One Cool Captain: Chris Pine on ‘Star Trek,’ His Badass Clubbell Workout, and How He’s ‘Basically Still 15’

Chris Pine 2016 Men's Fitness cover story
Ben Watts


Editor’s note: This cover story appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Men’s Fitness.  

YOU’VE NEVER DONE A WORKOUT LIKE CHRIS PINE’S.

Well, unless you’d describe your own routine as a martial-arts sequence from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon crossed with a big-league cleanup hitter’s on-deck routine, with a few moves from The Nutcracker thrown in for good measure.

It turns out that Pine—yes, Captain Kirk in the smash-hit Star Trek films, a fit, sharp-jawed leading man if ever there was one—maintains his physique not by hitting the weights like every other ripped big-name actor in Hollywood, but by swinging “clubbells,” giant, heavy, metal bats. It’s a workout so throwback that his trainer, Mark Wildman, describes it as “Cain kills Abel.”

“These movements,” Wildman says, pausing to hoist a clubbell that looks like a kid’s Fisher-Price bat—only made of steel—“are why woolly mammoths went extinct.”

It’s a Friday morning in Glendale, CA, and I’ve joined Pine at Wildman’s studio, a brightly lit space with exercise mats and floor-to-ceiling windows, where we swing clubbells with varying degrees of success. In fitness terms, the workout’s closest analogue is a kettlebell session—you grip a weight and perform lunges, squats, presses, and lifts; but with clubbells there’s a greater emphasis on grace and flow. Only I’m not so graceful, and more than once I pound my club into the wall by accident.

Pine, meanwhile, looks firmly at ease wielding his giant Bamm-Bamm weapons, and drives them elegantly through some invisible strike zone (or, if you’d prefer, mastodon’s skull) with crushing power, all the while managing to keep himself perfectly balanced. “Before this,” he says, “I was doing pretty traditional weightlifting. It was so static, so controlled. You know, bench presses…it was so stiff. I started getting into this idea of movement and it led me to Mark, whose philosophy is about moving the body in different directions. This is more functional.”

Unlike most actors in Hollywood, Pine’s goal isn’t to build enormous muscle. Rather, he says, he wants “contiguous muscles, more natural.”

It shows. He’s tall—6’1″—with a lean, muscular, ectomorphic physique he attributes to this exact routine. “With this workout, all of a sudden you start to float more,” he says. “Even my friends used to make fun of the way I walked. I was walking in this rigid way, and it had a lot to do with having been an insecure kid trying to move protectively. Now, my body is moving in a more healthful way. It’s because of Mark’s process.”

Workout aside, it’s obvious there’s something different about Chris Pine. He’s staggeringly un-dickish, and he carries himself with a level of humility that, in this town, makes him about as off-the-beaten-path as they come.

Before I can ask about his childhood, our 50 minutes of bashing Abel are up. Pine takes a swig of water from one of the empty bourbon bottles that Wildman keeps around, and we head for the exit. Tonight Pine needs to catch a plane for Cannes, where he’s premiering his new western, Hell or High Water, co-starring Jeff Bridges. But before that, the man now known for commanding the most famous starship in the world needs to refuel.

Chris Pine in the July/August issue of Men's Fitness. Photo by Ben Watts

A FEW MINUTES LATER, PINE, IN A VINTAGE 1969 911T Porsche, winds through San Fernando Valley traffic, flying up Glendale Boulevard, slipping into the narrow pocket between an Escalade and a minivan, popping the transmission into second, then heading for daylight as I, the pursuer, in a newer, much-less-cool but theoretically faster Porsche 911S, am stuck idling in traffic. I watch him go. A beautiful blur.

It’s one of those Valley days where getting anywhere seems frickin’ impossible, and traveling from Wildman’s studio to our destination, a taqueria in the Valley, requires some “Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise” kind of piloting: In order to go south, you have to drive north a couple of miles and make an illegal U-turn against dense, angry traffic. Then—if you have Pine’s cojones and car—you wind through the streets in warp drive till you get there.

