Elastic ethics: Edith Zimmerman’s sexed-up ‘Captain America’ profile for GQ

This is what happens when journalists become star-struck.

At first, Edith Zimmerman’s provocative and personal profile of “Captain America’s” Chris Evans—in which she likens their interview to a tryst—reminded me of something. But despite some similarities, my experience was the inverse of Zimmerman’s lusty late-night with the rising star, though the compulsory (and compelling) first person point of view is the same. The common thread bespeaks a broader truth: that there are complex intimacies that develop between journalists and their subjects because inside a finite space and time, something essential or truthful is supposed to emerge. And you have to dig for it. You have to be open to whatever it takes to get there. On an interview with a perfect stranger, you find yourself asking deeply personal questions you might not ask your closest friends, or partaking in dizzying activities that are leaps and bounds beyond your everyday life; there’s something almost surreal about it, the revolving door that casts you in and out of other people’s worlds—but it’s your job after all, so you go with it.

The conundrum of course is a question of journalistic ethics. If you’re too close, if you’re having too much fun (or conversely, if you’re degraded in some way), how can you be objective? And is objectivity the only end in this kind of journalism? News reporting is another matter, but when it comes to telling stories about individuals, it’s always harder to be objective about someone you know. As in any reporting, the pursuit of a good story sometimes obscures proper boundaries. True, Zimmerman’s profile reads more like a diary entry than an invitation into Evans’ psyche, but it is nonetheless entertaining and well-expressed.

For your reading pleasure, if nothing else:

“chris evans pecs. how do they FEEL? like smooth stone from the souvenir shop?”

…is the instant message that pops up on my computer one Monday morning in April. My friend Kyle follows it up with a link to the gossip pages of the New York Daily News: I am being described as the “mystery maiden” Evans introduced to his mother at a premiere party; we held hands, the paper is reporting, “in a flirty manner,” and he even placed “one of them on his chest.” Oh.

When I started working on this profile, I decided on a “say yes to everything, try to be cool” approach, with the idea that maybe I’d capture something real about the star of Captain America: The First Avenger—or as “real” as could be hoped for/faked in the time we had together. But in the days since my first interview with Chris Evans, I’d drunk myself under the table, snuck out of his house at five thirty in the morning, bummed a ride home off a transsexual, been teased mercilessly in front of his mother, and now—this bit in the paper.

I don’t remember touching his chest, which is too bad.

Since we’re both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He’s an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn’t know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender’s professional flirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.

Is this the part of a celebrity profile where I go into how blue the star’s eyes are? Because they are very blue.