Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
June 25, 2012
You may or may not know that “People Like Us” star Chris Pine auditioned for “Avatar.” It did not go well.
“Sometimes you can leave your car in Burbank, Los Angeles, and walk into a conference room and your back is sweating and you’re thinking about the laundry you have to do and somehow seamlessly you can then pretend to be a man in a loincloth standing in front of blue people saying lines like, ‘Come follow me, I’ll save you!,’” he says, laughing. “And sometimes you just can’t buy it.
“I walked into that room absolutely not believing myself. How dare I put that poor casting director through the experience of watching me.”
Those shaky days are behind him, considering the 31-year-old actor’s rise to leading man status in the “Star Trek” franchise, holding his own next to Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable” and bringing considerable charm to the not-as-bad-as-everyone-said action-romantic-comedy “This Means War.”
In “People Like Us,” opening Friday, Pine plays Sam, who develops a difficult relationship with the sister (Elizabeth Banks) he never knew he had when he can’t bring himself to reveal that he’s her brother, or that he’s been tasked with delivering the money their recently deceased father instructed him to give to her and her pre-teen son.
The movie’s vaguely inspired by director/co-writer Alex Kurtzman’s experience meeting his half-sister for the first time and represents a change of pace for the co-writer of movies like “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible—III,” the first two “Transformers” and “Cowboys and Aliens.”
At the Peninsula Hotel, Pine (who will also soon take over the role of Jack Ryan previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) and Kurtzman, 38, talked about breaking big news to an unmet sibling, another mind-blowing cinematic bombshell and fan reactions to Pine’s portrayal of Capt. Kirk.
What’s the best way to tell someone that you are their previously unknown sibling?
Alex Kurtzman: I think you have to be direct about it. I think you just have to say it. “I’m your brother or I’m your sister” is pretty much the best.
Chris Pine: There’s no way to really soften that—[laughs]—fastball, is there?
AK: Or you just don’t tell them at all and you get involved in a relationship with them without telling them the truth.
CP: “You know, dad used to say.”
AK: “Whose dad? Oh …”
What would be the worst way to tell them?
AK: To lie about it. And not tell them.
String ’em along for a while and make them kind of fall for you.
AK: That might be probably not the ideal way to go. Probably not the best.
You could jump out of a cake with a sash that says, “I’m your brother!”
CP: It makes it edible. And fun.
AK: That’s what we should have done in the movie.
CP: And fattening. And could lead to diabetes and death. So maybe not.
The movie revolves around a big secret. What’s the biggest secret that ever blew your mind, in real life or a movie twist?
CP: That Santa Claus was not real. And that they dubbed—
AK: Glenn Close …
CP: Glenn Close in [“Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”] …
AK: [Laughs.] [Being the voice for] Andie MacDowell. Biggest cinematic mind-blower was the end of “Seven” for me, I would say.
CP: [Screeches like Brad Pitt’s character.]
AK: “What’s in the box?!”
A lot of people like that impression. Channing Tatum just did that for me when he was here for “21 Jump Street.”
AK: It’s such a moment.
CP: It’s such a classic cinematic moment.
AK: Because it’s like exactly what I would do.
AK: It’s like a sound that no human can make unless in that circumstance.
CP: And the whole time I’m thinking, “God, his hair looks so good.” ‘Cause Brad Pitt’s hair always …
AK: [Laughs.] His hair is so great.
CP: His hair’s incredible!
Chris, in interviews you seem very down to earth about fame, but you’ve played several characters that have an energy that borders on arrogance. Why do you think you’ve been drawn to these roles?
CP: I guess it is odd because I would hope that people in my life, if they were to describe me, that the first word that would pop into their head would not be “arrogant” and “brash.” I also think a lot of the characters that I’ve played—not that I’ve played so many and I can talk about my “oeuvre” or something—in the films that I’ve made my characters, while they tend to be brash, and maybe borderline arrogant, there’s also a sense of humor to ’em.
And what I love and appreciate is sharp wit … what hopefully will resonate with people is I think we all in the world put off what we want to be seen like. This is who I am, and this is who you are and I’m going to present myself and my mom taught me to stand up straight and shake hands firmly and look someone in the eye because that’s what you do.
We learn all these tools of sociability and for Sam in this film, the first major crack in that armor is when he finds out that the money that he earns is not going to be his. And the second humongous crack is that his father dies, and once that crack happens, all that self-learning about how to shield yourself and protect yourself—and Sam uses wit and charm and words, being highly articulate and funny and charming—all that gets thrown out the window, and he can’t hide behind that stuff anymore. If you parallel that first scene with [Sam’s boss, played by Jon Favreau] to that last scene on the doorstep with [Frankie, played by Banks], those are two completely different human beings.
That guy at the beginning as we first met him, we would never imagine him being that vulnerable or true. The guy ... meets Hannah’s [Sam’s girlfriend, played by Olivia Wilde] announcement that she finds out that his father died [with the response,] “What’s for dinner?” That man is incapable of talking about authentic, true, human, real, looking-someone-in-the-eye-and-connecting-with-them kinds of things.
