I’M SITTING WITH Chris Pratt at one of the outdoor tables of a bakery on the edge of Beverly Hills when a black Cadillac comes to a screeching halt on the opposite side of the street. The driver rolls down his tinted window, flashes a smile of recognition and says, “Chris! God bless you, bro! You’re a good person.” And just drives off.
Not your normal fan encounter, even for Hollywood. Then again, Pratt isn’t your normal movie star. An American baseball manager once quipped that “nice guys finish last” – a quote since applied to many different walks of life, including showbiz. Pratt is living proof that the opposite can also be true. In a business where backstabbing and boorish behaviour is par for the course, Pratt has scrambled to the top by being a nice guy who everyone wants to work with rather than a jerk they’re willing to tolerate.
He’s not your normal Hollywood interview either. He’s smack dab on time at the bakery, rolling up by himself rather than with an entourage or driver. The questions flow both ways – Pratt seems just as curious about me as I am about him. And rather than rushing off when the interview concludes, he invites me to stick around for lunch. It’s a cliché to say, but he really does flaunt boyish enthusiasm, as well as genuine gratitude for the success he has achieved thus far and a refreshingly humble attitude about the huge roles ahead.
After years of labouring in the shadows – and paying his dues in marginal movies – Pratt is on the verge of mega-stardom as the lead in the upcoming blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. The latest superhero epic from Marvel Comics, Guardians is slated to make its worldwide debut in August. The fourth in Stephen Spielberg’s much-adored dinosaur series, Jurassic shoots this summer on location in Hawaii with global release next year.
Pratt first gained traction as deeply conflicted teenager Bright Abbott in the American TV drama Everwood (2002-2006). After a brief stint on The O.C., he snagged a recurring role as the blundering but beloved slacker Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. At that point he could have settled for a financially rewarding but humdrum career in TV. Not quite satisfied with that fate, Pratt kept pushing the boundaries of his acting ability. His breakthrough came in 2011 with Moneyball, an acclaimed (and Academy Award-nominated) sports flick in which Pratt stars alongside Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. A year later, he drew rave reviews for his turn as a US Navy Seal hunting Osama bin Laden in another Oscar darling, the action drama Zero Dark Thirty.
And the ride is set to continue: Pratt reportedly inked a multi-movie deal with Marvel to appear in three more superhero films, plus cameos in others. Parks and Recreation was recently picked up for a seventh season. And he’s earning gigs in other mediums – playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Kinect Star Wars video game and Emmet Brickowski in the Lego Movie video game.
Somewhere along the way he managed to meet, fall head over heels for, and eventually marry Anna Faris, the comedic actor who made a name for herself in the Scary Movie franchise, Lost in Translation, and a new U.S. sitcom called Mom. Their son Jack was born in 2012.
Does it feel like you’re riding the crest of a huge wave?
I don’t know. I’ve been lucky. It’s been almost 15 years that I’ve been on the crest of a very exciting wave. The volume has been turned up to 10 for like a decade now. My family’s expectations were very low, I think. None of us were from Hollywood and if I booked a Carl’s Jr. commercial they were like, “Holy Shit! That’s so cool.” They’ve been very enthusiastic about each little step I’ve taken to get to this point. If you’d have thrown me head-first into this when I was 21 years old I wouldn’t have been able to cope. Every small step and accomplishment along the way has led me to a place where I can still actually focus and be pretty level headed.
So you’re not freaked out about having to carry a $200-million movie?
Actually two in a row – $300 million each. Maybe even half a billion dollars. I guess not really. That’s being really honest. Look, if it was like an original idea of mine, that I’d written the script and said, “Hey, I need to make this movie for, you know, nine figures,” I would be like, “Oh my God! This has got to work.” But Marvel has got great properties, Jurassic Park is a great property. I don’t feel like I’m flying the plane, it’s like I’m a passenger, first class.
Tell me a little about Peter Quill and Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’s an epic space story that takes place in the far reaches of the galaxy. The first incarnations of the comic book were out in the ’70s and there have been a lot of themes as regards the galaxy. This one, from what I understand, is based mainly on the version created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning [in 2008] which included the characters Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Drax the Destroyer. It’s a space adventure with a ragtag squad coming together for a greater good, but also a bit of a heist, prisonbreak movie. I can’t really think of anything like that that I’ve seen, and it’s going to be cutting edge.
