Chris Pine stars as a man dealing with not only the death of his estranged father but also the discovery that he has a sister (played by Elizabeth Banks) he's never met in People Like Us, a comedy/drama from DreamWorks Pictures. The film, which hits theaters on June 29, 2012, marks the feature film directorial debut of screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens) and is inspired by his personal story.
Pine, who's done a great job of mixing big budget action films with smaller, character-driven dramas, chatted about the appeal of the project and Kurtzman's approach to directing in support of the film's release. He also provided a sneak peek at what audiences can expect from his next major action film, the 2013 Star Trek film.
On what trait he most admired about this character, Sam:
Chris Pine: "I like the part about Sam that I see all the time. Here’s a guy who deflects with words, humor, smile, charm. He’s just not emotionally present at all. All you have to do is go to a cocktail party in Los Angeles and you’ll pretty much witness it starring at you all the time. Sam’s very human, faulted, screwed up, trying his damnedest to get through this week without dying. I like that he was a fighter. He’s fighting."
On the physical and emotional impact on his character once he learns he has a sister, and what happens when he has to confront this previously unknown sibling:
Chris Pine: "I will say through the majority of the film, Sam was getting beat up - physically or emotionally. That’s not to say some of it’s not righteously done since Sam perpetrated the biggest mistake and lie in the film - that he doesn’t tell Frankie the truth. That was a hard scene to do."
"Alex, to his credit, realizing doing this for the first time, he covered the living daylights out of that scene. So there’d be masters – there’d be all sorts of coverage. I think the really big credit belongs to Liz because the revelation of the truth, she’s got to hear that for the first time all day long. My job was as difficult to tell the truth, but she has to listen and process that moment, which is extremely difficult to do well and to do truthfully. The credit belongs to her."
On making sure the tone is right and that the onscreen relationship never seems twisted or uncomfortable:
Chris Pine: "The falling in love...there’s nothing physical about it. They’re falling in love with it emotionally. This is the first person that emotionally gets Sam, and vice versa. Because they have that shared commonality in pain. They have the same perpetrator, [the same] the violent upbringing that doesn’t have to be physical. There was an emotional abuse that happened very early on that they both felt very deeply. That keen awareness of it all – being conscious about that pain - I think they’re burgeoning relationship is built on that emotional, almost immediate trust with one another. And they never felt that with anyone else. That has nothing to do with the physical."
On working with Alex Kurtzman on developing his character:
Chris Pine: "The fact that a guy can experience something like Alex did and write it over a period of seven years, almost going on a decade, for him to give it over to the actors and not be precious about the material and the experience, not trying to force feed what it should be like or what we should be experiencing in the moment... Alex’s greatest gift is his sensitivity and his empathy for what an actor does and his general Zen. He never felt confronted if we said, 'This doesn’t work. We want to cut that. Let us try that. That’s bullsh*t.' I felt there was a general sense there was an absolute team effort when it could very be well not that."
Looking Back: On the moment he decided he wanted to be an actor:
Chris Pine: "I never wanted to be an actor for a second in my life until maybe I was 20. My father’s been an actor for 50 years. He came out to LA in 1964. He was under contract when they still had contracts at Universal, when you got paid to be an actor even when you weren’t working, which you can imagine is a stunningly awesome thing. My father has like 200 credits. He’s a rare breed. He’s a working blue-collar actor. The man has made a living as an actor, put two kids through private school, and managed to do it when things were really bad and when things were really good. Obviously, the marker for a young child is when things were really bad. For me growing up, I was a child of someone who had a business that was sometimes really good and sometimes really bad. There wasn’t anything romantic…I wasn’t like Denzel Washington’s kid. That was not my family. I didn’t have no rose-colored glasses. I really found out later on because I enjoyed it and it was something I could do."
On that period of time when he wasn't sure acting would ever work out:
Chris Pine: "I’ve been very lucky. It took me about a year before I could quit my job working at the Grove. I was a food runner and a host, and not a good food service representative at all. But, yeah, there was a time when I came back to LA and had just done a pilot. I really wanted to live on the Lower East Side and eat bread, do the whole poverty stricken artist bit for awhile. In those moments where you don’t care and you walk into an audition and [snapping his fingers], it's landing like gangbusters. That’s what happened. I moved back to LA. I was going to move to New York. I had a place and was like, ‘Done!’ Do the poor artist thing, and [then I] started working and there you go."
Looking Ahead: On shooting the new Star Trek film in IMAX:
Chris Pine: "They’re big cameras. They are big, loud cameras, and the things take forever to reload. Literally, 20 minutes to load a camera. The first thing I saw in IMAX was The Avengers. It’s pretty neat, I will say that, the scope and the size of it. And JJ did a good job of it, knowing which scenes to marry with the IMAX and which scenes would really pop. Like what they did with Mission [Impossible: Ghost Protocol] when Tom’s on that huge building and it made all the sense in the world to do the IMAX."
"JJ [Abrams] and company – Alex [Kurtzman], Bob [Orci], and Damon [Lindelof] included – what they’re really good at and sets them apart is that they’re able to marry really small dramas like this with tent poles. They know that if you don’t give them this, this being the small character-driven drama, you can blow up anything you want and no one cares. They’ll leave the theater. I think for the second one, what people will find is that the…every time I kept going back to the script I kept finding the mythic structure done really well. The character journeys are like Campbellian. They’re just perfect mythic structures. They just do it so well. The journeys will be really great of the characters, the explosions and set pieces are going to knock people out of their seats."
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People Like Us hits theaters on June 29, 2012.