Although the title of this article is “Beyond Bucky Barnes”, Bucky Barnes is where I want to start this little piece of writing. I didn’t become aware of Sebastian Stan because of his iconic role in the Captain America films, rather I started watching them because of him. Many, many moons ago, much-younger-me thought Captain America was a boring superhero, much like Superman he seemed to be too perfect to be true. I’d read other Marvel comics growing up, but was never really interested in Steve Rogers. However, I had been interested in Sebastian Stan ever since I set eyes on him portraying The Mad Hatter in ABC’s Once Upon A Time in 2012. That year, I’d seen my fair share of Marvel movies, but I hadn’t yet seen Captain America: The First Avenger. I rectified that when I found out Sebastian Stan was in that movie and the rest is a history of love and admiration not only for this one actor, but for the entire Captain America franchise – and yes, the character of Steve Rogers as well as that of James “Bucky” Barnes.
In past years, Sebastian has been part of many interesting projects, some of which I would like to introduce to you today. I’ve sat through a lot of hours of good and bad cinema for this man, but I don’t think I regret any minute of it (no, not even The Bronze). In this article, I’d like to talk you through my favorites from Sebastian’s filmography:
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Political Animals (2012) TV-14
First on the list is a TV-Mini-Series from 2012. He played T.J. Hammond, son to the former president of the United States. T.J. suffered not only from a severe drug and alcohol problem, he also had to deal with mental illness, a failed suicide attempt and the fact that he was the openly gay son of a former president and a mother who was now trying to run for president herself. Sebastian played this role with such vulnerability and fragility that I immediately became invested in the character. In my opinion the way he brought this character to life showcases Sebastian’s talent perfectly.
It’s a true pity this mini series wasn’t turned into a recurring series because the end of the first one doesn’t really give any closure for T.J.’s character. As far as the mini-series itself, the entire cast did an amazing job. It’s still interesting to watch given today’s political climate because it gives us a little glimpse behind the processes in Washington D.C. along with a striking depiction of a family trying to make it through some serious hardships.
There are some necessary content warnings, (drugs, suicide, strong language), but overall I highly recommend checking it out.
Destroyer (2018) R
Second comes a recently released film called Destroyer in which Sebastian starred alongside Nicole Kidman. The movie follows a former police detective who tries to investigate a case that dates back to her days as a young officer who was placed undercover with a partner, Chris, played by Sebastian. The two fall in love whilst working the case, but their story has a tragic end. Chris is a type of character that I hadn’t seen Sebastian play before, and I enjoyed seeing him delve into such a protective and loyal role. Like many of his movies, his character suffers a tragic end, but the story leading up to it was beautiful to witness. Sebastian has shared stories about preparing for his role, some of which even included work with former FBI and undercover agents. This is not an easy movie to watch, the desperation and exhaustion of Nicole Kidman’s character is evident throughout the film, but in my opinion that creates the atmosphere needed for the backstory and storylines in the past to unfold and immerse the audience in this love story.
Kings (2009) Not Rated
One of his earlier projects was this TV show from 2009, in which he played another character who is the son of a powerful political family and who is also gay, albeit not openly. Kings is an interesting show because it tells the story of a dystopian future in which America has regressed from democracy to monarchy. Sebastian plays Jack Benjamin, the king’s son with a high military rank, who is saved from an attack by a farm-boy named David Shepherd, who then proceeds to have a military career in the kingdom. The plot was loosely based on the biblical story of King David and was sadly also not renewed after the first season, so we don’t know where the story would have been taken next. It is however another highly recommended piece of television because of the unique storyline, the performances and the refreshing take on modern politics it portrays.
It would seem a lot of Sebastian’s roles share this sense of tragedy, fragility and a struggle with expressing feelings, a mixture he manages to portray in such a compelling and empathetic way that he helps the audience understand the depth of emotion running through the character’s head in every scene.
The Martian (2015) PG-13
Although Sebastian plays a small role in the movie, it is one of my favorite projects he has done in the past few years. His character, Chris Beck, was definitely bigger in the book and should have been bigger in the movie, but I loved the few scenes we got with him nonetheless. The movie itself tells the story of Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), who is stranded on Mars after a storm separates him from his crew. He is first believed to be dead, but survives against all odds, growing food and managing to survive for the time it takes his rescuers to get there. Besides the Marvel movies, this was one of the first major motion pictures Sebastian starred in as a minor character and it certainly opened doors for him. Just now he is working with his The Martian co-star Jessica Chastain again, filming the thriller 355 in France.
