Chris Pine is back in the captain’s chair in Star Trek Beyond. Nick Setchfield opens hailing frequencies
Head-to-head with Captain Kirk and his holey trousers.
Do I have a hole in my pants?” Chris Pine
asks himself, mid-flow.
The master and commander of the Enterprise scrutinises his crotch for cosmic anomalies. Spotting a wormhole in his jeans he gives a tiny sigh of dismay. “That sucks…”
It’s a rare distracted moment for the young Californian. For all that he’s quick to laugh, he’s an intense, thoughtful presence when SFX meets him in a London hotel suite. There’s just enough residual, self-confessed shyness from his teen years to keep him dodging eye contact but when those blue eyes find you it’s like twin tractor beams locking on.
He’s here to talk James T Kirk, a part he originally never wanted – “I’m just not a sci-fi guy – I didn’t want to talk about phasers and thrusters and all that kind of stuff!” – but which he instantly owned, stamping it with hotshot swagger and James Dean cool. Now he’s back for a third big-screen mission in Star
Trek Beyond, a film with the added responsibility of honouring 50 years of the final frontier.
“Everyone always talks about the pressure,” he shrugs. “I never felt one iota of pressure on this one at all. In fact it was the most fun we’ve had. Nine years in, it just gets easier…” This is your third shot at playing Kirk. What did you want from him this time around?
I told JJ a film ago that I wanted to go dark and rogue. There was an episode in the original series that I really liked when Kirk went evil. But that didn’t happen! What I really enjoy about this part of Kirk’s arc is that he’s relieved of all the onus of trying to live up to his father and the anger of never having met his father, all the stuff that drove the first couple of films. Now he’s an older guy, not a young man anymore, necessarily. He’s a leader and his priorities and his motivations have changed. He’s thinking to himself, “Do I really want to do this? It seemed to make so much sense when I was trying to be as badass as my dad. Now that I don’t need that, what else is there?”
Audiences responded to his maverick side. Is it tough to balance his wildcard, maverick side with his growth as a commander?
I think it was very important, especially for the first film, to have that version of the character. There were fans that were dismayed that he had so much bravado – but there’s no place for the character to go if you don’t start somewhere. As you say, it’s something that we all respond to, that iconoclast that is beholden to his own sense of morality and not anybody else’s rules and regulations. And that guy is certainly still in there.
There was some serious turmoil in the development process this time around. Did that impact you?
Not one bit. The actors are usually the last people to find out anything. We have no control. Given those two realities I decide to wait until they tell me when to show up.
Is it possible to feed off that kind of energy, creatively?
One hundred per cent. They’re such behemoths, these films. You can bemoan the fact that you’re getting the script so late but I’ve now done enough of these to know that, strangely enough, the more money that’s put into a project the more free-form it can be.
How does that work?
You can either dive headfirst into that or you can struggle against it. I decided to dive headfirst into it. Simon [Pegg] and Doug [Jung] had come up with a great story. And Justin [Lin] is a master navigator of these kind of big budget film waters, so I trusted those people. My job is just to bring it to life, to be open on the day for anything to happen.
What kind of vision does Justin bring to this movie?
Ironically, given all his experience in the Fast
& Furious movies he actually comes from a smaller film background. I always think that with big films what’s really necessary is the smaller engine – the story, the structure, caring about people. That’s more important than the effects. He got that intrinsically. He’s a quiet
energy on set versus JJ’s very boisterous energy, which actually let him fit him into the group very easily – he was a collaborator. With Simon and Doug writing, and with this new energy directing, it almost felt like the kids took over the house for the weekend. We all had to build the story together. It was great.
It’s 50 years of Star Trek. How does Star Trek Beyond celebrate that anniversary?
It’s a film about the Federation, which means it’s a film about the fundamental aspects of what Trek is: disparate peoples of different races, different colours, different genders, different species, coming together and working together. And it asks the big question, “Does this work? Does this mean something? Is it meaningful?” Which I think is great – it’s a large question to tackle, and there are many different avenues to explore. And stylistically there are nods to it – my haircut in the film is a bit ’60s Kirkian!
