Sebastian Stan is best known for his role as Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the 38-year-old actor has a varied body of work to his name and has been carving out a niche for himself in Hollywood. Stan recently starred in the war drama Last Full Measure and will reprise his role as Bucky in the TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Even before becoming an actor, Stan had lived an eventful life: he was born in Constanța, Romania, and his parents divorced when he was two. At age 8, he moved with his pianist mother to Vienna, Austria, following the Romanian Revolution of 1989. At age 12, Stan and his mother moved again, this time to Rockland County, New York, USA, after his mother married an American private school principal.
“It was hard. You’re inhabiting different worlds, speaking different languages,” Stan told the L.A. Times. “But it helped me in a way. When you’re young, you just want to fit in. And when you’re older, you realise that what it really did was make you okay with feeling different.”
Stan’s first film appearance was in Michael Haneke’s 1994 German-Austrian drama 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, as “Kid in Subway”. In the US, Stan participated in high school productions including Cyrano de Bergerac, West Side Story and Little Shop of Horrors. Stan studied acting at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts, and like many New York-based actors, landed a part on Law & Order.
After appearances in indie films, Stan starred in The Covenant, a gender-flipped take on The Craft that focused on a clique of private school boys with supernatural powers. The film has since become something of a cheesy cult classic.
Stan made his Broadway debut in 2007, opposite Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio. Reflecting on his theatre background, Stan told Nylon “There’s a different kind of motor behind it, an engine. You’re part of something that’s been around far longer than you. When you step on that stage, you’ve gotta have respect for all that’s come before.”
A recurring role on the popular series Gossip Girl was arguably what first pushed Stan into the spotlight. Stan played Carter Baizen, who vied with Nate and Chuck for Serena’s affections. Though their characters on Gossip Girl did not get along, Stan dated co-star Leighton Meester for two years.
2010 saw Stan appear in Hot Tub Time Machine and Black Swan, and in 2011, he took on the role that would change his life. Stan played Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers’ best friend and sidekick, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Stan initially auditioned for the role of Captain America himself, which went to Chris Evans. Stan would get more of the spotlight in the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
A big part of the character’s appeal is that even though he is antagonistic as the Winter Soldier persona, this is a result of brainwashing, and deep down, the man who was Cap’s best friend remains within. “I was really lucky to have met [Bucky co-creator Stan Lee], and for him to kind of remind me: ‘Whatever you’re doing, just remember he’s a good guy,’” Stan said at a comic convention in Houston.
“I actually played this character for at least two, three years before I felt like people noticed,” Stan remarked at the same event. Bucky has had one of the most dramatic arcs of any Marvel Cinematic Universe character, facing inner turmoil and becoming a linchpin of the disagreement between Captain America and Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers passed the mantle of Captain America on to Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Some fans felt that Bucky should have inherited the title, as he did in the comics (with the Falcon becoming Captain America later). "Steve is saying to Bucky…’I’m not going to put this thing on you. We’re both going to live our lives - the lives that were actually taken from us back in the ‘40s when we enlisted,’" Stan explained to The Hollywood Reporter. "So, that’s where I felt they were at the end of the movie. I don’t think there’s a desire or any conflicted thoughts about taking on that mantle."
Outside of the MCU, Stan has starred in various drama and comedy films. It seems Stan often works best as part of an ensemble, like in 2015’s The Martian and 2017’s Logan Lucky. In the heist comedy, Stan appeared alongside Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes and Riley Keough. Stan played Nascar driver Dayton White, who inadvertently figures into the Logan family’s heist of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Also in 2017, Stan played Jeff Gillooly, the abusive husband of ice skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), in the sports biopic I, Tonya. Gillooly hired his friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) to threaten and injure Harding’s rival Nancy Kerrigan. Stan enjoyed the challenge of portraying a real person, telling Indiewire that he got “excited about kind of like being a detective,” piecing together available information about Gillooly to accurately portray him.
Stan starred opposite Nicole Kidman in the crime drama Destroyer, playing the former FBI partner of Kidman’s character. Stan told The Hollywood Reporter that he enjoyed collaborating with director Karyn Kusama, saying “We talked about the [character’s] tattoos, the look, his history,” calling Kusama “One of those directors that made me feel so safe and confident in my choices, simply by the way she communicated with me.” Kusama is attached to direct a new adaptation of Dracula. Stan emailed her expressing his interest, saying “You know I’m from Romania, right?”
In The Last Full Measure, Stan is again part of an ensemble, starring alongside William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson and the late Christopher Plummer and Peter Fonda. Stan plays a young Pentagon staffer working with Vietnam veterans to confer the Medal of Honour upon William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Air Force Pararescueman who personally saved 60 men and sacrificed his life in the process. “It’s a true story, it’s something that I believe needed to be told, and it showed the unbelievable selfless courage and determination and the will of heart to just do good in the world without any results or expectations, which is what often happens with a lot of our servicemen at war,” Stan told ABC7.
With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set to be an action-packed spectacle on the level of the MCU films themselves, Stan isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The actor continues to take roles in intriguing projects, with the spy film The 355 – another ensemble project, this time starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan - on the horizon.