There are a lot of really good people in this movie with you – Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, Glenn Close, John C Reilly. Really great co-stars.
It’s a testament to Marvel and the company they keep that so many great actors are willing to come in and work on one of these movies. The central-core cast is really great and also the supporting cast. They cast a wide net and fit each role perfectly. But that’s what happens with Marvel, just like in the comic books, the way they weave their stories.
How did you get involved in the movie?
It was this weird kismet thing because at the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next. Most of the recognition I’d get from fans on the streets would come from Parks and Recreation, and the majority of people saw me as a character actor, more bumbling, a bit of an idiot. You know, comedy first. But on my hiatuses from the TV show, I’ve been able to do supporting roles in dramatic things which were a lot different from Parks and Recreation. So I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next. But having done Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball, these two movies in which I changed myself physically, I knew that opportunities were opening up to work with great film-makers and actually do great movies.
The first time I heard about Guardians of the Galaxy I didn’t think I was right for the role. I was operating a little bit out of defence, because I was certain that if I went in and auditioned, they would tell me I was too fat to get the role. So much of what you do in a Marvel movie is just prop work with your body.
So you blew the whole thing off at first?
I wasn’t very interested and [director] James Gunn wasn’t interested in me. I hadn’t seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, so I didn’t know what that movie was going to be like and how my image as an actor was going to change because of that movie. Then I saw Zero Dark Thirty and I was like, “Wow!” There were some legitimate action-star moments and for the first time I started to think that I could be an action hero. Which was crazy – and the most proud I’ve ever felt.
I love action, but I told my manager that if I was going to do action, I wanted to bring something new. I want to bring some comedy to the role. Not funny one-liners. And not an unlikely hero – the guy punches another guy and hurts his hand because he’s such a weakling. But genuinely funny. I told my manager we should think about properties like that or potentially write something ourselves, create our own action comedy. And she said, “What about Guardians of the Galaxy? It’s kind of like that.” I knew the property but I didn’t know about the character and I didn’t know which of these several incarnations of this character it would be. I just knew it was set in space. So I thought maybe it’s worth auditioning. That’s the very long version of how it first came about.
And then you landed an even bigger role in Jurassic World.
Colin Trevorrow directed a film called Safety Not Guaranteed starring Aubrey Plaza, who plays my TV wife. So he was on my radar and I was on his radar. I loved the original movies and then I heard they were making Jurassic World and they want to meet me and I was like “Great! Let’s go talk about this.” There was no script – all of this stuff is so under lock and key nowadays. I just sat down with Colin and about 10 minutes into it I was like, “I am going to do this movie!”
We’re shooting in Hawaii and I leave in about a week. My wife and baby are going to come with me. Which is great because I spent the whole Guardians of Galaxy shoot away from them – about six months in London, which was tough.
Hawaii is where your movie career actually started.
Yeah, it will be exactly 14 years to the day since I moved away from Hawaii that I’m going back to there to make this film. My Mom thought I was playing a prank on her. I called her and left a message: “Mom, I’m going to LA to be in a movie. I met this director and she’s cast me in this movie. Call me back. I didn’t have a phone at the time I had to leave messages and someone would call my friend. I didn’t even have a house. I lived in a car. I lived in a van.
So the story is true: you were waiting tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Hawaii and Rae Dawn Chong offered you a job? Did you think she was serious?
She just said, “You’re cute. Do you act?” I was like, “Fuck yeah, put me in a movie.”
Had you done any acting before that?
I’d done maybe three plays since high school and several plays growing up. I did theatre in community college. I did a theatre class and I did a guitar class. And I did stand-up comedy. I always wanted to be an actor, but I had zero avenues to get in.
When was the last time you did stand-up?
About eight or nine years ago. I did some open-mike nights in LA. If I hadn’t started booking work, I’m sure I’d have pursued it more.
What’s the earliest you remember performing in front of people?
I won outstanding actor as a sixth grader for my role as the villain in an original one-act melodrama. But my brother was the first in our family to do a play. He was in second grade and I was either in kindergarten or hadn’t started school. I saw him perform as Bo Bear in this Christmas special, during the time we lived in Alaska, and I remember my mom crying watching him perform. He brought down the house, he was so good. I remember thinking the coolest thing you could do is get on stage and perform. So every time a play would come up, I’d audition for it.
