?
A little bit. I did a lot of research into the world of gymnastics and what kind of training these guys do. I watched a lot of videos, as many as I could find. God bless the Internet for that. I looked at the men’s Olympics teams from the last decade, going back to the ’70s and ’80s. A gymnast is the most physically all-around-perfect specimen. The training is so difficult on so many levels. It’s a very twisted world, in my opinion. We live in an age now where we’re seeing different sides to sports. We’re seeing what we see on TV, and then we’re seeing all the other stuff that goes into forming the image.

How did you get cast?
The script got sent to me by my agent. I read it, and it was literally one of the things where I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing so much, I was calling my friends and quoting my character. Sometimes you read something, and you get so excited to the point where you can’t stop thinking about it. I then had a meeting with Melissa and Winston and Bryan Buckley. We had a two-hour conversation about our ideas. I was very lucky — I didn’t need to audition.

Have you been to Sundance before?
I’ll tell you, I’ve never been to Sundance. I have to get on a plane immediately on Friday [to shoot another movie], so I won’t actually be around for long. I always see those cast portraits, and all I ever wanted was to be in one of those portraits with a beard. But I won’t even be able to do that.

How has starring in “Captain America” changed your career?
Credit is due where credit is due — 2014 was a very different year for me because of “Winter Soldier.” The awareness of me in terms of the industry has been very different. It’s granted me more opportunity to be able to search for the projects I want to be involved in, and work with the kind of filmmakers I’m really interested in working with. Bryan Buckley, to me, I feel like he’s going to be someone you’re going to know for a long time. I was like, “Wow, I got the chance to work with this guy before everyone is going to want to work with him.”

Have you read the script to “Captain America 3”?
No. I mean this — I have no idea what’s happening.

How many more are you doing?
I have no clue.

Do you think the Winter Soldier will ever be in an “Avengers” film?
I have no idea. That’s the most boring answer, but literally the only answer I know. It’s out of my control.

When you signed on for the first film, did you know Bucky was going to come back?
No. I mean, you know the comicbooks. That’s what you know. But I actually didn’t know them. I had a meeting with Kevin Feige, and he was catching me up on everything, and I went and read everything. I thought, “This is going to be cool.” We’re in an amazing time now for these kinds of movies. I’m so happy that I’m here for it, that they didn’t do these movies 20 years ago. The technology we have now, we can do these stories and characters justice.

Are kids scared of you now?
No one is scared of me. They just come up and pat me on the shoulder and say, “Aww, I’m so sorry, man.”

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