Who is Sebastian Stan? Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s own Bucky Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) really "the most boring person on Earth," as MCU co-star Anthony Mackie hilariously described him to BBC Radio 1? (Mackie went on to quip, "I literally think he sits in his living room and talks to his plant.")
We do know fans are highly invested in catching up with the quiet movie star’s love life — perhaps unsurprising, given the talented actor’s big baby blues and sculpted square jawline. Stan, however, is almost professionally skilled at protecting the details of his personal life. For instance, during a 2018 episode of Watch What Happens Live, a pre-Nick Jonas marriage Priyanka Chopra seemingly flirted on-air with Stan, jokingly complaining to host Andy Cohen that Stan wouldn’t disclose his relationship status to her. "There’s nothing wrong with a little mystery, I mean, come on," Stan, smirking, replied. "Do you have to know everything right up front?"
Meanwhile, this man of mystery has been steadily working since 2009, both within the MCU and outside it, opposite Hollywood icons like Nicole Kidman in the 2018 indie revenge flick, Destroyer, and in award-winning projects like 2017’s Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya. With his Disney+ series, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, breaking the streaming platform’s record for most-watched series premiere, per NME, Stan has come a long way from his roots before and at the beginning of his acting career. Read on for Sebastian Stan’s evolution from age 27 to 38.
After emigrating to the States, Sebastian Stan found his big break on Gossip Girl
Did you know that the actor who plays the MCU’s James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes isn’t American-born and bred after all? As Sebastian Stan divulged on the short-lived MTV talk show, It’s On with Alexa Chung, he hails from Romania, which he humorously said is one place "you couldn’t find bananas anywhere." Stan departed the motherland for Vienna, Austria at age 8 and didn’t immigrate to the States until his early teens in 1995. As he told Chung, "I can speak Romanian fluently with my mom." Indeed, in a 2018 chat with radio host Criss Lara, Stan conducted the entire interview in his native tongue with ease.
After getting his drama education at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts (via Rutgers Magazine), Stan landed bit film roles, before his mainstream breakthrough at age 27 on the CW’s teen soap sensation, Gossip Girl. Beginning his run in 2009 during the show’s second season, Stan shot to fan-fave status between his portrayal of recurring bad boy Carter Baizen and his off-screen relationship at the time with star Leighton Meester. Stan even shared an Instagram video of himself in September 2020 hilariously commentating in his re-watch of the show’s pilot (over red wine), in which he revealed how he always wanted co-star Chace Crawford’s hair, adding, "I wasn’t in the pilot, but I wish I was… XOXO."
Per Men’s Health, Stan wasn’t tapped to return for the show’s HBO Max reboot, but here’s to never giving up hope.
He landed his major MCU role in 2011, but not the one he initially wanted
Named as one of MTV’s "11 actors to watch in 2011," per MTV News, Sebastian Stan made his debut in the enviable role of Bucky Barnes, best friend to Captain America/Steve Rogers, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that same year. Although Stan played a crucial role in Captain America: The First Avenger, he shared with MTV News that his original aspiration was to be Cap himself. After sending several audition tapes, Stan finally decided to do a screen test for the titular role in person — and lucky for him, he did. "Usually with screen tests, you can be very nervous, the stakes are high. But this one was actually really chilled out," Stan explained, attributing the relaxed environment to director Joe Johnston.
Although the powers that be found him more suitable for Barnes than Rogers, it turned out Stan did, as well, after Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard explained Barnes’ arc to him. "I was really attracted to that," Stan said. "I thought there’s a lot to play with, so I was very happy."
Given his ever-increasing presence in the MCU a decade later, Stan’s is a case of "all’s well that ends well." After all, per Men’s XP, he was in good company with household names like John Krasinski losing the part to Chris Evans after auditioning themselves. In fact, Stan would make his MCU return in 2014 in an even greater role…
2014 saw Sebastian Stan’s first title role in the MCU
Indubitably, Sebastian Stan was one of the main standouts in what Collider Extras called one of the best superhero films of all time — 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As the titular Winter Soldier, Stan’s wide, soul-searching blue eyes never felt more perfectly cast as the actor emoted largely silently as the now-brainwashed assassin (opposite Hollywood heavyweights like Robert Redford, no less). IGN raved that "Stan’s Winter Soldier is — other than Loki — Marvel’s most successful, and by far most terrifying, villain to date" and called his performance "both heartbreaking and legitimately chilling."
Weirdly, Stan told BBC Radio 1 in 2021 that he only learned he was returning from that fateful train fall in Captain America: The First Avenger when "a friend … texted [him] from Comic-Con, saying, ‘Dude, they just [announced] the sequel and your name is in the title.’" Stan recalled quipping to his pal, "’That’s good. That means that I’m in the movie, right?’" Not only did he return for that sequel, but his portrayal of Bucky Barnes was also the focus of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, as well as his notable features in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has kept Stan quite the busy bee, he also had time to work on an one-of-a-kind award-winning project in 2017. Keep reading to find out whose shoes Stan slipped into when his Winter Soldier wasn’t wreaking havoc in the MCU.
Sebastian Stan struck awards show gold with I, Tonya
Playing Jeff Gillooly, the mastermind of a husband to Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding in 2017’s dark biopic, I, Tonya, Sebastian Stan transformed himself onscreen more than he ever had until that point in his career. Even more so than his Winter Soldier’s long flowing locks, Stan physically altered his appearance with an awkwardly shaped porn-star-esque mustache. Much deeper than the physical transformation, however, was the challenge of playing — in Stan’s own words to IndieWire — "a character that’s so far removed from who I am."
As RogerEbert.com‘s Christy Lemire described his performance, Stan gradually evolves his portrayal of Gillooly from "benign goofiness" to a "positively chilling" and spontaneously violent temperament. "It scared me," Stan admitted to IndieWire. "And every time I get scared by something … like, I don’t know if I can do it as an actor, then I’m drawn to it because that’s the challenge."
If those sound like the words of an award-worthy thespian, that’s because they are: the 21st annual Hollywood Film Awards saw Stan and his impressive list of castmates — from Robbie to Allison Janney — take home a Hollywood Ensemble Award, per The Hollywood Reporter. Given that critics like Cinemalogue‘s Rubin Safaya wanted Stan to receive best supporting actor nods, we suspect the best of his accolade years are still ahead. In 2021, Stan has once again garnered critical praise for another Marvel Cinematic Universe role…