I, Tonya (2017) R
Next is a movie that ended up not only getting Oscar-buzz, but actually Academy Award nominations and wins (for his co-star Allison Janney). Sebastian plays Jeff, Tonya Harding’s husband, who was allegedly involved in the famous plot to attack Nancy Kerrigan – referred to in the movie only as “the incident”. Margot Robbie, who not only plays Tonya but also produced the film, mentioned that she didn’t know Sebastian before seeing his audition tape and even thought she’d discovered some “unknown talent” when she saw his tape. She stated again and again that his approach to the role was great, and I wholeheartedly agree. While this is not a role that makes you love the character (at all), it surely was an experience seeing Sebastian portray such a brutal role. In an interview he said: “It was difficult from the beginning because I couldn’t help but judge him, but I set to the task of trying to find some humanity behind what was on the page.” He mentioned several times how it will be difficult to watch himself on screen displaying such violence against women, but that he thought it was important that the story was told, especially in current society. Sebastian himself considers I, Tonya to be one of the turning points of his career, stating that it set the bar for what he wanted going forward.
As a funny side note, Sebastian once checked in on his fellow Marvel cast-mates, who were filming in Atlanta, wearing his mustache from I, Tonya and they didn’t recognize him.
We Have Always Lived In the Castle (2018)
Last but not least comes this recommendation, one of Sebastian’s most recently released movies. From the author of fan favorite Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House, this literary adaptation tells the story of a mansion and family with a sinister history. Two co-dependent sisters live in the home that saw their parents killed under mysterious circumstances, making the sisters the outcasts of the surrounding villages. Sebastian plays the Blackwood’s cousin, Charles, who comes to the mansion looking not for companionship, but for the family money. His character is eerie, untrustworthy and so charming when he wants to be. I really enjoyed seeing him portray so many different facets of a character in one movie, and I also have a weakness for the romantic or American Gothic style, so this movie definitely was worth a watch. If you’re interested check out our full review.
It’s clear from the roles he chooses that he handpicks films and other working opportunities based on his own set criteria. In his panels at Jibland and MCM Comic Con, he emphasizes that when choosing a project, he looks for interesting characters and strong female presence both in the cast and in the production team. In an interview with SbjctJournal, he talks about the #MeToo movement and the term “masculinity”.
“I am supportive of the movement. It is incredibly brave and heroic of all the women who have spoken out, and I want to hold space for that, and to honor that.[…] As an actor, I feel it is my duty to hold a mirror up to nature as best as I can, and to support stories that have been, and still need to be told. […]What’s exciting about this time is that we all have an opportunity to listen, and to see where changes need to be made in the examples we want to put forward for younger people. I think it’s all about having the conversation. To me personally, masculinity is about offering protection, offering safety, holding space, communication, being vulnerable, never making the other feel wrong for how they feel, and now more importantly than ever, it is about listening and learning how to be of service.”
One of the things I’m waiting for as a theater nerd is Sebastian’s return to the stage. While he has worked in theater since his teens and has worked on Broadway twice (in 2007’s production “Talk Radio” and 2013’s production of “Picnic”), due to his insanely busy schedule in the past years, he hasn’t found time to go back to working on stage, even though he has expressed wanting to do so several times.
Considering his upcoming projects, as mentioned before, he is currently shooting the spy-thriller 355 with Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita N’yongo in France. He is set to appear in a number of movies, including Netflix production The Devil All The Time, Vietnam-War drama The Last Full Measure, romantic drama Monday and literary adaptation The Chain. Even if this article is called “Beyond Bucky Barnes”, it needs to be mentioned that Sebastian will also appear in the highly anticipated series Falcon And Winter Soldier, which will be produced for and released on Disney+ in the coming months. You can learn more about that here.
If these past and future projects haven’t been enough to convince you to look a little more into Sebastian’s filmography, I leave you with the fact that he is not only an incredibly talented actor, but also a humble, sincere and charming human being. Every time you see or hear him talk about his work, he does so with so much enthusiasm and dedication, no matter the project. He looks back on his less glamorous work with humor and a wink, clearly grateful for the path that he has led him here. His sense of humor is probably one of the main reasons he has charmed so many fans for so long – this mixture of a grumpy old man who doesn’t really know how social media works and a walking meme. For example, he has an instagram account where he makes short films with a couple friends, none of them to be taken seriously (hopefully), but all of them amusing to no end. Myself and other fans often catch ourselves saying “Sebastian, what are you even doing?” in the most endearing way possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched a compilation of interviews just to put a smile back on my face, because he’s definitely good at that.
So here you have it, a selection of Sebastian Stan’s projects that I would recommend watching if you haven’t looked into his filmography beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seeing and hearing Sebastian talk about the role that definitely gave him his big break, however, is always a treat. He speaks of Bucky and the Marvel world with such love and passion that it becomes clear that he is thankful for the doors it has opened for him. While I would like to see a movie where the role he’s playing is just happy, doesn’t die a tragic death, nor is violent, as a fan it’s wonderful to see Sebastian demonstrate his skills and abilities to their full extent. I hope this article convinced some of you to take a further look at Sebastian Stan, the person, but also the actor and his work beyond that of Bucky Barnes. For me, Bucky will always hold a special place in my heart and is definitely a character that has opened so many doors for an actor I truly admire and to whose future projects I look forward to immensely.