Chris Pine catapulted from rising star to bona fide leading man with his performance as James T. Kirk in Star Trek (2009) and, following the blockbuster success of that first film in the rebooted franchise, the young actor faced a major decision: what to do for an encore. He chose Unstoppable, a heart-stopping thriller directed by Tony Scott and co-starring Denzel Washington. Pine and Washington play a newbie conductor and an experienced engineer, respectively, who race the clock to prevent a runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals from wiping out a Pennsylvania town. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Pine for an exclusive conversation in which he chatted up Unstoppable, which will open nationwide on November 12, discussed his Star Trek experience and contemplated Kirk’s future.
Audiences met your Kirk in the first Star Trek movie. As you move forward now and make the character your own, in what ways do you hope to see the character evolve?
Pine: I don’t know. I look forward to his development and bringing to light all his idiosyncrasies and thinking up new ways to surprise people with this character. I just trust Damon (Lindelof) and Bob (Orci) and Alex (Kurtzman) and J.J. (Abrams) and everybody behind it to create (another) good story, because they’ve already done it. I appreciate Kirk’s humor and I think that’s a legacy from Shatner’s Kirk, from the original and only Kirk, which I would love to bring into the future incarnation.
Zachary Quinto got his shot at working with Leonard Nimoy in the first film. What are your thoughts on having Shatner on board for the next film? Is it a great idea or too much of a stretch since they’d just done something similar with Nimoy?
Pine: It just isn’t, quite honestly, my decision to make. I think Mr. Shatner will forever be Captain Kirk. I think it would be, certainly, an interesting thing to bring him back. I don’t know if he necessarily wants to at this point or not. But it’s not my decision.
Shatner, on his website, has footage of the two of you meeting for the very first time. How did you enjoy that moment?
Pine: It was great. It was a very brief moment. It was at his charity event, so it had nothing to do with us meeting. It was more about raising money for his charity. But he was a lovely guy, really complimentary and very nice.
Let’s talk about Unstoppable. It is, in many ways, a two-hander between you and Denzel Washington. What impressed you most about him as an actor and as a man?
Pine: Well, he’s just an impressive kind of guy. He fits every part of the definition of a movie star. He’s handsome and charismatic and intelligent and sharp and quick and the whole deal. He’s a giving actor and gives you just as much off screen as he does on screen. And he’s got an ability to change it up all the time. So, on the written page a scene would look like one thing and then, in the hands of Denzel, who for the most part really drove the scenes that he and I were in, it becomes something else entirely – or it can. And that’s where the fun and excitement and the discoveries come from.
Having seen the movie, it’s obvious that Tony Scott cared as much about the characters as he did the action. On set, how did he go about doing that, especially when he was dealing with trains zipping by at 50 miles an hour?
Pine: That’s what makes this movie a great feat, in many ways. And it goes to show you Tony’s abilities with a movie like this, in this particular genre, which isn’t always known for good character work. He really paid attention to the complexities and the depths of these characters because he realizes – as J.J. does with Star Trek – that if you don’t care about the characters, it doesn’t matter how many trains you have exploding. So we all did a lot of work and spent a lot of time talking about who these guys were, where they came from, how they started the day. That let us, when we got to the action, know the emotional underpinning of who these guys were.
We’re sure a stuntman came in handy on this set, but considering all the close-ups, you must have done a lot of your own stunts. So, how much of it is you we’re seeing on screen, going from train to train?
Pine: The whole thing was pretty much me. Any time you see me jumping on or off a moving vehicle you can pretty much bet your ass it wasn’t me. But, for the most part, it was me. Strangely enough, it seems like there are more stunts in this movie than there actually were. I think maybe it’s because there’s a large train moving very fast, which makes it seem like everything is a stunt, when really, in fact, I only have about two stunts in it. And those were really fun. It’s like a roller coaster ride, a powerful moving vehicle. That just raises the stakes.
You’re shooting This Means War right now with McG directing and Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy joining you in front of the camera. Have you and Tom Hardy shared Star Trek stories yet?
Pine: You know, we haven’t, actually. We just talked about it briefly for the first time the other day. But, man, is he a hell of an actor. I don’t need to tell anyone this, but he’s going to be around for a long time. He’s already been around for a long time, but he’s going to explode. He’s just tremendous.
We keep hearing that you’re attached to Welcome to People, which (Star Trek co-writer) Alex Kurtzman scripted and with which he’ll make his directorial debut. What’s happening on that front?
Pine: It’s not a go yet, but it’s certainly something I’m interested in. I love Alex’s script. It’s just a beautiful script. It’s a story that should be told and I think people would really, really like it, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Both your mom and your dad are actors. What’s the best bit of advice one of them gave you that’s really come into play, especially now that things are really taking off for you?
Pine: My mom always said -- and it’s great note, I think – that there’s no asterisk or ticker tape on the bottom of the screen when a movie plays. If you’re having a bad day or a long day and you’ve got to be in love with a woman or, whatever the scene calls for, it’s best just to bring it. It’s best just to do your job as well as possible and not try to blame anything or anyone or be the victim of anything because no one cares. At the end of the day, it’s on celluloid, and there it is.