“People Like Us” opens against movies about a male stripper [“Magic Mike”], a Madea movie and Seth MacFarlane’s foul-mouthed teddy bear [“Ted”]—
CP: A Madea movie?
AK: The [Tyler Perry] “Witness Protection” movie.
CP: Oh, oh, oh yeah.
Are you not familiar with Tyler Perry?
CP: I’m very familiar with Tyler Perry. When you said “Madea,” I thought you were talking about the Greek [tragedy] … “Oh, sure, just another Medea!”
AK: “What is that?”
CP: “Oh, it’s just another Medea movie.” “Just another Aristophanes again!” “There’s Aristophanes!”
Which one of those characters—the male stripper, Madea or the foul-mouthed teddy bear—would be most likely to see “People Like Us”?
CP: Well, the male strippers because while they’re revealing their physical selves they probably also want to reveal and de-robe that inner self.
AK: That is good. That is so good.
Chris, what’s something that surprised you about Capt. Kirk, either from playing him or people’s reactions to how you played him?
CP: Well, I will say my favorite comment that I get from hardcore fans, and they mean it as a compliment and it is, but it’s quite funny when it comes out on their lips, is, [talking quietly, seriously,] “You know, when we found out you were going to play Capt. Kirk, we were so angry. We were so sad. We were so nervous. But you turned out to be pretty good.” That’s the most backhanded compliment of all time.
Why do you think they were nervous or sad at the time?
CP: Certainly because I hadn’t done anything in my career that would—“Star Trek” fans are very protective, and understandably so. I’m sure there was nothing in my great, teeming body of work to prove that I could take on the character.
I’m sure they wanted Shatner back with a good makeup job.
CP: Totally. Totally. What was surprising to me … well, I will say this, having not been a born and bred [“Star Trek”] fan, the first time that all of us were on the bridge and I sat in the captain’s chair … looking around, it was like points of light in the audience. When that moment happened, there were real fans in the crew, grips and gaffers, the art department people, they had come just to watch that moment. Because for them it was a really momentous occasion, and I, not really understanding the gravity or the coolness of it, was kind of unaware until I saw these people light up … What it means to sit in that chair is quite powerful. Anyway, the chair became this wonderful, beautiful touchstone that was reflective of not only the journey in the film but also who you are and what you are as a person and how you want to sit in your own chair, for lack of a better metaphor. It was really cool.
You’ve talked about having an awful audition for “Avatar.” I’m just curious why it was so bad.
CP: I have a feeling that story will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s one of these things—sometimes you can leave your car in Burbank, Los Angeles and walk into a conference room and your back is sweating and you’re thinking about the laundry you have to do and somehow seamlessly you can then pretend to be a man in a loincloth standing in front of blue people saying lines like, “Come follow me, I’ll save you!” And sometimes you just can’t buy it. [Laughs.] I walked into that room absolutely not believing myself. How dare I put that poor casting director through the experience of watching me. Halfway through I just kind of stopped; she was maybe smiling or laughing at me. I didn’t take offense to it because I realized I was probably pretty bad, and we just called it a day and I shook hands with her and out I walked.
Chris Pine on Chicago, where he’s never visited before: “A buddy of mine has a comedy of troupe that may come in, I guess there’s a comedy festival. And so they were telling me about all the great eats and the good music. I’m a big music and eats kind of guy. Unfortunately this is so truncated of a visit that I’m not going to get a chance but I did see Wrigley Field which was a childhood dream. We just drove by it. Since I was a kid … there are not many great ballparks left, and that’s one of the staples.”
Alex Kurtzman on people’s strong feelings toward sci-fi: “I don’t know that I could generalize about it, but what I can say is I vividly remember the feeling of being a kid and experiencing sci-fi and having it open my mind up to, just having it open my imagination up. And the love that is implicit in that experience is something that people really want to protect. I really understand and respect that. Because I think people have a right to protect things that are significant to them. In some ways you’re sort of protecting your childhood. When I respond well or negatively to something that’s in that arena, it tends to feel like it’s something an internal violation of something that my inner child wouldn’t have liked. Or it would have offended my inner child.”
What Pine’s listening to right now: “I haven’t been listening to much of anything. My buddy just go the new Beach House album. I loved their last album. Beirut I’m listening to, their last album. A lot of jazz. I’ve been traveling; I tend to not listen to music when I’m traveling. I’m either visually, or aurally or orally, it’s hard for me to …”
Guilty pleasure movie: “It’s not guilty but I love me some ‘Bugsy Malone.’ …. I cried at ‘The Notebook.’” (CP) “I caught ‘Unfaithful’ recently, and that’s kind of a guilty pleasure.” (AK)
On talks of Pine playing Brick in a Broadway adaptation of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Scarlett Johansson: “I’ve talked to Scarlett. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t made any final decision. It’s Tennessee Williams, it’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ It’s Brick; it’s pretty seminal American theater. It’s an incredibly difficult part.” (So as of today it’s a maybe?) “Yeah, it’s still kind of up in the air. But I met Scarlett and she’s really intelligent and really passionate about this stuff and really savvy.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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