O captain, my captain
Reprising his role as Captain James T Kirk in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, Chris Pine is once again boldly going where just one man has gone before
It’s not easy being a Trekker in the contemporary age. Sure, technological advances have made certain tasks and random acts of devotion a great deal easier: downloading a universal translator eliminates the need to learn Klingon by correspondence course; the science of warp physics can now be gleaned without the study of such excellent tomes as Lawrence Krauss’s The Physics of Star Trek or Jeanne Cavelos’s The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicists’ Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets and Robots .
Nowadays, however, the once reasonably straightforward business of Trek worship is complicated by grander issues: given that JJ Abram’s Star Trek Into Darkness makes (the admittedly pretty damned good) Iron Man 3 look like Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse , will I now have to share my precious corner of the universe with newcomers and ausländers?
This is a film composed entirely of – using Avengers terminology – Loki vs Hulk moments: newbies are inevitable. Can Abrams have anything left to give his incoming Star Wars refurbishment?
And who do I want to interview for the film, anyway? Am I enough of a Cumberbitch to plump for Benedict Cumberbatch’s new – as revealed exclusively on every corner of the internet – Khan Noonien Singh? Or will I stick with my captain, Chris Pine? Decisions. Decisions. Both gentlemen are essential to the two-step at the heart of Star Trek Into Darkness . But, as it turns out, I’m declaring for Team Pine-Nut and the American.
“You need us both for it to work,” agrees the current Captain Kirk. “The classic understanding is that the Brits are outside-in actors and the Americans are inside-out. Now that’s a gross generalisation but it is kind of true. With Benedict and myself you could see it and feel it. He brings that scalpel-like precision to the role and I bring my cowboy thing. And that’s very much a distillation of what we’ve come to think of as American and British methodology, and I think that disparity will be really fun for an audience. Kirk is this impassioned raging bull in a china shop. Benedict is very cool, very calculating, very precise.”
How did the Sherlock star and fellow Brit Alice Eve fit in with the established Trek family?
“On thing JJ is really good at – one of many things when you think about it – is casting,” says Pine. “You have to give him credit for putting together a group that really enjoys one another. You can fault us on acting if you want. But the original movie’s cast get along great. And when Alice and Benedict started it was like they had always been there. The fun part of the film is that you also get to call these people your friends at the end of it. How cool is that?”
Did he know about the Cumberbitches?
“Aw. Listen. Benedict is a tremendous actor. We all know it. What he brought to a character that could have been a straight-up villain gives a real three-dimensionality to it. His vocal talents. His physical presence. As a viewer, you end up empathising with a guy who does these awful things. This movie is a big deal for him. But he’s already huge here. He’s huge in Japan. I spent a lot of time thinking ‘Hey, I’m in this movie too, you know’ when the fans turned out.”
This is Chris Pine’s second time donning a communications badge though he admits he’s no more clued in to the finer points of Trek lore than he was when he boldly assumed the duties of Captain Kirk for the 2009 reboot.
“I know what Tribbles are,” he offers apologetically. “My knowledge is – well, there’s just too much to know. I’ll never get there. There’s just no way to catch up unless I take a class. And I’m not taking a class.”
He may not be able to tell a Class M planet from the annealing atmosphere of a Class N type – crazy, we know – but Pine really does get the Trekiverse.
“For me what’s more important – above and beyond N class planets and the ship’s size and specifications – is that at the heart of what Gene Roddenberry did is a kind of hopefulness for humanity. It’s not Superman against the world. It’s not Batman against the world. It’s not one guy fighting with everyone. It’s a family all coming together to overcome evil. I think – in today’s age especially – that’s a great lesson to keep repeating to ourselves: if we come together we can achieve great things. Maybe that sounds naive but I think it’s important. Humanity is always trying to blow each other up or put each other down. Here’s a better idea.”
Was the iconography a little easier to cope with second time around?
“Yes. But what William Shatner did was so indelible. I couldn’t ever think that I was his Kirk. In some ways I felt really liberated from the original series because – right from the start – it was an impossible task to do what he did. I felt free to do my thing and that’s what JJ wanted from me. And I had a lot of fun peppering in some of those Shatner qualities. But I never tried to be him. How could I?”
In person, one can just about pick out the tall, slender 32-year-old as the Captain of the Enterprise. But only just.
“I was 20 pounds heavier for this film,” he nods. “I worked out twice a day. I did all that fun, actor-y BS. I wanted Kirk to have that sense of weight to him. Like he’d had one too many beers. Like he was a little too comfortable. I’m naturally a very slim guy. But Kirk thinks of himself as a leader of men. He needs heft. I ate. A lot. Vanity will propel you to do some pretty ridiculous things, right?”
Did he get up at night for protein shakes?
“Oh God no. I’m way, way, way not that motivated. At all. Hugh Jackman does that. Ryan Reynolds told me he did that. But I want no part of anything that gets me up at night. I can barely do the workouts as is.”
This is the second time I’ve met Chris Pine but I’m still consistently amazed to discover how shy and modest he is. He looks up rather than at you and apologises for almost everything he says. When he starts talking about his appreciation of art and European design and the joys of flâneur culture, he immediately pulls himself up: “I play guitar. I like to sing. I’m an awful painter. I write. I take photographs. I love architecture. I love furniture. I love design. I think there’s a way to be artistic in the most everyday things. You walk down a street and look up at a cool building and you’ve made walking down a street on a sunny day into a little art appreciation. Oh God. I don’t know what the fuck I’m saying. Sorry.”
The man who ought to – one feels – grow up to be William Shatner’s JFK ersatz couldn’t be less presidential or in the sway of a roving eye. Yet Pine grew up in Hollywood: his dad was Sarge on CHiPs ; his mom appeared in the live- action Masters of the Universe movie. The actor, who insists he was a late bloomer, was anything but show-business, he says.
“I had horrible acne growing up,” he laughs. “I was scrawny. I was thin. I was a very awkward youth who became a very awkward young man.”
“I never wanted to be an actor. I grew up in a family of actors. My grandmother, my father, my mother. I’d seen the ups and down of it all my life and I never wanted any part of it. I wanted to be a baseball player. I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I wanted to do all the things that little kids want to do.”
What happened? Did growing up around all those actors leave him ill-equipped for life at a coal face?
“Probably. At this point I’d have to say yes. I went to college and I had no idea what I wanted to do. And that’s when I found theatre. Seemingly by accident. But it does make a lot of sense. It is in the genes. And I think that quality of feeling awkward and different brought me to it. Acting gave me a chance to be something I’m not. Getting a chance to play Kirk who is so cocksure and aggressive and stubborn is fun for someone like myself. I’m pretty different to all that. It’s a kind of escapism I guess.”
“With Jack Ryan, the character is almost bigger than any one actor,” says Pine. “Baldwin and Affleck and Harrison just disappeared into that role. And they all did it so well. There was so much pressure that there’s none at all. You just have to throw everything you know away or else you’re in a minefield. And Kenneth makes things easier. He’s so funny. He so doesn’t take himself seriously. I’m dying for him to do a comedy. I mean a real rip-roaring comedy. I think he’d be hysterical. He is hysterical. I’ve been so lucky with my career. And to be able to work to Kenneth Branagh? Wow. Doesn’t get any better than that.”
yyy Star Trek Into Darkness is on general release