THE LOS ANGELES NATIVE IS CELEBRATING HIS 20TH YEAR ON THE SCREEN, MARKING A MULTI-FACETED CAREER THAT SPANS GENRES, FROM BIG-BUDGET REBOOTS TO CRITICALLY HAILED NEO-WESTERNS. THIS FALL, HE EMBARKS ON A NEW FRONTIER, MAKING HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT IN THE INDIE COMEDY, POOLMAN
BY AMANDA MCCOY
Many successful entertainers will wax poetically of their searing passion for the camera or the stage, of an innate call to the craft that was seeded in childhood. Chris Pine, self admittedly, is not one of those people. “I never had a passion for acting, acting was something that seemed to pop out of nowhere and then just took over my life,” Pine said in a 2022 interview with Indie Wire, his hair now generously salted. But don’t mistake his lack of appetite for apathy; the 43 year old is a serious actor, intentional and unpretentious, and though he’s filled the leading man seat in several uber successful franchises, including the Star Trek reboot and the Wonder Woman series (blame it on the GQ jawline), his career path as of late has led him to smaller, Indie style roles, and even his buzzy debut as a director (more on that later).
The Los Angeles native practically had star power sprinkled on his Cheerios growing up. Born into a family of actors (his maternal grandmother, Anne Gwynne, was a WWII pin up and horror film mega star in the 1940s and ‘50s, while his father, mother, and sister all enjoyed mildly successful acting careers), Pine spent numerous afternoons on TV sets as a child, though he aspired to one day see his face on a baseball card rather than a screen. (That dream ended at 13, when Pine “realized my glaring mediocrity,” he told Esquire in March). It wasn’t until he began classes at the University of California, Berkeley where he studied English, not acting that Pine decided to join the theater department in lieu of a fraternity. He later studied at the venerable American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and after a relatively sparse two years that garnered only modest successes (one episode stints on ER, The Guardian, and CSI Miami), Pine’s big break came in 2004 when he was cast as Anne Hathaway’s love interest, Nicholas Devereaux, in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
The following year brought roles in a few smaller films, including crime thriller Confession, the television drama Surrender, Dorothy (opposite Diane Keaton), and the Eric Stoltz directed short The Bulls, before he teamed up with Lindsay Lohan in another coming of age romcom, Just My Luck. “It was a real cyclone of insanity, like being around The Beatles,” Pine told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 of his experience working alongside Lohan. “It was fascinating to watch, and in hindsight it’s really a distinct moment in someone’s life when you see what’s really wonderful about what we get to do and what’s really dangerous about it. Hollywood is like living in a weird bubble. A bunch of people take care of you and get you stuff, and you’re the center of that little microcosmic world. You start believing that it is real and…you deserve it.”
He might have been relatively unknown at the time, but Pine would get his first taste of superstardom with 2009’s hotly anticipated Star Trek reboot, where he took on the role of Captain James T. Kirk in the J.J. Abrams directed blockbuster, filling the lofty shoes of the legendary William Shatner. “After the movie came out, someone came up to me and said, ‘When we heard you were getting cast as Kirk, we were disappointed,” Pine told USA Today in 2014. “‘But we saw it, and you did OK.’ Coming from a die hard Trek fan, that’s akin to saying ‘Great job.’” Pine would later sit down with Shatner in the full length documentary The Captains (which Shatner wrote and directed) to discuss his experience taking on the role of the captain, leading to an internet famous arm wrestling showdown between the two.
Now with a comfortable seat on Hollywood’s A list, Pine spent the next few years flexing his range across a bank of genres. In 2010, he appeared opposite Denzel Washington in Tony Scott’s gripping action thriller Unstoppable, inspired by 2001’s “Crazy Eights” runaway freight train incident in Ohio. (After the film was released, The Hollywood Reporter named Pine as one of the young actors “pushing – or being pushed into taking over Hollywood.”) In 2014, he joined an elite group of actors to portray the titular character in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series (Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck have all played the marine turned CIA analyst). He participated in several comedies, including Horrible Bosses II in 2014 and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp the following year. In 2016, his portrayal of Toby Howard in the Academy Award nominated neo Western Hell or High Water earned critical acclaim, with Variety writing it “shows his reserved range as a leading man.”
The year 2017 would prove to be pivotal for Pine, but not solely for his role as the charming Steve Trevor in the wildly successful live action epic Wonder Woman. It launched a close working relationship with the film’s creator, Patty Jenkins, who later brought him aboard for her deliciously noir unsolved murder limited series, I Am The Night (in addition to the Wonder Woman sequel). Pine and Jenkins hit it off immediately. “Patty is a pretty incredible human being,” he told Alarabiya News. “When we first met about the part of Steve, she sat across from me and essentially acted out the entire film over the course of a two hour lunch. She was so specific, so articulate, and so ardent. I would’ve said yes just for Patty alone.”
When the two teamed up again for the WW sequel, Jenkins began to push the actor, calling him out for complacency. “She said it felt to her like I was really bored,” he told IndieWire. “That maybe I felt uninspired, that I was doing the same old shtick.”
Her tough love galvanized Pine to put pen to paper, writing a script with good friend Ian Gotler over the pandemic about a wistful pool cleaner named Darren Barrenman who “uncovers the greatest water heist in L.A. history since Chinatown.” The script attracted mega names like Danny DeVito and Annette Bening, and when the time came to choose a director, Pine heeded Jenkins’ advice and stepped into the seat. “I couldn’t imagine (the script) being directed by anyone else,” he said in a press interview. When Jenkins caught a showing, she dubbed the Indie comedy and Pine’s directorial debut a “masterpiece.”