Pine had zero interest in acting in his early years, focusing instead on baseball. "I was really good at 12," he says. "I was a fucking stud." But he started to find himself outclassed as he got older, and he didn't deal well with failure on the field. "When I used to strike out," he says, "I would, like, smash the bat, get some kind of catharsis out of it. I'm much better now with that."
In hindsight, he admits, his path seems almost inevitable. He was essentially bred for it. His dad is the ubiquitous journeyman actor Robert Pine, who's been on pretty much every TV show ever made, from Bonanza to Curb Your Enthusiasm, and most famously played Sergeant Joe Getraer on CHiPs. Chris' mom, Gwynne Gilford, was an actress before she quit to become a psychotherapist and acting coach; her mother, Anne Gwynne, was a World War II pinup and a Universal contract player (she co-starred in the 1940 horror film 'Black Friday' with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff).
"You never encourage your children to attempt this business," Robert Pine said a few years back. "It can be just too painful and heartbreaking. But if they show a will, and will not be denied, you do a 180 and give them all the support and encouragement you can." Pine is tight with his parents, and his older sister, Katie, too – like their mother, an actor turned psychologist. "Gwynne and I take such delight in our kids' closeness," Robert has said. "They make each other laugh." On Chris' wrist is a silver bracelet Katie gave him. "It reminds me of my family," he says.
Chris is the third-generation product of a rarefied Hollywood gene pool. His looks have a test-tube precision, caveman eyebrows and aggressively jutting jaw balanced with delicate, almost feminine lips and those Sinatra eyes. It's hard, then, not to roll your eyes when he starts with the stories about a teenage ugly-duckling phase. He's aware that it's a horrendous cliché, that every crazy-hot actress says the same thing, but he swears it's true: He was skinny, bespectacled (he wears contacts now), and, more to the point, had truly horrendous skin.
And after baseball stardom faded, he wasn't left with much. "I was kind of a lost, shy kid in need of encouragement," he says. "Scared, pimply-faced, geeky, in huge coke-bottle glasses and a hat. A very sensitive kid. The last thing I would have ever imagined is I would be acting on film. Obviously, when I had horrible acne, I would naturally retreat. You don't want to look at the world and you don't want the world to look at you, and so when I was 15 or whatever, I got really into writing and books and studying."
Pine went to the nurturing, Quaker-influenced Oakwood School (Samuel L. Jackson's and Frank Zappa's kids are fellow alumni). "I can't imagine what it would have been like if I were in a public school," he says. "I would have probably gotten beaten. My school was very inclusive. There were no jocks; there weren't labeled groups of kids."
Several times in high school, he broke sufficiently free from his temporary shyness to get up and sing in front of his classmates at their Quaker-style assemblies – even doing "Let's Get It On" in falsetto. He loved performing, how it allowed his anxieties to slip away as he lived fully in the moment, but when he wasn't actually singing, he didn't think much about it.
When he got to Berkeley, he was terrified, looking for a place where he'd belong. For the English major, fraternities didn't seem like an option. "Fuck, no," he says. "They always just seemed, like, aggressive and violent and, like, beer. It was way not my temperament." So he started doing theater, where there were girls and validation and friendly oddballs. "I was looking for someone to be like, 'Oh! You're handsome; you're good,' and that felt fuckin' great. And theater kids, especially at Berkeley, are fuckin' weird . . . and I felt right at home."
After graduation, his dad hooked him up with casting directors, and he started nailing auditions. He soon found himself in 'The Princess Diaries 2,' and then played a similar hot-guy role in the fluffy Lindsay Lohan vehicle "Just My Luck," where the sight of a shirtless Pine so flusters Lohan that she dumps a whole bottle of detergent in a laundry machine. "I didn't give a shit," he says. "I was 24 and I was in New Orleans and making more money than I ever thought anybody deserved to have. And I was getting paid to learn to act basically."
He had trouble accepting how much his looks played into those early successes – and still claims to be unable to process it. "That's been the oddest part of this whole journey," he says, "and one that I take with a major grain of salt and smile and think, like, my God, this is pretty funny."
He describes life before 'Star Trek' as "pretty much work, work, work. I was just a very results-oriented kid." He spent a substantial amount of time in New York and L.A. doing theater, which he took to more naturally than film. He played the lead in a Los Angeles production of the typically brutal Neil LaBute play 'Fat Pig,' winning over the playwright himself – and impressing a Paramount exec in the audience, who happened to be looking for a Captain Kirk. "He just struck me as a guy who was serious," says LaBute. "It wasn't a guy who was looking over his shoulder thinking that this would get him the next job, like, 'I'll play this guy and then I'll get one of those tight-ass 'Star Trek' outfits.' People see a handsome, well-built kid and they go, 'Oh, he'd be good at this' or 'Oh, he's perfect to reboot that.' I think he's a really gifted actor who happens to have the looks and the physique to support these tentpole movies but has the smarts and the desire to do all kinds of things."
LaBute was almost simultaneously working with Pine's dad on an indie movie, Lakeview Terrace. "That was kind of an interesting back and forth, having both father and son around," he says. "I see his dad as the best kind of actor out there. One that takes his craft seriously and doesn't look at a one-episode arc as a character on a show, as just work. So I can see that seriousness of purpose in both people."
At that point, Pine was looking for deeper and darker roles, not a sci-fi thing with phasers. "It's like the ghost of James Dean was telling me, 'You must be brooding and complicated and be in really, um, artistically worthwhile films,' " he says, sipping wine. "My agent came to me and was like, 'What do you think about 'Star Trek'?' I was like, 'If anything, I want to take a break, reassess, figure my life out. The last thing I want to do is a fucking science-fiction film.' I was hoping for something dark, brutal; something where I'd cry a lot. And then I realized how much of a game changer it can be, and the meeting with J.J. [Abrams] was so fun."
It's hard not to wonder: Did Pine pursue 'Star Trek' – and Jack Ryan – because he knows his dad never quite got these star-making opportunities?
He shakes his head, furrows the eyebrows. He doesn't need to pause before this answer. "I just don't think of my father that way," he says. "This is a really hard business; I've been incredibly lucky. Incredibly lucky. And my father never made a 'Star Trek,' but he's been a successful actor for 50 years, put two children through private school and college, and has worked in every medium of our business. So I view my father as a great success, as a superstar. Because in many ways it's much harder than when you get to sit where I am, where as long as you don't completely fuck up, the door will stay open. I think what my father has done has been much, much, much harder."