Basically everything my brother did I wanted to do. He was like my idol. He’s my inspiration. I was the head of our leadership class and the leadership class was in charge of all our assemblies, and with my brother we’d perform these song-and-dance numbers, like “Grease” or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or sketches we ripped off from Jim Carrey or Saturday Night Live. Jim Carrey was my hero growing up. I spent at least a year of my life pretending to be Jim Carrey.
You were also a pretty good athlete.
Athletics was the biggest part of my upbringing. I played football, baseball, wrestling and track. I did shot put. I thought I’d go to college for football. But then I just got into throws and my football coach was the throwing coach, and I got really good at shot put.
But you somehow got diverted to Hawaii?
Yeah, Reality struck when I had to pay bills. I didn’t have money for college, so I became a door-to-door salesman for two years, selling oil change certificates in Washington State. It was one of these schemes that if you worked really hard, one day you could open your own office. And I worked really hard and opened my own office in Colorado when I was about 19. Took that on for about six or seven months and then just lost my ass. My mom had to fly me home. Nonetheless, I learned skills about rejection and it trained me for this destiny I had, to come to Hollywood. One of my best friends had been living in Hawaii since high school. He heard that I’d moved back to my hometown. He bought me a one-way ticket to Hawaii and said, “Come hang out on the beach with us.” And so I did. I met Rae Dawn Chong a year later and came to Hollywood.
That movie more or less crashed and burned. But then you got your big break on Everwood.
I’m very proud of it. There was really good acting and great people. It was a very good example of a melodrama and a story that commits really hard to emotional relationships. On the surface, if you broad stroked it, it could sound cheesy. And with the wrong execution, it could have been cheesy. But because the acting, all of the writing, was all very earnest I think it worked. You had these young kids dealing with their parents, but you also had these parents dealing with their kids. Depending on who you are, you can essentially see the point of view of either.
How close was growing up in real-life Lake Stevens, Washington to growing up in the fictional town in Everwood?
Not too dissimilar. They’re both small towns. I played a character [Bright Abbott] who had money, though. His dad was a doctor, his mom was the mayor. There were kids like Abbott where I grew up, but I wasn’t one of them. But they weren’t too dissimilar. Small town, family oriented.
Your wife grew up in a similar town not far away from Lake Stevens. How did you first meet Anna?
We met at a table read for a movie we were doing together called Take Me Home Tonight. Actually I first “met” her watching Scary Movie. I was a huge fan of the Wayans Brothers and I loved In Living Color. So when Scary Movie came out, I was a big fan. That’s how I first became aware of Anna.
Did you have the hots for her then?
I thought she was really funny, which is rare for beautiful women. But it wasn’t until I met her that I got the hots for her. It’s funny, because when I booked the movie, I immediately Googled her. I knew her face from Scary Movie, but I didn’t know what her name was. So it was like, “Oh my God! It’s that girl.” Then I found out she was from Edmonds, Washington, which is 20 minutes from where I grew up. And so the day of the table read, I wore a Seattle Seahawks shirt. And she said, “Why are you wearing a Seahawks shirt? Are you a fan?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m from Seattle.” Totally faked it. I ended up telling her after we’d been married a couple of years and she said, “You tricked me?” We did the movie together, then became friends and then over time fell in love.
How did you end up getting married in Bali?
Our friends had a really magical wedding there and everyone else went home and we extended our trip by a couple of weeks and we thought maybe we should just do it here. It wasn’t completely spontaneous, because we’d been engaged for a long time. But that’s how it happened. It was at the Four Seasons in Ubud. It was really romantic. Just the two of us. Just what we wanted to do. They gave us a beautiful service and a local Hindu priest did a really amazing ceremony.
I hear you have a “Buddha room” in your house.
We had a Buddhist fountain. We don’t really have a Buddha room. But we do have an elk room, with a big elk hung up over the fireplace.
Just the head?
Yeah, just the head, not the whole body. Our taxidermy room. My wife likes to collect weird things and hide them. Little birds, cats, whatever strikes her fancy. We also have little Buddhas around the house. We like clutter, but in a good way. We were just talking about getting someone to help us organise. We’re both kind of hoarders, but she’s a little worse than me.
Time for an intervention?
No. Not quite yet. It’s neat stuff.
PHOTOGRAPHY BLEACHER+EVERARD AT UNALI ARTISTS
STYLING ERIN MCSHERRY AT UNALI ARTISTS
GROOMING LAUREN HILL AT ABTP.COM