Hit and Chris

The charismatic Star Trek star Chris Pine talks about his new film, Unstoppable, and the bold journey to stardom where only a chosen few have gone before

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Published: Wed 17 Nov 2010, 7:58 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:01 PM

Chris Pine had been working steadily as an actor, but pretty much under Hollywood’s radar, until Star Trek (2009). J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the celebrated science-fiction franchise beamed him to sudden stardom, and suddenly the pressure was on as he contemplated what to do next.

The right move would cement his stardom, the wrong one ... well, “one-hit wonder” never sounds good.

“A lot of the pressure I can take credit for myself,” Pine says, “because I’m a perfectionist by nature. I just want to do well. I guess maybe there were expectations about the sophomore effort and if indeed I was any good at what I do. But at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer in that everything works out as it should. And I thought that going into a project with Tony Scott, a director I’ve admired for years, and Denzel Washington, a two-time Academy Award winner and now a Tony winner, was a safer bet than not.”


That project would be Unstoppable, a drama set for release this month. The 30-year-old Pine plays Will, a rookie railroad conductor who must team with Frank (Washington), a veteran engineer, to save the day when the train they’re operating winds up on a collision course with an unmanned, runaway train that’s loaded with dangerous chemicals and hurtling toward a heavily populated city.

Writer Mark Bomback based the film loosely on actual events that occurred in 2001. However, speaking by telephone from a Los Angeles hotel, Pine reiterates that it was the Scott-Washington tandem, more than anything else, that convinced him to board Unstoppable.

“I loved the story and Mark created a great script,” he says, “but it was my passion to work with Denzel and Tony. But, to speak about the story, hopefully it’ll fill a niche that hasn’t been filled in a long time, because it doesn’t depend on capes and it doesn’t depend on CGI. This is a very practical, very classic Hollywood movie, in that the story basically a straight-up action movie about two guys facing the dangers of the world and will they be able to prevent a disaster?

“It’s also about middle-class America, or lower-middle-class America,” he adds. “It’s everyday, ordinary guys stuck in extraordinary circumstances, which I think is very compelling.”

When Pine mentions Washington, it’s with obvious awe. It’s no shock, then, to hear that the relationship between the two actors echoed the rookie-veteran bond between Will and Frank.

“Denzel’s been (acting) for 30 years,” Pine says. “I’ve been doing it a far less amount of time. I think, just by the nature of that, we could exploit and manipulate that relationship off camera to the ends that we wanted to meet on camera.

“That’s not to say that it was tenuous at all,” he says, “but, when it needed to be more tenuous and the tension more palpable, we could just ratchet it up.”

Washington and Scott had previously worked together four times, most recently on another train-centric film, The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009). The two men share a shorthand on set, one that could make it tough for a newcomer to join the party.

Pine admits to having occasionally felt like an outsider while shooting Unstoppable.

“Just by the nature of who these people were and the relationship that they walked on the set already having, I did in many ways feel that way,” the young actor says. “But it wasn’t because of any kind of energy that they were pushing my way. It was my own thing. If anything, they always made me feel like my voice was as equal and important as theirs, and they always made me feel heard and respected.”

Pine may not have Washington’s luminous CV, but he’s hardly a Hollywood newcomer. The son of two actors, Robert Pine and Gwynne Gilford, he has 20-plus credits under his belt, ranging from guest shots on ER (2003) and CSI: Miami (2003) to roles in such films as The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), Just My Luck (2006) and Bottle Shock (2008).


His universe changed radically in 2008, however, when director J.J. Abrams cast him as James T. Kirk in his Star Trek reboot. No one knew what to expect of the film – would it be a colossal flop, a modest hit or an international blockbuster? – and it went on to far exceed even the most optimistic critical and box-office expectations.

How did it do against Pine’s own expectations?

“You know, I never really thought about it,” the actor says. ‘”I know that sounds like a lie, but the only thing you can count on in this business, really, is the trust you have in the people around you. If you trust the people you’re with, you just kind of throw everything else up to the winds of fate. I respected everyone I shot that movie with, the people who were in charge, and J.J.’s vision, and I had such a good time making it that I think it was the first time in my career I never really worried about the end product.

“The best we could do was to succeed,” he continues, “and the worst was to fulfil everybody’s expectations of our failure, which seemed to be the word of the day before the movie came out. It was almost like a win-win.

“I made a lot of great friends, made a really fun movie, had a great time, and it was icing on the cake, almost, that it succeeded as well as it did.”

Next year Pine will return to the captain’s chair to shoot a second Star Trek adventure, which is aimed at a release date of June 29, 2012. In the meantime he’s filming This Means War, directed by McG and co-starring Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon.

“ I guess the tagline would be, ‘Two spies fall in love with the same girl, use their spy tactics to win her over and, in doing so, lose their friendship.’

Last year, while promoting Star Trek, Pine dodged questions about the prospect of becoming famous, saying, “I’m not there yet. Talk to me later.”

It’s later – and things have changed.

“It’s not like I woke up and it just got really different all in a day,” he says. “It’s a progression. It’s definitely has gotten stranger. It is weird to be out at a restaurant and look around and notice that people might be looking at you. I hope to maintain my anonymity for even a bit longer.”

Quick-fire round

When a runaway train carrying flammable materials races uncontrollably toward a community at high speeds, Chris Pine and Denzel Washington are the only ones who can stop it. Pine answers some quickies about Unstoppable

This is a fast-paced film and not the first about runaway trains. What is it about men and trains?

It’s not just trains, but moving parts and the complexity of a machine and how things work together to make it go. I remember liking cars at an early age and garbage trucks and clocks. It’s kinetic and it’s moving.

What kind of research did you do to nail the technical jargon and to physically handle the trains?

We studied a lot of audio tapes and video tapes. We went to a train yard and talked to engineers and conductors and people working there. We spent a day in the life of all those rail men. We shot the film on actual trains in actual yards, so we were around these guys all the time. If there were questions that arose at any time, we could easily talk to them.

The film is inspired by real events. Did you meet your own character?

Yes. I met Jesse Knowlton, the man whose life inspired my character, Will Coulson. He and his buddy Terry Forson, who was on train that day, came out to Los Angeles. I took them out. We had some drinks and talked about life and trains.

Did you do your own stunts?

A fair amount. The only time my stunt guy worked was when my character jumped from one moving vehicle to another.

As someone who is born and bred in Los Angeles, how was it to shoot the film in Ohio and Pennsylvania?

We shot in the winter last year in the rust belt. It’s a part of America that’s been hit really hard in the last 25 years by the loss of the steel industry. I had never seen that part of the country before. I saw a lot of poverty that I’d never seen before, but also a lot of wonderful, resilient people.

This is your first project since Star Trek, which came out nearly 18 months ago. Why wait so long?

I didn’t like anything. The beauty is that I had enough money stored away that I didn’t have to work. I did theatre instead. I did a play called Farragut North. It was a great role, it didn’t take up too much time and it fitted in perfectly with my life and my schedule.

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