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Rise of the Guardians – Chris Pine interview

Rise of the Guardians

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CHRIS Pine talks about playing Jack Frost in animated movie Rise of the Guardians and what it was like working in a sound booth and honing a new skill (working with his voice).

He also talks about reprising his role as James T Kirk in the forthcoming Star Trek sequel alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Jack Ryan and working on the Bond stage and working with the late Tony Scott on Unstoppable.

Q. Rise of the Guardians talks about children dealing with their fears. As a child, what were the things that scared you?
Chris Pine: I think fears like any other kid has – fears of the dark and being by yourself. Actually, in answering all these questions today it struck me that most of the fears I think when you’re a kid have to do with being alone and not having the safety net of your parents or your support system. I think in many ways that’s what Jack [Frost] is dealing with at the beginning of the film. He feels like an outsider and his safety net was ripped out from under him so early on in his life and he’s had to make his own way. When the Guardians ask him to be a part of this group, it’s a group that he’s wanted to be a part of for a long time.

[Executive producer] Guillermo [del Toro] talks very eloquently about our film. [He says] there’s an earnest quality about our film. It’s an unabashed, transparent, kind of joy in belief and imagination. It’s not any more complicated than that. And I think Jack, what makes him hopefully a compelling character is that earnest quality – he wants to be loved and he wants a family and these guys have made him feel like an outsider for a long time. So, when they scoop him up to save the world I think his attitude is: “Well, why didn’t you call me up 200 years ago?” I like that. I really like the simplicity of it – it’s beautiful, it’s simple and it’s pure hearted.

Q. Is that a big part of the draw, to be able to come back to a story that has that simplicity and which is primarily aimed at children?
Chris Pine: Yeah. This film in particular was difficult because, first of all, doing voice work often-times actors make jokes about it, and it’s true, that there’s no hair and make-up and you’re wearing sweat-pants to work. And it is true. But it’s very difficult work. Being new to it, I have a really profound respect for people who do it because your palette is finite. It’s your voice. I remember listening to Alec [Baldwin]… even in the trailer, Alec did some beautiful work and he goes big and then he goes small and then he goes gruff and then he goes light and that’s… monitoring and modulating that is really tricky and it’s almost a musical score unto itself.

So, for me the great joy was working that muscle and I think too it was finding a way to make my voice useful in a musical score that had a lot of big voices. Alec’s voice is big, Hugh [Jackman]’s voice is big, and Isla [Fisher] is kind of chirpy and fun. So, a lot of it is finding your place in that composition and above and beyond the story I really liked the technical aspect. I found it very interesting.

Q. Did you get to see some of your co-stars then? A lot of animation is done alone…
Chris Pine: I thought it would be easier to get a chance to work opposite your fellow actors, so early on I asked if I could work with Alec, because he was in town for something or other. I got in the booth with him and he’s done it before and so he’s trying stuff and going back to the beginning of the scene and trying it again, and trying one word over and over again. And then you’re there trying to figure out: “Am I supposed to talk now?” Really, what he was showing and what I found out two years into the process, which is that your job is to give them as many different colours as possible and they pluck and pick and they have to… it’s much easier to be alone in a booth figuring it out on your own.

Q. Talking of the voices, you have an adult voice in a boy’s body. Were you aware of that?
Chris Pine: I only became aware of it when taking questions from you guys. I think it’s interesting that I never really thought about it. I guess in thinking about it now it makes sense to me that Jack is like melding the innocent boy with a really jaded, angry man that’s been around a long time and felt disenfranchised. There’s just an earnest, boyish quality to the language that Jack uses that I felt, and I feel, does the work for me. So, I think it works. I think it’s modulating that world. For instance, the kid that plays Jamie [Dakota Goyo] did a tremendous job. Oftentimes, again, I learned a lot just listening to the other voice actors and I learned a lot listening to the kids that I had to play opposite. Again, getting back to Guillermo, there’s a pure heart to it. You have to embrace the fun as much as possible.

Q. Is animation a good job to get because it means you can also work on other movies at the same time? Were you working on the Star Trek sequel at the same time?
Chris Pine: I think I’ve done three movies since I’ve been involved in this. Theatre is so much fun because you do theatre and you have a month of working it out on your own, and then a month of rehearsal, so by the time you get to stage I know where I’m failing and I know where I’m succeeding and your boundaries are pretty concrete. With film, oftentimes you work in a vacuum and then you get on a high wire and then you try it and then the day’s over and that piece of film exists somewhere in a vault for 1000,000 years and that’s it. This is like four years where I could go back in and back in and back in, and hear it, and talk about it and we could change it. So, by the time it comes out, it’s more like that theatrical feeling. I really feel like I got a good shot at all of it and really knowing where to change it and where to feel comfortable.

Q. When you are shut away, though, do you miss the camaraderie of a film set? On something like Star Trek, in particular, you’ve gone back to a group of actors you already know…
Chris Pine: It’s a whole different muscle technically speaking and it’s a whole different experience. I prefer working with other actors. This is a very solitary experience. You have your director and your producer and your engineer but it’s very self-reflective. You do it, you hear it and then you watch it maybe patched into some animation that they have and you go: “Well, that doesn’t really work.” It’s a solitary work.

Star Trek

Q. I read that you feel pressure going into the new Star Trek movie…
Chris Pine: Of course. It’s about a $250 million movie and a lot is riding on it to be a success. What helps the anxiety of all that is that you have JJ [Abrams], who is a great leader, and you have a really good team behind you. I really authentically like the people I work with. We’ve really grown to have a great affection for one another, so going to work tends to be fun. So, you deal with anxiety and you get there and it’s just a gig and you live in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment of the gig with people that you really like. So, it’s easy to kind of get good tunnel vision.

