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Denzel Washington gave Chris Pine a crash course in being a movie star on the set of 'Unstoppable'

Jason Guerrasio   

Denzel Washington gave Chris Pine a crash course in being a movie star on the set of 'Unstoppable'

"Is this on camera?" Chris Pine asks me as we stare at each other through the magic of Zoom.

Sporting a graying beard, perfectly combed shoulder-length hair, and a loose-fitting yellow and white cardigan, Pine certainly appears camera-ready. But once I tell him that video won't be recorded, he slouches back in his chair, seemingly pleased that he can keep a toothpick dangling from his mouth during our conversation.

Whether he's playing the handsome leading man in a rom-com or an intensely focused franchise star, Pine has the uncanny ability to adapt into the movie star that's needed at any particular moment. And right now, with the cameras not technically rolling, he doesn't have to be one at all.

Pine didn't want to be a movie star growing up, either. A third-generation actor, he first avoided going into the family business. As a die-hard Yankees fan thanks to his East Coast-raised father, a teenage Pine dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player like his idol, Yankee great Don Mattingly.

When that phase passed ("Kids were starting to pitch faster," he said), he dabbled in theater. But it wasn't until he returned home from a stint studying abroad in the UK during college that he decided to pursue acting in earnest.

"It wasn't a passion," Pine says. "It's something that I found."

But the childhood memories of both his parents struggling to find work as actors stayed with him. His mother, Gwynne Gilford, eventually gave up acting to become a therapist. Though his father, Robert Pine, is still working as a veteran character actor best known for playing Sergeant Getraer on the late-1970s hit series "CHiPs," he was keeping the family afloat gig by gig during Pine's childhood.

Those Hollywood anxieties are present in Pine's directorial debut, "Poolman," in theaters Friday. Though the film is hardly autobiographical — Pine stars as a burnout pool cleaner in LA who's trying to uncover a city scandal — his character gets support from two parental figures in his life, who are struggling showbiz types played by Danny DeVito and Annette Bening.

"There's a scene at the end when Danny's character, Jack, says that his agent finally called back and offered him a sitcom for $75,000 an episode, and he turned it down," Pine says. He looks down in his lap, almost reliving what he's describing. "And Annette's character has a conniption fit."

Pine finally looks up.

"That's my childhood," he continues. "The dream was for my father to get a television show that paid $70,000 an episode, and that would finally get us out of financial distress."

With a filmography that charts an impressive ascension from heartthrob to the face of IP-fueled blockbusters to prestige fare, it's safe to say that distress is now behind him.

In Business Insider's latest Role Play interview, Pine discusses why he refuses to watch some of his rom-coms, learning how to be a movie star via Denzel Washington, and the untimely end of the "Wonder Woman" franchise.

On hating working at restaurants and refusing to watch his old rom-coms

Early Chris Pine is a trip to watch. You played a hard partier in an episode of "E.R." You cried in front of David Caruso in "CSI: Miami." At that time in your life, were you just going after anything?

Fuck yeah! Don't be a waiter. Actually, I was a host at a restaurant and just hated it. Could not have hated it anymore. I was not a people person. It was all about just getting work.

You started getting noticed thanks to romantic comedies — "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," "Just My Luck," "Blind Dating" — would you watch any of those titles now? Like, if you're in a hotel room flipping through the channels and it comes on.

I mean, not a chance. And that's for most of my films. It's too difficult because then you're thinking, "God, why did I fucking do that?" Or "Why did they pick that take?"

What I will say, though, is I get more people coming up to me about "Princess Diaries 2," and I think that's because it's played for so many generations of young girls now. So that's a trip.

On being comfortable playing Captain Kirk — by movie No. 3

Playing Captain Kirk in the "Star Trek" movies must have been daunting — not only were you taking on an iconic IP, but the actor who originated the character, William Shatner, is still so synonymous with Kirk. Were you ever comfortable in that role?

