Chris Pine Reveals His Politics Amid High-Risk 'Jack Ryan' Play
Star of a second franchise? Few have ever done it as the 'Star Trek' actor attempts to double down – all the while expressing doubts about fame, Hollywood friends, and President Obama's use of drones: "We crossed the line."
This story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On the 2005 set of Just My Luck, two careers collided spectacularly. There was the 18-year-old star, considered the most promising actress of her generation, commanding a $7 million-plus paycheck. And there was the 24-year-old no-name leading man, just happy to be there. Perhaps the romantic comedy's hackneyed plotline about the world's luckiest ingenue (Lindsay Lohan) swapping fortunes with a random hot guy (Chris Pine) came true. While Lohan never again reached such heights and today is trawling for paid club appearances, Pine is one of Hollywood's most in-demand leading men.
Lohan's tabloid-fodder antics on the New Orleans set of Just My Luck -- which led to at least one shutdown -- offer a stark juxtaposition of professionalism and the right way to build a career. "It was a real cyclone of insanity, like being around The Beatles," recalls Pine. "It was fascinating to watch, and in hindsight it's really a distinct moment in someone's life when you see what's really wonderful about what we get to do and what's really dangerous about it."
Pine put his head down and worked. But he took away a valuable lesson from the experience: Never believe your own hype.
"Hollywood is like living in a weird bubble," he says. "A bunch of people take care of you and get you stuff, and you're the center of that little microcosmic world. You start believing that it is real and … you deserve it."
Now 33, the actor captains one mega-franchise with Star Trek (at Paramount) as he launches a second (also at Paramount) with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which opens Jan. 17 after being pushed back from Christmas Day. Based on the popular spy character created by the late Tom Clancy (though it is the first film not based on a Clancy novel), Jack Ryan will fully test Pine's leading-man status and his value (Pine was paid $4 million for the film with backend compensation and will be paid $8 million and $12 million for each sequel). Although 2009's Star Trek and the 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, successfully reinvigorated a moribund brand, conventional wisdom holds that the franchise rested on director J.J. Abrams' shoulders and coasted on Star Trek's built-in audience. With Jack Ryan, Paramount and co-financier Skydance Productions are taking a $60 million gamble that Pine is a star outside of Trek.
Abrams is certain of it. "He's got an amazing, compelling watchability -- you can't take your eyes off of him," says the director. "His good looks are palatable to men and enticing to women."
But is Pine a movie star? The answer, tentatively, in the age of Hollywood's A-list deficit, would be yes. The two Star Trek films brought in a combined $853 million worldwide box-office haul, while Fox's Unstoppable took in $167.8 million worldwide -- but that 2010 film largely was viewed as a Denzel Washington vehicle. Fox's This Means War, which found him opposite Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon, earned $156.5 million (despite a critical beating). Meanwhile, other Pine projects barely registered, including 2012's People Like Us and 2009's Carriers (the two films combined for a dismal $18 million).
But in an industry now more likely to give top billing to a brand like Marvel or a toy like Transformers, the notion of actor hierarchy might be antiquated. Case in point is the teaser poster for Jack Ryan. Pine's face is obscured in shadow and unrecognizable. His name appears nowhere on the poster, while Clancy, writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp, director Kenneth Branagh and, of course, the name "Jack Ryan" -- the everyman spy previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck -- are proudly displayed. (Jack Ryan producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura says that the teaser poster was meant to create an air of mystery. Subsequent trailers and art featured Pine front and center.)
Paramount president of production Marc Evans is emphatic: "I think he's a quintessential movie star. There is now a phenomenal group of actors who have the chance to be big movie stars if we continue to make movie-star movies."
If Pine feels any pressure, he shows no signs of it over lunch at The Smile, a hipster restaurant in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood. Whenever Pine finds the time, he heads to New York from his hometown of Los Angeles. On this day, he is making a pit stop on his way back from London, where he just wrapped Rob Marshall's musical Into the Woods.
No one appears to recognize him. No one seems to care. When I told the hostess I was meeting Chris Pine, I was met with a blank stare. "Star Trek," I offered. She shook her head apologetically. Kim Kardashian could walk by outside, "and no one would give a shit. It's too f---ing cold," he jokes of the 35-degree day.
That's how Pine likes it, eating in peace, whether here or at one of his favorite haunts in L.A.'s Echo Park or Silver Lake (he lives in Los Feliz).
