Chris Pine: The Thinker

5.6.2013

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

Is Chris Pine too smart for his own good? Or just ours?

There’s also a certain softness, sometimes, around Pine’s edges. He has one specific boyhood movie hero memory he can’t quite pin down -- a British romance, maybe something by one of the Brontë sisters. “I just remember this shot of him walking through grass,” Pine says, “with the coattails and the white pants and the riding boots, walking through some English countryside. And I was like -- goddamn. He is such a man! Strong and purposeful and going toward his beloved. I wanted to walk like that.”

He throws up his hands, defeated, surrendering in awe. “So what is masculinity?” he asks. “I don’t know. I feel like I haven’t answered anything about it.”

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Pine skated dangerously close to getting typecast -- not as a brooding, rebellious, motorcycle-riding man of action, but a watered-down rom-com prince.

Growing up a third-generation actor in Los Angeles, he developed an unusual mix of practical yet aspirational self-awareness about what it means to choose this career. It’s not as if he were to the Barrymore manor born; his grandmother, Anne Gwynne, was a horror-movie scream queen, and his dad, Robert, is best known for CHiPS and still works as a journeyman TV player. His mom acted, too, before becoming a therapist. It’s a company town, and they made a living.

Pine followed the expected college-prep track in high school, which landed him at Berkeley, a great school he wasn’t quite ready for. “You’re taught to get good grades, but you’re not really taught to find your own passion,” he says. “I found it really confining.” He spent a year at the University of Leeds in England, started cheating on books with plays, hanging out with theater kids, and then hitting the stage himself.

After graduation, he was back in Los Angeles, netting a handful of TV guest star roles before his first big break: 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2, opposite Anne Hathaway.

The reaction was a wake-up call. “One reviewer said, ‘He’s a Rob Lowe lookalike with the charisma of a David Hasselhoff.’ I’ll take the Rob Lowe lookalike, that’s fine. But I remember the charisma part really fucking well. It might have said ‘not even half the charisma of a David Hasselhoff.’ I don’t know why we’re programmed this way, but all I remember is the nasty shit. And, I swear to God, if people think it’s going to tear me down, it’s like kindling in my fucking steam engine.”

SLIDESHOW: EXCLUSIVE SHOTS Of CHRIS PINE for OUT

There was plenty of feedback to keep the fire stoked through the run of shallow films that followed. The best was a TV movie-of-the-week with Diane Keaton, Surrender, Dorothy, in which he plays gay with a casual, sweet sincerity. “My first intimate scene [onscreen] was with Tom Everett Scott,” Pine says. “He’s an incredible spooner -- very warm, very sensitive.”

In 2006, it was almost impossible to imagine that Abrams would make Star Trek into a mega-movie that appealed to die-hards and newbies alike. Zachary Quinto, cast as the young Spock, bore an uncanny resemblance to Leonard Nimoy, but Pine wasn’t the obvious choice. “I wouldn’t follow me into battle,” Pine told Entertainment Weekly then. But the two had crazy chemistry, and Abrams was sold. The new film blasted Trek records, grossing almost $400 million worldwide.

Welcome to life on the A-list, Mr. Pine.

He clung to his normal-guy shtick in the midst of his sudden exponential exposure. For way longer than made sense he lived in the same modest apartment and followed the same daily routine: pick up The New York Times at 7-11, dash across the street for a fancy coffee, dodge traffic, and -- this part was new -- duck the paparazzi.

And then there were the fans.

One undeniable upside: being courted by top directors. Tony Scott (Top Gun) put him up against Denzel Washington in Unstoppable. McG, the king of unnecessary, enormous video game–style explosions, cast him as Tom Hardy’s BFF in the Bond-lite This Means War, an actiony rom-com with Reese Witherspoon that is far more entertaining if you view it as a homoerotic Mr. & Mrs. Smith. (McG even shot an alternate ending where Pine and Hardy’s characters literally end up in each other’s arms.) In between, Pine did two critically acclaimed plays that won good reviews and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award.

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