Of course, he arrives well before I do, and slides into a prime spot on the sidewalk. He’s still in his workout gear, but has added a Dodger cap, aviator shades, a Miami Vice T-shirt—fitting, given his Don Johnson-esque stubble. Though we sit on plastic chairs in full view of passersby, I can’t help but notice that no one seems to recognize him, the man famous for bringing the Starship Enterprise into the 21st century with 2009’s blockbuster Star Trek, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and this summer’s Star Trek Beyond, as well as a string of underrated comedies (This Means War; Horrible Bosses 2) and plenty of excellent action films (Unstoppable, 2010; Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 2014). In fact, for a megastar, Pine is remarkably low key: Aside from the usual dating news item (in the past he’s been linked to starlets Zoe Kravitz and Vail Bloom), you won’t find TMZ camped out near his home, you haven’t seen him entering rehab, and you don’t even see paparazzi photos of him walking with a cup of Starbucks. “I’m not hounded, which is great,” he says, as he notices gawkers admiring his car. “Sometimes people think they know me, but they’re not sure why.” As he tears into a chicken burrito done enchilada style, green salsa and cheese all over it—and I do mean tear, with bare hands and dirty fingers, shreds of tortilla and cheese falling to his shirt as he eats (“Jesus Christ, I don’t know how to eat this thing”)—he explains how all of this, the fast cars, the mega-budget franchise pictures, is all his second choice career, his fallback position.

Like so many American males, if Pine could have been what he wanted to be when he was a boy, he’d now be a baseball player.

An avid little league and high school infielder who grew up not far from here in North Hollywood, Pine says his first love was our national pastime. Until puberty, he was a good fielder and hitter, and could hold his own. But when he had to face pitchers with facial hair and adult musculature, and fastballs went from friendly low-70s to nasty low-80s, he found himself moving down the batting order until he was hitting eighth for the Oakwood School Gorillas, a tiny liberal arts high school—not exactly a sports powerhouse. No wonder he’s not a dick. “To say I was hitting .200 would have been generous,” he says. “If we’d had any better players in our school, I would have been cut. But I loved playing.”

The game also brought him closer to his father, Robert Pine, a lifelong actor who’s been working steadily in Hollywood since the early ’60s, and who coached Chris as a boy. (His mother, Gwynne Gilford, has enjoyed a similarly durable career as an actress.)

Then puberty came along, with those nasty fastballs but also a horrible case of cystic acne—the angry, red, suppurating kind—that was “emotionally devastating and debilitating,” he says. “There’s no way to hide your face from the world. It’s not really talked about, how emotionally crippling that is.”

Suddenly, Pine went from this happy-go-lucky jockish kid to a boy who was literally too ashamed to be seen. “It’s still a defining part of who I am,” he says.

I processed that ‘Star Trek’ was a big fucking deal, but a ‘Top Gun’ remake would have weighed heavier on me.”

AT FIRST, COLLEGE WASN’T SO DIFFERENT. AT THE UNIVERSITY of California at Berkeley, after rocking 5s in AP Spanish and AP English, Pine still felt totally isolated. “I was terrified and lonely. I had no game with women. None. Puberty destroyed that, and that pretty much defined my game with women my entire 20s.”

His roommate was Wei-jong, a Chinese-American chemistry major. And then there was the kid across the hall, Darryl, a Japanese-American organic chemistry major. “He was a huge stoner. And he could write A papers stoned. I was so jealous of him.” What he was most jealous of, however, was how kids like Wei-jong and Darryl had friends; they were part of something, even if it was just the chemistry department.

Chris Pine 2016 Men's Fitness cover story
Ben Watts

Pine longed to be part of a team. “I was so tired of being alone,” he says. But baseball was out, he explains, “and I’m not a frat guy. I never gelled with those alpha guys.” At that point, he was just looking for something, anything, to do. “It could have been the fucking chess club, as long as there were people that liked me. I mean, the organic chemistry people weren’t going to take me in, but how about the ping-pong club? I needed a place to go.” An acquaintance who was, according to Pine, “heavily into the cigarette-smoking, Nietzsche-reading theater mafia, told me I should audition for a play, a very small Irish play called Talbot’s Box. I ended up playing a ton of roles.” And sure, he liked acting. But mainly, he says, “I had somewhere to go on Friday nights.”
Oh, and his acne began to clear up. Suddenly, everything began to change for the better. “The way I recall it, there was no epiphanic moment when I realized I’m an actor. People told me I was good at it, they told me I was handsome, and that felt really good. After feeling so insecure about that stuff, I felt validated.”