But with Star Trek came the trappings of a star, paparazzi included, and the intensely private Pine was ill prepared. Although he refuses to discuss his love life ("That's something I don't really want to talk about"), a brief romance with reality star Audrina Patridge around the release of Star Trek led to him being chased by the shutterbugs.
"They f---ing suck," he says. "The light of my flame was really bright after Star Trek [in 2009], and I had that bizarre convergence of everything's so intense for about a month, and then it died down. During that time, they're f---ing chasing you, and you're driving at speeds you shouldn't be driving at. Thankfully, I don't really have much of that anymore."
Outside of promoting his films, Pine has zero interest in being in the public eye. He has absolutely no use for social media.
"No, f--- no," he says emphatically. "What am I going to tweet about? My sneakers? Or, 'I have 140,000 friends on Facebook.' What does that even mean? I find it to be a waste of time. The Internet is so caustic; just a place where people get to spew nonsense and bullshit."
Instead, he consumes news the old-fashioned way, via newspapers, underlining important passages. It's a critical way of thinking honed during his college days at UC Berkeley, where he studied English literature. The well-read Pine demonstrates a nuanced understanding of civics.
By and large, there are two political camps in Hollywood: rah-rah Obama fans and the taxed-enough-already minority. Then there's Pine, who finds the whole left-right identification to be moronic. To Pine, Republicans and Democrats are interchangeable. He's quick to point out the erosion of privacy and the strengthening of the Patriot Act under President Obama.
"The head of our government can assassinate anyone, including an American citizen," he says. "We are striking countries with drones -- sovereign countries. What if Mexico decided to bomb San Diego because there was a drug cartel there?"
During a two-hour stretch with this reporter, Pine checked his iPhone exactly once -- to confirm the name of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was killed in Yemen by a CIA-led drone strike.
"Was he an awful guy? Yeah. Was he plotting terrorism? Possibly. But we crossed the line by just outright assassinating him," he says.
Eschewing the Hollywood crowd, he has an eclectic social circle that includes friends from his youth, an ABC News journalist and an advertising exec. In fact, the only industry friend he can name is tentpole writer Mark Bomback (The Wolverine).
The two met on the set of Tony Scott's Unstoppable, which shot in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. They bonded over their shared interests in live music and highbrow culture (Pine can extol a Radiohead gig in the same breath as Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, about the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII).
Says the 42-year-old Bomback, who also did some uncredited work on Jack Ryan: "It's weird because he's about 10 years younger than I am, and I have four children and live in a suburb of New York, and Chris is a bachelor somewhere in L.A. just chilling. But he has such a genuine engagement with the world and contemporary politics. With Jack Ryan, I think he saw an opportunity to bridge an ability to carry an action film with something that allowed you to think about the machinations of the world."
The film puts the young CIA analyst at the center of a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy. In fact, Pine only wishes that the film, which wrapped production in November 2012, could have been made in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the surveillance of American citizens. Instead, the film -- which was moved from its Christmas Day spot to make room for Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street -- looks to capitalize on current events and escalating American-Russian tensions.
"It's crazy how much the world has changed in just a year," he says.
Although Pine seems better suited for investigative reporting, show business is in his blood. His parents, Robert Pine and Gwynne Gilford, who recently celebrated their 44th anniversary, have decades-long filmographies. The elder Pine is a still-working character actor best known for his role as Ponch and Jon's boss, Sgt. Joseph Getraer, on CHiPs. Gilford, now retired, appeared in an eclectic range of productions from Gunsmoke to Satan's School for Girls. His grandmother Anne Gwynne was a Universal contract player.
"There was nothing romantic about the industry," says Pine, whose older sister Katherine also dabbled in the profession. "I grew up in a family where sometimes work was good, sometimes great, and sometimes there was no work. I learned a lot by osmosis, just by being around them."
After graduating from Oakwood School in the San Fernando Valley, Pine desperately wanted to go to Columbia in New York but didn't get in. He went to UC Berkeley, where he first started doing theater. Upon graduating in 2002, he embarked on the family business, landing his first role in a 2003 episode of ER. Guest appearances on The Guardian and CSI: Miami led to the male lead opposite Anne Hathaway in 2004's The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. The following year, he was filming Just My Luck with Lohan and suddenly fielding offers.
In 2005, director Joe Carnahan needed to fill the role of a speed freak neo-Nazi in his crime film Smokin' Aces. (He had just fired Michael Shannon for being rude to a costume designer.) Within 10 seconds of Pine starting his audition, Carnahan was sold.
"Honestly, it was that quick," says Carnahan. "He brought a levity and humor that the scene needed, and he did it simply with his physical reaction, which was the key. That's just an innate skill set that Pine is blessed with and is in such short supply."
