Chris Pine | Interview
Chris Pine plays a man on a journey—one that doesn’t involve spaceships or shoot-’em-ups.
“Loud, brash, arrogant, talk a mile a minute, really savvy, really charming, big smile.” This is how Chris Pine describes his character in the film People Like Us. It’s also a fairly apt description of other men Pine has played: Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, a CIA agent in This Means War. In person, the actor himself comes across as serious and earnest, leaning forward on a couch in a Chicago hotel and carefully choosing his words when discussing the movie that sees him go from action star to dramatic lead. In People Like Us, the 31-year-old plays Sam, a wheelin’-and-dealin’ salesman who learns, first, his record-producer father has died and, second, his dad leaves behind an adult daughter (Elizabeth Banks).
Director Alex Kurtzman said that with People Like Us he wanted to make a smaller character-driven film, the kind of story that inspired him to write in the first place, as opposed to the successes he and his writing partner Roberto Orci have had with Star Trek and Transformers. You’ve also become known for bigger movies. Was a smaller character film an appeal for you as well?
Absolutely. It’s nice when a film deals with human beings talking to one another or not talking to one another—the primary dysfunction of this family is that they don’t talk—and it’s nice to talk about what people are saying or not saying versus, well, should I run to the left or should I run to the right? As much as I like making those bigger action-driven films, it is much nicer when—I mean, this was an enjoyable experience because I hadn’t really had it on a film before, where you come to set and you really just talk about where these people are and where they’re coming from, where they’re going.
As opposed to “hit your mark”?
Well, a lot of times with those bigger films, you’re at the mercy of set pieces or an action sequence, and in this the story is really the dynamics between these people, so you’re not building towards anything other than a revelation.
Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays your mother in People Like Us, said of the film, “They don’t make a lot of movies like this anymore.” Are you finding that to be the case?
The $30-to-$40-million dramas aren’t really made anymore. What they’re making are really cheap comedies and found-footage films on the lower end and then $150 million on the big end. That large swath of stuff in the middle has disappeared [from] the studio system. Right after There Will Be Blood wins the Oscar, Paramount Vantage, the small production company within Paramount, shuts down. So just because people are making quality films, if it’s not bringing in the money for these corporate behemoths for whom we work, there’s a bottom line.
In People Like Us, there’s the specific secret of your father’s other family; there’s also the universality of family secrets in general.
That is very true indeed. It’s like with Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he talks about the mendacity of things. What Sam can’t handle is that his mother will not deal with the reality of who his father was. So really this film is about facing the hard, ugly truths of adulthood. It’s so easy when you’re a kid because you’re not privy to the secrets and it’s much easier to look at your parents as superhumans and capable of anything and your protectors, but there also comes a time, and I remember it from my own life, when you hit a certain age and it’s like, oh, my God, my parents are human beings. As obvious as it sounds, that realization for a child becoming an adult is a big thing.
Since you mentioned it, are you still in talks to play Brick on Broadway?
I’ve been approached about it and had some great talks with Scarlett [Johansson, who will play Maggie], and we’ll see, but nothing’s set in stone right now.
As with Brick, there’s this thread among your characters of the young man dealing with his father’s legacy, like with Sam and his dad. Likewise with Kirk.
Does that speak to you as the actor son of an actor, Robert Pine?
No, not really reflected in my own life, other than my father is a great man, and if I have kids I hope to be—I know people use this saying a lot—but I really do hope to be half the father that my dad was to me. It’s a lovely trope or device in storytelling and it is maybe cliché because we all deal with it. Whether it be your dad or your mother or your cultural ties, you’re dealing with and overcoming something. But it certainly is true—the characters that I have played pretty much to a T have that quality to them.
There’s also the thread of the confident, rebellious young buck. InStyle called it your “hardcore, alpha-male film persona.” Why does that type of character appeal to you?
What’s great about a character like that is there’s a journey for a character like that to get to. A lot of the characters I’ve played have been really articulate, they’ve been sharp, they’ve been intelligent, they’ve been no B.S., they don’t suffer fools. I played Carter in Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig onstage, and Carter was very much like that. But there’s an authenticity that you have to get to. And Sam—if you contrast that first scene, this loud, brash, arrogant, talk a mile a minute, really savvy, really charming, big smile—that guy is completely different from the man stripped of everything. All of those mechanisms that Sam employs in the beginning to get by and all that evading reality—like when Hannah tells him, “Your father died,” and he says, “What’s for dinner?” He’s trying to evade, evade, evade, evade, evade, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore in the end.
Does that speak to you on a personal level?
It speaks to me on a personal level in the sense that I think the journey for all of us, and myself included—and it’s something that Kirk deals with, too, in the new Star Trek—is it’s learning how to really connect with another human being, for whatever that relationship is, whether it’s good or bad, you don’t like the person, you like the person. You really are trying not to hide behind this stuff that we all use to get by in life, the social lubrication. We don’t want to start breaking down crying when we’re walking down the street, but to really connect with other people, that is what being human is about. And it does appeal to me.
You have a passion for this project.
More than you typically do?
Yes, absolutely. There’s not much to say about oftentimes a film that’s big and fun and action related, other than that it’s a great ride. This is a character-driven piece. I can only imagine that when you were watching the film, even if you liked it or not, images of your past were falling through: my family, what is my relationship with my sister, or maybe your father died and you didn’t get a chance to say I love him. These are things that as human beings we all deal with. Hopefully, whether it’s your story or not, these relationships will remind you of your own.