After graduation he moved to Hollywood and worked as a waiter while auditioning. First came a few TV parts, small roles in The Princess Diaries 2 and Smoking Aces in 2009, but then director J.J. Abrams wanted him for his Star Trek reboot. Amazingly, Pine was indifferent to the offer initially, wanting instead to do a smaller film, White Jazz, that George Clooney was attached to. It was never made. “On paper, it seemed like the arty movie to do, the harder character, but after reflecting on it, it just wasn’t,” he says.

Pine had never been a Star Trek fan, was uninterested in the huge displacement the space odyssey created in pop culture, and, frankly, took the meeting just to meet Abrams. “I didn’t bring anything to Star Trek beyond a desire to…I really don’t know. Yeah, of course I processed that it was a big fucking deal, but if it had been a Top Gun remake, that would have weighed heavier on my shoulders. I just wasn’t a Star Trek kid. It was only meaningful to me in that I knew it was meaningful to the world.”

But he was perfectly cast, and Pine’s James T. Kirk is immaculately updated for our time, a sleeker version of William Shatner’s original seafaring space cowboy, who leads from his far-better-sculpted gut. Pine loves the role because of Kirk’s simple, blunt power and his swaggering, charismatic wink—the opposite in many ways to Pine’s own tortured second-guessing about himself. “There’s a transparency to Kirk,” Pine says. “There’s nothing to hide behind—there are no great words, no quirks, no accents. It’s just your face reacting to shit, what you bring in front of the camera. You’re just this weird amalgam of you and the character, and that’s really hard to do, and not that many people can do it well. Those are movie star roles.

“So it may not be Chekhov,” he continues (referring, we assume, to the late-19th-century Russian dramatist, not the similarly named Starship Enterprise crew member), then polishes off the last of his burrito and sips from a huge tub of Coca-Cola. “But it’s an art, and a craft, and I think it involves way more transparency of the soul than people give it credit for.”

Chris Pine
Ben Watts

IN HIS NEXT MAJOR ROLE, PINE IS WADING INTO THE ULTRA-popular comic-book universe—but not as a superhero. Instead, he’s totally content to play the very human love interest to Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, next year in her standalone movie. Before I can ask him about how he feels ceding alpha role to Gadot, he points out that Hollywood is brimming with ultraripped superheroes who’ve come to dominate at the box office. And, he says, it doesn’t need any more. Also, he doesn’t have any interest in getting huge to keep up.

“You’ve got Thor, you’ve got Captain America. These guys are eating 5,000, 7,000 calories, waking up just to eat food, eating 15 meals a day. For your liver, I don’t think that’s healthy.”

That doesn’t mean Pine isn’t hugely fit. He’s coming off a year of six workouts a week, and six months keeping lean with protein and low carbs while filming Wonder Woman. So, at the moment, he says, he intends to eat what he wants. And if that means he never gets to wear a mask, cape, and tights, then he’s fine with that.

“I’m basically still 15,” he explains. “I don’t think of myself as the guy who’s in the Armani ads.” (He’s the face of Armani Code.) “I’m not the captain of the football team, I’m the kid who was made fun of. That insecurity still runs incredibly deep.”

Later, when he’s done brushing burrito bits off his shirt, he crosses the street in front of the taco stand and pops the rear hood of his Porsche 911T. This is all the car he needs, he says. It’s just 110 horsepower, and he drives it every day. “Everyone wants, like, bigger, faster—but where are you going to drive it? On a fucking racetrack?”

He says he came to an insight a few years ago, when he was 30 and moved into his house in Los Feliz, a spread he describes as a combination of Errol Flynn’s hunting lodge and Steve McQueen’s Palm Springs desert house. “I realized after Star Trek that I’d achieved a lot, I was financially independent; but something about my way of going about life wasn’t satisfying me. So I made a decision that my main objective is to be happier, as opposed to more successful. That’s what I want.”

When I ask Pine what’s been his happiest time so far, he says, “I’ve never had more fun in my life than playing baseball when I was 14 or 15. It’s the ritual, the smell of the grass, the feel of the dirt, the sounds of it—the whole of it. That’s the happiest I ever was, totally in the moment.

“That’s the feeling I have to get back to.”

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