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April 09, 2009

Chris Pine tells KALEEM AFTAB that his new take on James T. Kirk owes more – the sacrilege! – to old Star Wars than vintage Star Trek

This year, Chris Pine is being asked to boldly go where no man has gone before, or perhaps should ever even dare to go: the 28-year-old has been given the astronomical task of filling William Shatner’s space boots in Lost creator J.J. Abrams’ reworking of Star Trek.

Pine plays Captain James T. Kirk and as with most remakes, the world expects him to pale in comparison.

The role is the equivalent of a warp drive for the Los Angeles-born actor. His biggest parts to date have been playing Lindsay Lohan’s love interest in the 2006 romantic comedy Just My Luck and starring as Bill Pullman’s errant son in the film Bottle Shock, based on the true story of a blind wine-tasting between Californian and French wines in 1976 in which the American vintages had the audacity to win.

When I jest that he recognizes that European wine is actually better than American, Pine retorts: “If you want to fight we can.”

He is not a man you’d pick a fight with. Standing just over 6ft tall, he has lines stacked like building blocks on his abdomen. He’s every inch the action hero with more than a hint of his parents, veteran actors Robert Pine and Gwynne Gilford, about him.

Indeed, there are a couple of scenes in Bottle Shock where Pine’s character Jim can be seen in a boxing ring playfully sparring with his winemaking father, Bo. His James T. Kirk can also be seen picking a fight in a bar. And both films have a father-son theme – Pine plays the second Captain Kirk, the first was Captain George Kirk who apparently went down with his Starship.

When Pine decided to follow in the footsteps of his parents, they were quick to point out that life in the business can be a long, hard road. He recalls: “My mother gave me the talk about how it’s not all wine and roses. I knew that, of course, because I grew up in an acting family and I saw my dad through good years and bad years. So I knew that it wasn’t all going to be great.”

A lack of funds meant he could not move to Britain after winning a place at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. It was just after he had finished studying English at Berkeley in California and he had applied on the spur of the moment.

When they accepted his application, Pine faced a major dilemma: “I didn’t have enough money and I didn’t know if I wanted to go into that much debt as paying for it was going to have to come out of my own pocket. So I figured I’d just let my ego take a pat on the back with the knowledge that I got in and just try to break into the industry another way”.

It didn’t take long for him to make an impression. After a couple of appearances on popular TV shows, ER and CSI: Miami, he landed the part of Anne Hathaway’s regal love interest in The Princess Diaries 2. His granite jaw makes him prime material for girls’ bedroom walls, but Pine saw these teen romance roles as a necessary part of his schooling rather than a sign that he’d made it.

Watching the struggles his parents went through have made Pine humble and wary of his own success. At times, he is like a veteran who has had a roller-coaster career rather than one straight to the stars.

“I’ve been blessed. There is no correlation between hard work and success in acting. I had a conversation with J.J. Abrams and he said something that resonated with me, ‘if it were to be taken away tomorrow, you want to know that every second you did what you loved and wanted to do’. That is the truth, it can so easily be taken away.”

The actor found himself in another huge conundrum when he was originally offered the part of Captain Kirk. At the time, director Joe Carnahan, who directed Pine in Smokin’ Aces, had also offered him a chance to play opposite George Clooney in an adaptation of James Elroy’s novel, White Jazz. It was Carnahan rather than Abrams who helped convince the actor to choose Star Trek.

“Joe is a friend first,” says Pine. “We had many raps about the pros and cons of taking Star Trek and he always approached it as a friend and not a businessman. Then someone said to me: ‘In five years looking back would you regret the decision of not taking Star Trek?’ and I said, ‘Probably’, I never want to be wondering what if.”

Pine was also concerned that he would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of working on a US$150 million (NZ$258 million) movie, employing extensive work in front of a green screen to animate backgrounds. However Abrams calmed the actor’s nerves by telling him that although Star Trek would be primarily an action film, he’d approach it with the same attention to character that he displayed when making breakout hit Cloverfield.

Naturally, the biggest fear for Pine has been stepping into an iconic role that has always been associated with William Shatner. But he has a novel way of dealing with updating Star Trek.

He’s not going to model his Kirk on Shatner and has instead looked to Harrison Ford’s turns in Indiana Jones and Star Wars for inspiration.

“What Harrison is so great at is bringing the quality to his character that if he could be anywhere else in the world at that time, he would be,” chirps Pine. “He is just stuck in the middle and has to deal with it. I’ve always loved that quality about him in Star Wars, that absolutely grumpy manner, the accidental hero. I want to bring that kind of humour to Kirk.”

The proof that Pine made the right choice in ditching White Jazz came with the news that when Clooney left the project, it was pulled. And now Pine gets his cake and eats it. He’s working with Carnahan again, in Killing Pablo, an adaptation of Mark Bowden’s book on the assassination of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Who: Chris Pine
What: Captain James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek movie
Past roles: Bottle Shock (2008); Smokin’ Aces (2006); The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004)


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