HE HASN’T even been in the business a decade yet, but Chris Pine has had his fair share of horror auditions.
I had one casting director stop me and say, ‘All right, now do it again and make me believe you’,” he recalls with a traumatised laugh.
“That was half of what she said, but also the tone that I can’t really recreate. It was just about the most miserable feeling on the planet.
“I just interpreted that as like, ‘OK, stop sucking, and try to be talented’.
“At that point you’ve lost, at that point it becomes not about the material at all, it becomes about your personal beef, and that’s never what it should be.
“The audition room is one of the most awkward, uncomfortable places to be, period. I don’t even know how producers do it, quite honestly.”
But an actor’s gotta do what an actor’s gotta do.
“Yup,” agrees Pine, “par for the course. Born masochist.”
And yet, if an actor does it well enough, or gets lucky enough, auditions can become obsolete. And that’s where the Los Angeles-born and bred Pine finds himself right now.
After fighting for roles in films such as teen-ish rom-coms The Princess Diaries 2 and Just My Luck and offbeat indies Smokin’ Aces and Bottle Shock, in 2009 he struck gold playing Captain Kirk in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot.
Everything about the sci-fi blockbuster was huge – from its box-office gross to the impact it had on Pine’s career.
Pine sums up the Star Trek effect in succinct terms – “I can say ‘No’ more easily. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been offered stuff. And that’s really nice.”
But Star Trek may not have happened for Pine – before it he was so unhappy with the direction his career was going that he had told his agents not to bother (or bother with) him for a couple of years.
“Really what it was, like any actor you don’t have much … maybe this is not entirely true – you always have choice – but in terms of the breadth of choice and the opportunity and the luxury of being able to say ‘No’, and really truly cherry-picking, that I didn’t have at all.
“Like any actor I would go on an audition and hope to get the part, and if you get the part it’s very hard to say ‘No’ – it’s very hard to turn down work and the pay cheque and the opportunity to work on your, not to sound too artsy-fartsy, your craft, what you do for a living.
“But shoot, the summer before I worked on Trek I did a movie (Bottle Shock) with Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman and Dennis Farina and Freddy Rodriguez and Rachael Taylor – I worked with really talented actors.
“And at the end of the day, I was working – that alone separates you from a large swathe of the acting community.”
So now, post-Trek, Pine reckons he’s “won the lottery, so I’m going to try to enjoy my time with my winnings”.
That means relishing the ability to say ‘No’ and knowing the days of hellish auditions are over.
“I don’t know for how long, but for the time being it seems that way,” he says. “I just don’t know for how long … ”
Those winnings this year will bring a Star Trek sequel his way, the rom-com This Means War with Reese Witherspoon and sharing a locomotive cabin with Denzel Washington for much of his latest movie, the Tony Scott-directed, runaway-train thriller Unstoppable.
“I spent as much time as I could just watching and observing and asking as many questions as possible ‘cos it was like going to grad school,” Pine says of working with Washington.
“There were certain times when I think anybody, no matter how nice, would have shrunk away and avoided my persistent pestiness, but he was really kind about it.”
In the film, Pine is the newbie sent to learn from Washington’s grumpy and intimidating freight train driving veteran. And intimidated the newbie was.
“There’s no way not to be!” Pine exclaims.
“Denzel’s an intimidating character, just because he’s so talented and he has so much charisma that it can be kind of blinding. But I just looked at it as a way to step up my game.”
Pine may fake it pretty well in the movie, but don’t count on him to handle a locomotive in real life.
“If you were on the train, I’d tell you not to trust me. ‘Cos I’m an actor,” he laughs. “I don’t actually drive trains, I’m an actor.”
While he says he knows “for sure” that he wants longevity as an actor, the way he talks also suggests Pine wants something more – directing, perhaps?
“Yeah, I could see myself heading there at some point,” he says.
“I don’t know when but … especially after seeing how good Ben Affleck has succeeded in transitioning in his career. I think it’d be a lot of fun; it’d definitely take a lot of the onus off the acting, which can be petrifying sometimes.”