Chris Pine might as well be giving me an acting lesson. It’s about motivation. It’s a reminder that for a scene to work, to have thrust and gravity, you need two characters who each want something, ideally from each other. I’m reminded of that famous scene in A Few Good Men where Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson verbally duke it out in a military court. One man wants the truth, while the other resolutely maintains that his opponent can’t, in fact, handle said truth. That scene’s got it all: a power imbalance, competing desires, machismo, drama. You can’t handle the truth! That’s some good stuff right there.
I’m thinking of that scene because Chris Pine doesn’t want to give me the truth, despite my many questions. “I’m not mistrustful as much as I don’t think a 20-minute interview over the phone is going to give anyone any kind of idea of who I really am,” he says. “So you try to give a sense of what you’re about or what the film is about. I appreciate brevity, even though I’ve definitely been known to wax lyrical.”
His motivations are clear: get through this interview, promote his film Horrible Bosses 2, be Chris Pine. He has his reasons, and to be honest I can’t fault him. It’s not that my questions are rude or audacious, it’s that they are questions. Read through enough interviews with Pine, you pick up pretty quick that the guy isn’t much of a talker. You can even see it when he shows up on the talk show circuit. It’s not that he is without charm, it’s that, hmm, is he shy?
So, if he doesn’t really feel like talking, and I’m not having much luck in getting him to wax, lyrical or otherwise, why do this? Why talk about Chris Pine anyway?
It’s a fair question. You want the truth? I think you can handle it.
First, the man is handsome. People tend to talk about handsome people. He’s blonde, well-chinned and ample of eyebrow. In truth, he looks like the kind of dude who wouldn’t blink as he tied you to a mortgage you couldn’t afford. It’s a twist of genetics, a curiosity of puberty, because growing up Pine was not that guy. He was lonely. Bad acne. Worse facial hair. Now though, he’s handsome as hell. Talented, too. And he’s successful in a tricky business.
Plus, if we’re being fair, it must be said that his success has more to do with his talent than it does his jawline. While that can be said of most A-Listers; handsome can get you some attention, but not a lot of work. Talent gets you the job. The more you have of both, the bigger the jobs get. And, few jobs are bigger than the ones Pine’s got. As even your grandmother will tell you, Pine is the new Captain Kirk (well, not so new anymore). It’s a role he miraculously pulled off, never wandering into camp or parody, while still looking like he was having fun. It’s an integral part of Kirkitude, that even Shatner had trouble nailing. He did such a good job with Star Trek that Pine was tasked with rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit bombed—or at least was left to wither and die in the cruel, dead zone of post-Christmas movie releases—the vote of confidence from Hollywood was telling. He was following in some big footsteps: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck (who, it should be said, wasn’t able to do much with the Ryan legacy, either).
The movie’s failure wasn’t really Pine’s fault though. Studio executives, I imagine, mistook vague familiarity for a franchise, a recurring character for a household name. A thought experiment that someone maybe should have done before greenlighting that film: quick, tell me who James Bond is—list some character traits. Easy, right? Now do that with Jack Ryan. Sure, the character was in four movies, but what the hell does that matter without real recognition. Franchises work because fans dig predictability, a certain sameness, maybe nostalgia. Jack Ryan could have been named Leopold Boddington III for all the name meant to the average person. So, yeah, Pine’s last outing bombed. That’s not on him.
“There’s certainly pressure because there’s a lot of money behind it and you’re in one of the lead roles in the situation, but ultimately I do think the industry is pretty forgiving and if you have some talent and you’re a good person to work with, you’ll get another shot,” he says, then later adds: “I think it just makes you search out other outlets and other ways to express yourself and things that have a bit more freedom, especially when things are made for less money. When there’s less money attached, there’s less of a feeling that it needs to perform in order for you to do well. It’s not as much of a commercial machine.”
That brings up another reason we talk about Chris Pine: he represents this new challenge of Hollywood. Believe it or not, it’s very hard to build a star these days, and Pine embodies that. On the one hand, thanks to reality TV and Instagram, we have a generation of moviegoers already fatigued by and skeptical of the notion of celebrity as a meritocracy. They don’t care who is in a picture; their actor-brand loyalty has been strained by too many bad Will Smith movies. And on the other hand, you have studios realizing that the name attached to a property matters less than the property or the content. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the content will be good, it just has to be big. Pine has to know this from experience. He got to be Captain Kirk thanks to a director who didn’t want a name distracting folks from the bigness of the Enterprise.
“I think there’s definitely some truth to that, especially with the Marvel universe,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s completely true. I mean, you still have some insanely talented actors doing really interesting pieces with great filmmakers. But I think it’s probably way harder now than it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.”