You’re playing against Idris Elba. What sort of dynamic do you guys have on screen?
God, Idris is like 6’ 3. He’s a huge guy. I’m not a small guy myself but Idris is a big dude, very charismatic. He came up with this really rather extraordinary character. Let’s just say he’s an angry man and Kirk sees in him a lot of his own anger, just like Khan. It’s an interesting thing – I hadn’t ever really thought about that, but maybe the thing that ties all these antagonists together, from Nero to Khan to this new character, is their anger, obviously, but also how it’s reflected off Kirk’s own anger. And Kirk is learning to deal with his anger, whether he’s set off by it or whether he can be zen.
Could you see yourself working under a ton of prosthetics, like Idris?
No. Seriously, never. I don’t ever want to do it. You’re not sleeping. You’re working 15, 16 hour days and you’re getting force-called every day, which means you’re finishing up at 6 or 7, getting home by 8 or 8.30, because we shot out of town. If you go to the gym you go to the gym then. You’re in bed by 10. You’re up at 3.30 or 4. Not an effing chance I’m doing that.
So it doesn’t feel like an acting challenge you want to take on?
I like the idea of mo-cap, the idea of completely creating a Gollum – that’s really cool, because that incorporates the whole instrument. But with prosthetics you’re just dealing with your sheer force of will. You’ve got to take care of your acting, you’ve also got to take care of your body because you’re sweating so much. It’s an immense amount of concentration. And also, not to lose your shit… Sometimes they can’t even eat, so you have to have a straw… It’s fucking awful [laughs]!
This is a role that was defined by somebody else. Was there a point where you thought, “I actually own this now, I’m not just borrowing it from Shatner”?
I felt that the whole time. I really did. Before we shot the first film we got a whole set of episodes, all the movies too. And watching Shatner there was simply no way I could see myself doing this part as any sort of imitation and succeeding. The movie would fail. It would become about people either liking or not liking my imitation of a man. My role is to disappear. It is about Kirk and Spock but it’s really about the story, so I’ve got to blend into the background enough to let Idris do his stuff. If I’m there doing Shatnerisms all over the place the movie’s a giant failure. It was fun in the first one to throw in little peppers of Shatner because he’s so fun. That makes people smile. But JJ never wanted that. He told me specifically not to do that.
I’m not even talking about the expectation of doing an impression of Shatner. More about having to step into a role another actor’s owned for so long…
I just had to look at the script and say, “If this script was attached to no other iconography or mythology, how would I do it?” I’d just have to create the character that I was given. The guy that I was given was a real maverick, kind of a pain in the ass, a lot of fun… He’s the classic rogue. He had no attachment in my mind to any other character named Jim Kirk. He was just the guy in that particular script – which gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted.
There was talk that Shatner was actually going to be in this movie. How would you have felt sharing a scene with him?
At this point there’s been so much built up about this potential portentous meeting between the two Kirks… Fuck the movie, it would just become about that. The movie can’t become about that. The movie has to be about whatever story we’re trying to tell. It’d be fun, it’d be kitschy, it’d be a great piece for you guys to talk about, and for late-night TV, but above and beyond that I don’t know what it serves for our storytelling purposes, you know?
Simon Pegg said Paramount wanted this to be an accessible Trek. How does Star Trek compete and still stay true to Star Trek?
You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into
Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. The question that our movie poses is “Does the Federation mean anything?” And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?
There’s a new Star Trek TV show coming next year. Does that feel like competition? No [laughs].
If you get a fourth shot at this, how would you like to see the franchise evolve?
I would like a slower film. That’d be kind of fun. Kirk and team land on a planet and go explore. It’s just not going to happen. But it would be fun to make the Merchant Ivory version, a slow, talky film.
When the previous cast got to do a fourth film it was a time travel comedy. Have you got a hunger to do something like that, to really break the mould?
Pushing the boundaries would certainly be fun and I love doing comedy. If Simon’s behind it… The most fun I have on set is laughing so anytime we can do that I’m way, way into it.
You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It wouldn’t work
In the chair…
Idris Elba suffered muchly for this role! Armwrestling the Shat in 2011.