There he is, a 33-year-old movie star, improbably handsome, out drinking with friends on a drizzly autumn Saturday in London, chatting up girls, getting a little buzzed, letting loose – an indulgence he's just recently begun to allow himself. Chris Pine has a week's worth of stubble going and a gray knit cap pulled low over his dirty-blond hair, but inevitably, he keeps getting recognized.
Well, sort of.
One of Pine's pals is wearing sneakers, so they're having trouble getting into a club. They're stuck waiting in the rain when the hostess spots Pine and waves them through. He thanks her, and she offers a fame-besotted smile. "Don't worry," she says, gazing into familiar pale-blue eyes. "I loved you in 'The Hangover.' " Bradley Cooper – in her club!
Then there's the guy who tells Pine how totally psyched he is to be at the same bar as Chris Hemsworth – Thor himself. And yet another dude, who asks Pine what movies he's been in – Pine lies, tells him, 'Captain America.' "Oh, my God, yes!" the dude says, thrilled to be meeting Chris Evans.
Worst of all, there's the pretty young British woman. "I'm going to guess you're an actor," she says. "You're American, you're here on business. . . . "
"That's an incredibly on-the-nose guess," Pine replies.
They chat, and it seems to be going OK, until she starts apologizing: "I'm so sorry," she says. "I don't know who you are."
"Sweetheart, it is totally cool," he says, thinking, "and I have no idea who the fuck you are." But she keeps doing it, until he loses patience: "If you apologize one more time, I'm going to have to leave this conversation."
"I'm sorry," she blurts, for the fifth time. Pine walks away.
"I clearly haven't made a good enough impression on people," Pine says the next day, laughing. "My go-to line when it's the résumé game is that I'm either Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds."
To clear up any confusion: Pine is the guy who plays a young Captain James T. Kirk in the new 'Star Trek' movies, the one who's about to take on the late Tom Clancy's CIA-analyst hero in January's 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.' He held his own against Denzel Washington in the runaway-train flick 'Unstoppable,' started his movie career as a tween eye-candy prince opposite Anne Hathaway in 'The Princess Diaries 2.' He's been in London since August shooting 'Into the Woods,' a film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical fairy tale, in which he plays another prince, this time the one who gets with Cinderella.
There are so many of them now, these blue-eyed, blond-haired, movie-star Chrisses and Ryans, each more jacked and CGI-perfect than the next, and Pine is uncomfortable with what he sees as an unhealthy homogeneity. "The mass audience doesn't want to see you if you aren't perfect," he says, leaning against a brick wall in Tinello, a posh Italian restaurant dark enough to cast unnecessarily flattering shadows on his cheekbones. "If you don't look a certain way, if you don't have big pecs and great skin and the perfect eyes. And it's unfortunate, because kids are growing up with body image dysmorphia because not everyone is represented on the screen.
"I get it," he adds, sitting there in a gray T-shirt, loose at the neck, with his own big pecs and great skin and perfect eyes. "For me to talk shit on it? I'm one of the guys!"
He's too smart, too polite to actually say it, but it's pretty clear that Pine wants to be the best, the deepest, the most lasting of the Chrisses, if not of his whole generation of leading men. "There's certainly the ego-based me that is very competitive," he says. Pine is playing a long game, honing his craft and his deltoids, doing theater in his spare time, making savvy, diverse film choices – the Sondheim musical, an obnoxious boss's son in 'Horrible Bosses 2,' a character part as a ZZ Top bearded billionaire in the comedy 'Stretch.'
In Hollywood's new audience-tested, foreign-market-pandering reality, proven franchises – brand names – have become more important than the actors in them: That's why 'Star Trek' director J.J. Abrams was able to cast an all-but-unknown Pine as Kirk in the first place. But now that the two Treks have made a combined $850 million worldwide, Pine is a certified leading man, with looks, acting chops, physical grace, and bankability that make him a solid choice to anchor pretty much any movie that needs a fit, square-jawed white guy at its core. He's hoping the franchises will be a safety net that will allow him to experiment. "The nice thing about 'Star Trek' and, God willing, Jack, is I can always kind of hop back and do that thing," he says. "But the past couple years for me were just trying to really figure out what I want to do."
Pondering it all, he can't help yearning for a different era of film. "Look at the movies of the sixties and seventies. They were making a different kind of movie then. Would 'Network' ever be made now? No. Would 'Kramer vs. Kramer' ever be made now? No. Would 'Tootsie' ever be made now? Probably not. Robert Altman films? Never.
"I'm not saying that the action/science-fiction genre is bad in itself," he clarifies. "I make those films. I'm just saying that the studios have put all their cards on black."
Again, he's part of the problem, and he doesn't offer a solution. Even if he never saw himself as a franchise guy, he's now holding down two of them. "It definitely wasn't what I had signed up for," he says, plunging his fork into a plate of burrata cheese ("Holy fucking wow! I love this"). "It just kind of seemed to be where my life took me. If I would have planned it, I would have had what Gosling has, that kind of art-house career."
On some level, the I-just-fell-into-this talk doesn't ring true. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he was a driven, compulsively well-behaved kid, a "golden boy" who thought he had to be perfect, who always did all his homework, even if an actual goal for all his striving remained elusive. His expectations for himself were high, and only got higher in adulthood. He's a cautious man, a thinking man, more Spock than Kirk, really: Ask a simple question about his life or career, and you may well get a full minute of silence as he agonizes over the answer like Hamlet hitting Final Jeopardy, eyes drifting as mental gears turn. (He says that one of the keys to film acting – especially the kind that involves shooting guns – is letting the audience see you think. Clearly, he's got that part down.) He'll order a lovely $455 Tuscan red ("Sometimes it's worth it," he says, though he's not paying) and take down half of it with his pappardelle with wild-boar ragout but fail to loosen up.
"I'm surprised how hard on himself he is," says Abrams. "It was remarkable how often he would do something well and then for some reason be furious at himself that he hadn't done it better. He gives himself so much grief when something doesn't hit as he wants it to – as if we can't just go and do another take."