Chris Pine, who won the coveted casting slot to play James T. Kirk in the new feature STAR TREK, is not the first one in his family to stroll the halls of the USS Enterprise. That honor was bestowed upon his father, Robert Pine, who guest starred in STAR TREK: VOYAGER, one of the many TV incarnations of the beloved science fiction series. But dad never got to sit in the Captain’s chair.
“It was daunting,” laughs the young Pine about having to fill the shoes of William Shatner, who first inhabited the role of Kirk for the 1966 TV series and has since been so identified with the part. “Mr. Shatner had a way he moved around the deck of the Enterprise, which was almost balletic; specific poses he struck in the Captain’s chair which are so identifiably Kirk. He was bold and confident and funny and I was really impressed by the complexity that he brought to the character.”
In JJ Abrams version of STAR TREK, we are taken back to the beginning, meeting our protagonist space travelers for the first time; from Spock to Sulu, from Uhura to Kirk, and how they all happened to be placed on the same Star Fleet ship for what has been a lifetime of galactic adventures.
In casting his feature, Abrams was adamant that he needed to find actors, much in the same way George Lucas did with STAR WARS, that were fresh faces so audiences would not be burdened with previous on screen baggage. Assembling his eclectic artistic team and about to start wardrobe fittings, everyone was in place except for the lead.
“Kirk goes through so many extreme situations in the movie that I needed an actor who was versatile and could shoulder the responsibility of this movie,” explained the director. “We were making a big movie with no big movie star. I looked at a lot of young actors but no one had the right feel. Then Chris came in and he was so funny and smart, confidant yet vulnerable and tough. Chris just asked all the right questions and was hungry to do it. I was so lucky to have an actor that wasn’t self-conscious and knew this job wasn’t just about acting.
Humbled by the praise, the 28 year-old Los Angeles native recalls his audition process with a bit more modesty. “I thought it was just about the worst audition I could’ve given” he adds. “I came in during the spring of ’07. I was doing a play at the time and my energy was focused elsewhere. I was asked to talk about photons and torpedoes and—well, anyway, I just felt the audition went down the drain.” A few months later, his agents called to ask him to go back again, an offer he initially turned down; only to be convinced that he should at least meet with Abrams.
For anyone familiar with the audition process, it can be a cold reality of indifference. But Pine immediately saw a difference as Abrams allowed his actor to improvise and find the nuance of the character. “JJ was so passionate and positive. He is like a big eight year-old kid and the audition was actually fun. It was a smart move on my part to go back.”
For those of you who might not have had the pleasure to have ever seen the character of Kirk, Pine describes him as an angry, brash young punk who is masking an incredible amount of insecurity and fear. “He came from a broken home and is searching for something to do with his life. It is clear what he wants but I think he has to contend with the tremendous shadow his father casts over him. This film is his journey to learn to harness that rage and impulsiveness of a misguided young man into the focused confident commander that he later becomes.”
Ironically, the dilemma of following parental footsteps rang very close to home. Born in Los Angeles in August of 1980, Pine was the son of two working actors and the grandson of 1940’s film siren Anne Gwynne. Though he grew up visiting sets his whole childhood, acting was not his career focus; instead dreaming of a career first as a garbage truck driver (“I grew out of that one”) and then as a professional baseball player. But attending the University of California at Berkeley, heredity kicked in and he soon found his way into the family business, first by acting in plays, a guest stint on “E.R.” and then his feature debut as Anne Hathaway’s love interest in PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT.
“I oddly just found my way into acting and soon realized that I was better at it than anything else,” he notes. “I didn’t know what else I was going to do with my life so I figured I would just give it a go. I suppose it’s odd that I hadn’t found it earlier.”
For STAR TREK though, Pine found out that acting wasn’t going to be his only skill set. When he first read the script, the young thespian admittedly skimmed over the action stuff to concentrate on the character development. What he failed to realize was that four pages that took him four seconds to flip through while reading were going to take him over one month to physically prepare for. Attending boot camp, Pine was given classes in kickboxing, krav maga (an Israeli based fighting technique) and general conditioning.
“We had the best of the best,” he recalls about the training, “but I wasn’t mentally prepared. Instead of twelve hours a day thinking about a love scene or some intense dialogue driven moment, I would spend a whole day running pretending to be fired upon or chased by something. I had no concept of that and let me tell you, I have not sweat that much since high school.”
While more than happy to describe his preparation for the role, Pine is unwavering in attempts to get him to reveal any of the camera tricks or effects shots that allow him to be perceived in the depths of outer space. “I go to the movies and see stuff where I don’t know how they did what they did. It’s like a great magic trick and like any great trick I don’t want to know how they did it. I think that way the experience is more fun.” Mourning how the magic of filmmaking is slowly dying as everyone can peek behind the curtain, it was Abrams who implored his cast to protect that magic a request Pine is more than happy to oblige. But then as just to offer a delectable tease, he leans in an adds, “we weren’t actually in space. At least all the time.”
While many of the film actors were able to make a physical connection with their original counterparts, Pine has yet to stand face to face with Shatner, although they did correspond. “I wrote him a letter early on in the process and just introduced myself, “ explains Pine. “I wanted him to know that I was not trying to usurp his status as the original Kirk and that I was just doing my best to portray a certain part of the story and character.” Shatner responded back in kind wishing the actor the best of luck and an offer to grab a lunch sometime soon. While that meal has yet to occur, it is safe to say it will provide one great conversation piece.
STAR TREK IS RELEASED MAY 8th – BUY TREK GOODIES FROM THE SEENIT STORE