In a scene from the movie, Pine stands over a dead Ben Affleck, who has a small role as a sleazy Las Vegas bail bondsman, doing a ventriloquist routine and manipulating Affleck's body.
"I remember afterward Ben saying to me, 'If I could take 10 percent of what I'm going to make the rest of my career and bet on somebody, it would be that kid,' " says Carnahan.
But when Abrams was casting Star Trek, he admits he had no idea who Pine was. He read for Abrams fairly early in the process, but the director continued to have several young actors audition, including several relative unknowns (Abrams was intent on casting a less-familiar face). One night, Pine's longtime manager John Carrabino ran into Abrams' wife, Katie, at a dinner and began regaling her with tales of the actor and how he should be the next James T. Kirk. When Katie returned home, she mentioned the encounter.
"I went back and watched his tape again," recalls Abrams. "And frankly, having seen so many people at that point, watching his audition was the definite confirmation that he was the guy. He was a great-looking guy but was a complete goofball. Like he was willing to be actually ridiculous."
But Pine faced a difficult choice. He already had committed to Carnahan to star in the James Ellroy adaptation White Jazz as a closeted gay homicide detective in the 1950s.
"He said to me without a hint of guile, 'You know, I was really looking forward to a long career as a character actor, and I know that's just not going to happen now,' " says Carnahan, who released Pine from Jazz. "If anyone else had said that, it would have been the douchiest thing to say. But Pine actually meant it."
The question is, will the same audiences who enthusiastically embraced Pine as captain of the Enterprise simultaneously buy him in an earthbound franchise? Only a handful of actors -- including Robert Downey Jr. with Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes and Ford with Star Wars and Indiana Jones -- have managed such a dual-franchise feat.
"I think we had a moment when we said to ourselves, 'Does the fact that he's Capt. Kirk create a problem for us?' And, our conclusion was no," says di Bonaventura. "I think the audience is savvy enough to see the difference."
But unlike with Star Trek, the pressure solely is on Pine to deliver. Paramount has high hopes that Jack Ryan will launch a new franchise and as a result will compensate him better than any Marvel player not named Downey. (Details of his payday emerged when his former agency SDB Partners sued him in 2012 for unpaid commissions. That lawsuit, which was settled, claims Pine's Star Trek Into Darkness salary was $1.5 million plus as much as $500,000 in backend compensation and possibly $3 million plus $500,000 in backend for a third film. "It wasn't the best time in my life," says Pine, who now is repped by CAA and attorney Michael Gendler and continues to be managed by Carrabino.)
Perhaps the more pressing question is whether Pine even wants to be a movie star, a prospect that leaves the actor a little cold. Pine's tastes run decidedly indie: He says he lobbied to play the lead in Jeff Nichols' Mud, a role that went to Matthew McConaughey. He desperately wants to work with director Spike Jonze, Gary Oldman, Sam Rockwell, Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve and French helmer Jacques Audiard (A Prophet). He seems reluctant to embrace superstardom.
"I think the accoutrement of being famous isn't of any use to him," explains Carnahan. "But the actual work itself I think is everything. And that, I think, is a major point of delineation and separation from his peer group."
Pine's next few gigs speak volumes about his all-encompassing approach. He is shooting Horrible Bosses 2 and will follow that with Craig Zobel's postapocalyptic sci-fi film Z for Zachariah opposite Amanda Seyfried and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Then, the hope is to film passion project Mantivities (he co-wrote and will produce), about a group of friends who attempt to shake their adolescent behavior. And though Star Trek 3 is a go, there's no start date yet -- or director, as Abrams is locked up in a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: Episode VII.
Most of all, the actor covets the role of Frank Sinatra (Scorsese is developing a biopic on the iconic crooner that Billy Ray is writing). Ironically, Pine sang Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" when auditioning for the role of Cinderella's prince in Into the Woods.
"I never expected him to have that talent," recalls Marshall. "His look belies his talent in a funny kind of way. He could coast on those amazing looks, but he's so much more than that."
And yet, Pine has a scattershot approach to bringing those talents to bear. "Unfortunately, I really don't have a strategy -- I have no desire at all to produce on a micromanaging level," he says of the idea of starting his own production company. "For me, I love exploring ideas and throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what fits, and if I had a really nice collaborative team around me who could deal with the more day-to-day minutia, that would be fun. And directing sometime in the future and writing … yeah, I can see that all in my future."
Then he adds, smiling, "But I can be incredibly lazy."