Q. It can’t just be a gig, though, because you’re playing one of the most iconic and much loved characters in science fiction… There can’t be anything better than to say: “I am Jim Kirk?”
Chris Pine: [Laughs] I didn’t know much about the series when I first got the role and I learned a lot about it doing it. It’s way easier… I think the way that I deal with it is that I never even think about it. If I were to think about that… but there are moments like I’m doing Jack Ryan now and we’re shooting on the Bond stage of this epic, epic set… it’s so beautiful. So, there are out of body moments where you just think: “This is all for Jack Ryan!” And I’m just another fucking actor… I was just very lucky. So, you have those moments where you look back and appreciate it but if I stay there too long, I’d be running out of the set.

Q. So, Jack Frost, Jack Ryan, Jim Kirk – you only do icons…
Chris Pine: [Laughs] I only do white blooded Protestants with very simple generic names! Yeah!

Q. But they’re all icons!
Chris Pine: I guess so. I don’t… I don’t tell my agent: “Icons only!”

Q. What would the young you have made of all of this?
Chris Pine: I don’t think he would have cared. As a kid, I didn’t really want to be an actor at all. I met Mickey Mantle when I was nine with my kid. And that, because I was a huge baseball fan, was huge! He’s like the George Best of baseball. So, that to me was tremendous. I remember going to sets when I was a kid and for my family it was a work-a-day kind of thing – there were really good years and there were really bad years. So, to answer your question I don’t think I would have thought anything of it, but now being in it I’m very aware that it doesn’t happen often and I have a great opportunity. But it’s really, really fun.

Q. So, would the dream gig for you being offered the role of Mickey Mantle?
Chris Pine: They’ve already done it, though…

Q. So?
Chris Pine: No, I guess… James Franco doing James Dean, for instance. I think that would have been terrifying. There’s almost so much pressure that it kind of dissipates because, like I said, you don’t live in that space of saying: “Holy shit! What am I going to do?” You just say: “Alright, we’re going to…” Look, we live in a world of the Internet where anyone can say anything, and they can say a lot of awful things, so you have to be like: “It’s water off a duck’s back.” I remember Denzel [Washington] saying that when I worked on Unstoppable. He just said: “It’s just water off a duck’s back. You just let it slide off…”

Q. Speaking of Unstoppable, what are your memories of Tony Scott?
Chris Pine: Oh, Tony was a lovely, lovely man. I didn’t really know him well other than working with him but it was beautiful listening to what people said after he had passed because I think we all shared a similar experience with him. Once you entered Tony’s world, you became a part of his family. And for all the kind of machismo of his films, Tony really at heart was like a lovely, gentle man. He was always concerned about what others thought and if he felt that he’d offended you… I remember one night after work we were going to talk about a scene and he couldn’t for whatever reason… so, he sent a note. It was always a hand-written note on Tony’s stationary and a bottle of his favourite wine… a really good wine. It was tragic. It really, really, really hurt me more than I expected it to.

Q. When you’re working on more than one movie, do you find it hard to really switch off and compartmentalise them?
Chris Pine: I find it very hard. I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis over here. It’s not method. But you’re just thinking about stuff a lot! Many different wheels are working at once… you’re thinking about that scene and how that’s going to work in that, so I even find it hard to read another script because in order to really read a script well I feel like you have to dedicate a lot of time to it.

Rise of the Guardians

Q. Did you get to do any improvisation with Jack Frost?
Chris Pine: I would say there was a fair bit of improvisation. To me, it was much more… my role wasn’t… it’s like the curse and the blessing of the straight man – the leading man. You don’t get to do the fun, big, punchy voice stuff; you have to be straight. It was very hard for me to kind of ground him, because I’m not a boy, to ground him in that earnestness. When he finally gets seen by the man in the moon, for instance… it’s an emotional point of feeling connection. I felt if we could really get those points then I was doing my job.

Q. Can I ask about working with Benedict Cumberbatch and what it was like to work with him on Star Trek? Can you give us an insight into his character?
Chris Pine: [Smiles] Obviously, I can’t. But there’s one scene in it… in all kind of heavy science fiction there’s got to be the exposition scene where it’s like ‘what the hell’s going on?’ Right? It’s a really, really, really hard scene… not for me, but for Benedict. And watching him handle that and to make something that I think, on paper, could have really been a death trap for an actor… I also knew that he did Frankenstein, although I never got a chance to see it, but his sense of body and voice is very… he has great command of his instrument, or whatever you want to call it, and he’s formidable as an actor and as a character in the story. He’s a great actor.

Q. Did working with your voice in this change your approach to live action because, in a way, you’ve honed a tool in your arsenal?
Chris Pine: I never thought about it that way but yeah… even Alec in The Hunt For Red October. I always remember the scene where he’s shaving and you can see him thinking. But Alec has that wonderful kind of deep, incisive voice. It is a part of what you project. Voices can become iconic. Clint Eastwood’s voice is iconic. John Wayne’s voice is iconic. Edward G Robinson… they are important elements.

Q. Did you compare notes with Alec about playing Jack Ryan?
Chris Pine: No. I ran into him once doing a voice-over for this and he just said: “Do it! Do that part!”

Q. The film obviously deals with the magic of Christmas, so what are your memories of Christmas as a child?
Chris Pine: I love Christmas. I didn’t grow up in a religious family but we were definitely a family that enjoyed ritual and one of our great rituals was Christmas. It had everything to do with when we got the tree, where we got the tree, what kind of tree we got. And we’d go out into the garage and get all the decorations… and they’d been passed down. We’d listen to certain albums. It’s my favourite part of the year and I look forward to all of it… the recipes that are passed down and why grandma’s mashed potatoes are better than grandpa’s… all that stuff that makes a family really.

Read our review of Rise of the Guardians

Read our interview with Isla Fisher