It's interesting. Karl Urban decided to go head first into McCoy because Karl loved "Star Trek." With Spock, you have to do Spock-like things, plus Zach [Quinto] kind of looked like Leonard [Nimoy]. And then Kirk is a tricky one. You are the lead of the band of characters, so you don't want to occupy too much space. It's fine if they are doing a thing, but you don't want to. And J.J. [Abrams] never asked me to do a thing, though I did do little nods to Shatner because it was fun.

But I would say I felt most in his shoes in the third movie. By that point, I think I mellowed into it and didn't feel like I was trying too hard.

Has the ship sailed to do Kirk again?

I honestly don't know. There was something in the news of a new writer coming on board. I thought there was already a script, but I guess I was wrong, or they decided to pivot. As it's always been with "Trek," I just wait and see.

On getting a crash course in being a movie star from Denzel Washington and playing a 'non-charming' leading man

"Unstoppable" is the moment, I feel, where you're not fucking around anymore. Tony Scott, working across from Denzel Washington —

Youth really is wasted on the young [laughs]. It's such an awesome moment. It's one of the biggest films of the year; all the lights are shining on you, all the possibility of you being able to do whatever you want. I really wish I took more effort to enjoy that moment.

I was reading a lot of scripts at the time, and I was on a plane when I read this one. And I didn't want to like it because it's a train. It's like, what is my job in this fucking film? The train is going to explode and then it's not. You know exactly what is going to happen.

But Mark Bomback wrote this incredible script, and I was on the plane, and I couldn't stop reading it. I would push it away — No. Buuut. No, nope. Buuut. I just could not turn away from it. Plus, Tony Scott was a god to me. He'd done "Days of Thunder" and "Top Gun," and then you add into that mix Denzel, plus that it's a two-hander that takes place in one location. From an acting class standpoint, I'm getting paid a lot of money to learn at the feet of one of the best who has ever done it. It was out of control cool. I learned more from that set about what it means to be a movie star than probably anything else.

Before "Hell or High Water," you'd worked with Ben Foster in "The Finest Hours." How much of the praise you received for that movie do you attribute to the comfort you two had in working together?

I think it's more than that. Taylor [Sheridan] wrote a banger script. That script is one of the five best scripts I've ever read in my entire life. So you have the writing. Then you have David [Mackenzie] coming off of making "Starred Up," which is an incredible film, and then you have the Jeff Bridges of it all.

I think I held my own there, but you have these two incredibly dynamic actors: Jeff is the legend, and Ben is a caged animal of an actor. I had a lot of fun because up until that point, I hadn't played a closed-off, non-talkative, non-charming leading man. So I was really stoked to take that on. I think it was all the pieces coming together, not just one thing.

On turning down 'Wonder Woman' twice before director Patty Jenkins convinced him by bringing up 'Casablanca'

By the time you did the "Wonder Woman" franchise, you had done your fair share of blockbusters. Was there a moment in filming the first movie when you realized this one was different than the others?

I got pitched the film and didn't want to do it. Patty came on board and I still didn't want to do it. I had no interest in playing the boyfriend, and it sounded like second fiddle. Then, in talking to Patty, the way she described it was, "Forget the superhero of it all, this is a romance, this is "Casablanca," that's the movie I want to make." And I was like, oh, now that is very cool, because when had you seen a superhero film that was a love story, ultimately? That had nothing to do with blowing shit up.

For me, the pivotal moment is the scene on the tarmac; it's "Casablanca" by a different name. So when I saw that film, man. Film is not an actor's medium, it's a director's and editor's medium, and shit can go wrong really fast, and that was a movie where you're in the theater and you get lost in it. You forget you're in it. That's when you know it's gold.

Do you or Gal Gadot or Patty feel that there's unfinished business with the franchise not doing a third movie?

Me? No. Homie is dead. Steve is gonzo. It would be ridiculous to try to bring me back.

I'm stunned that they said no to a billion-dollar franchise and decided to pivot elsewhere. I don't know what the reasoning was behind that; it's above my pay grade, but Wonder Woman is an incredible character, and Patty is such a thoughtful director. Even think of "Wonder Woman 1984" — that's a blockbuster movie that is a hero's journey not about revenge. I mean, wow. People poo-pooed it, but wow!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

"Poolman" is in theaters May 10.

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