Chris Pine: 'People Like Us' returns to old-school filmmaking
An interview with Chris Pine, best known as Capt. James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek," who now returns to theaters with the family drama "People Like Us."
Seattle Times movie critic
'People Like Us'Opening Friday at several theaters. Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality. For a review, pick up a copy of Friday's MovieTimes or go Thursday to www.seattletimes.com/movies.
Actor Chris Pine went back to his roots for his new film, "People Like Us." Though he's best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams' 2009 blockbuster "Star Trek," his background is in theater — and he drew on that to play Sam, a young man shocked to learn, after his father's death, that he has an older half-sister.
Pine, who visited Seattle earlier this month for the film's Seattle International Film Festival premiere, compared "People Like Us" to movies like "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Ordinary People" — studio-backed family dramas, a genre that's now relatively rare in a sea of sequels, superheroes and big-name comedies. He said that writer/director Alex Kurtzman (co-writer and executive producer of "Star Trek") took an unusual approach to "People Like Us," beginning with several weeks of rehearsals for the cast before the cameras rolled.
"It's a total luxury in filmland," said Pine of the rehearsal time, "and it reminded me of the stories I had heard about how Sydney Pollack or Sidney Lumet worked — a different kind of filmmaking. The great thing about theater is that you have so much time to prepare, and to fail, before you're presenting it to the public. Whereas in film, the high-wire act seems to be that much farther up, and the net seems to be less there. You just kind of have to wing it and go for it — the first time you put it in front of people is oftentimes the first time you've been able to work it out with the characters that you're playing opposite."
Pine's character, Sam, is the center of the film, which explores his relationships with his newly discovered sister (Elizabeth Banks) and nephew (Michael Hall D'Addario) as well as his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) and recently deceased father. Encouraged by Kurtzman, Pine met with each of the actors individually to work out their mutual histories; creating details that aren't necessarily touched upon in the film but which rounded out the characters. "It helped out a great deal," said Pine of the process. "By the time we got to the set we were all virtually on the same page."
Though Pine comes from a screen-acting dynasty (his parents, Gwynne Gilford and Robert Pine, are both TV and movie actors, and his grandmother Anne Gwynne's film career dates from the 1930s), he didn't act as a child. "I think I was too close to it. It was so unromantic, because it was what my father did." At 18, he gave his first performance in a classroom production of "Waiting for Godot" — and discovered, in college, that he loved to act. Pine graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in English, and studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater and England's University of Leeds.
His big break into film was unexpected: As a young stage actor in California, he was planning to move to New York — but in the middle of packing up, he did a casual audition for the 2004 sequel "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." Director Garry Marshall liked Pine's impression of Christopher Walken (one he declined to reprise for this interview) and cast him as the male lead, opposite Anne Hathaway, in his first movie role. "It seems that everything in this industry happens when you don't really care and don't have that energy of need and desperation to you," he said of his first unlikely stardom. (While making the film, he said, he was dazzled to meet co-star Julie Andrews, who was "very sweet" and invited him to her house for dinner.)
Since then, he's worked steadily in the movies, and is now known to a generation as a "Star Trek" hero. Pine said he didn't watch "Star Trek" growing up but studied reruns of the show after Abrams tapped him for the film. "I'm so happy that it came into my life, because it's this kind of wonderful vision of the future," he said. "To think that in the late '60s, it had a crew with a Russian on it, an African-American woman ... Spock as an alien — but there was no xenophobia, no racism ... . It was this wonderful vision of teamwork and brotherhood and the human race, Spock included, working toward something better."
Pine's next project will be an action drama centered on the Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan, shooting this fall with Kenneth Branagh directing. But he recently returned to familiar ground with the currently untitled "Star Trek" sequel, opening in theaters in May 2013. "It was a blast," he said. "We finished it about a month ago. I think it tells a wonderful story. I think it only heightens and exceeds the level of action and spectacle that you saw in the first one." Reunited once more with Kurtzman (who returned to "Star Trek" to again co-write and executive produce), Pine said that the sequel marries big-budget movie magic with small-scale character drama like "People Like Us."
"There's just as much action and dynamism in the ["Star Trek"] character relationships and their progress and the growth of these characters as there is in the visual spectacle."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com