And that’s where Pine is. He is an insanely talented actor, trying to do interesting things. He’s recognizable, but like so many actors of his generation, maybe not completely bankable on his own. In that, he’s in a similar position as a handful of other actors, remarkably, and awkwardly, who all seem to be named Chris. Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt: They’ve all got top billing in huge movies, but have all struggled as they moved further away from the big budgets of tentpole features (the exception is Pratt, but that’s only because Guardians of the Galaxy just happened).
We talk about Chris Pine because in another era, he wouldn’t be in this position. The reference to Tom Cruise at the start of this whole thing wasn’t a coincidence. In a different era, Pine would be Cruise. He would be Will Smith. Hell, go back further, and he’d be Robert Redford or Paul Newman. Play a game: ignoring nostalgia, replace Cruise with Pine in any film made in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’d knock it out of the park.
And while it’s odd to hear a man in his early thirties say it, it makes sense that Pine wishes he were older. “You have a great latitude getting older, with different parts you can play because you’re not in that time of your career where you’re a bit more typecast and shoved into particular positions.” There’s freedom in getting older, at least for men. But, it’s more than that. You get the sense that Pine wishes he could have been in that era, before mega-franchises, before green screens, when actors mattered.
The kid’s got a good story, too. It somehow fits his precarious position in Hollywood. It’s organic, inevitable, just heartwarming enough to merit mention in anything you’ll read about him, without being tarnished by mythologizing. He wasn’t, say, a model who figured he’d give acting a shot. (That kind of actor rarely deserves our attention.) Nor was he a tortured thespian hungry to prove his Mamet-style mettle. (That kind of actor is too needy for our attention.) For him, it’s a family business. His dad is an actor. A journeyman. He’s been in everything, it seems. And he is good in everything he’s in. To wit: while I recognize Robert Pine from his stint on The Office playing Jim’s dad, or as a politician on 24, what I really know him from is On the Way Home. Statistically, it’s almost certain you haven’t seen it, unless you happen to be a Mormon, or happened to have Mormon missionaries stop by your house regularly in the mid-’90s. On the Way Home is a church film, propaganda really. A story about a dysfunctional family coming together thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I tell Chris that that was where I first saw his dad act. He says he remembers it. I don’t know if I believe him. When acting is a job like it is for Chris Pine’s dad, chances are your kids don’t catch everything you do. But, the fact that Chris might remember it is telling. And that he seems genuinely excited that I brought it up does, too. The unique narrative of a working actor’s son making it big isn’t the only reason people always talk to Pine about his dad. He seems genuinely pleased to talk about his pop.
“I watched On the Way Home all the time,” I tell him.
“Oh, right on!”
“You’re way happier about this than I thought you would be.”
“Well, a man’s gotta make a living, right?” Pine say.
“Part of me is a little disillusioned that he wasn’t in fact a Mormon person,” I say.
“It just shows what a great actor he actually is,” Pine says.
I don’t mention his dad just as a cheap way of humanizing Chris Pine. It provides an interesting context, because what Pine does now—in between stints on the Enterprise, before he shoots some other big bombastic feature—is take a page from his dad’s playbook. He pulls back. Kirk will be back, but right now, counter-intuitively in order to build your career, you need to slow down.
“I have a perfectionist streak that I’m trying to beat out of my body because it doesn’t really serve anybody, and it’s not really fun to go about work that way. I think that as I get older, just by the nature of getting older, you tend to chill out and everything gets a bit easier.”
Sometimes you have to step away from the part you’re being forced to play, that everyone wants you to play and be different. So, right now that means supporting roles in two pretty different films. A needy villain in Horrible Bosses 2 and vain prince in the musical Into the Woods. And yeah, it’s scary, and exciting: singing, wearing tights, being a villain, but nobody can be one thing forever. Especially if you want to be remembered the way we remember the actors of that different era. The more you do, the more you are, the more lasting you become. So, Pine will be like his dad: he’ll support. Lest you worry, remember: Clooney got his Oscar in a supporting role. Cruise, too, came closest in that category.
But all this is what we talk about when we talk about Chris Pine. The Truth of why we talk about Chris Pine is the sum of all this. We talk about Chris Pine because he’s one of us. Infinitely larger, more fortunate by orders of magnitude, but us. We have expectations that we resist, failures, regrets, fuck ups. We come from good homes and get exactly the amount of advantages that those good homes afford. There are men we pity. There are men we envy, whose stratospheric rise gives us reason to daydream, though we rarely admit it. Men whose talent confounds and bewilders us. But then, thank god, there are men who somehow, in their humanity, in their position, in even their unwillingness to talk, embody us.
We talk about Chris Pine because if he makes it–and, of course he will–we just might make it, too.