At the original Guitar Center store on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Chris Pratt, wearing ripped jeans and a gray hoodie, is planted on a stool, strumming a 1964 Gibson acoustic guitar. Pratt, 35, has been playing since he was 16, and he’s come here to upgrade to “the guitar that I will play for the next 50 years.” He’s torn as to whether to go the new or used route. A vintage, scuffed instrument has a certain hip appeal, but “guitars evolve with the sounds of the music that is played on them,” he says. “It’s like getting a house that’s haunted: The spirit of the previous player can be heard in the guitar.” An instrument previously owned by a rhythm player from the humid Bible Belt will sound different from the same one played by a rocker in dry L.A. You just never know what you’re going to get. “If I buy it new, 50 years from now, it’ll only be my ghosts in there,” he says.
The model he’s leaning toward is a Gibson J-200, a big-bodied cowboy classic favored by two of his musical heroes, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Unlike the dim wannabe rock star Andy Dwyer that Pratt plays on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, front man for the fictional band MouseRat and the man responsible for songs like “Sex Hair,” Pratt’s actual musical compass points country: George Strait, Eric Church. It makes sense: The guy has small-town roots. Born in an enclave of Minnesota near the Canadian border, he and his family moved to Alaska when he was 2. His father, a miner—first iron, then >gold—was always “chasing dreams,” as Pratt puts it. The family lived in 18 different homes by the time they settled down for good in Lake Stevens, WA, 35 miles outside of Seattle, where Pratt went to high school. Despite all the early moving around and his superstrict father, Pratt says he looks back on his childhood fondly.
After he messes around with a few chords, a friendly sales manager named Lucas, wearing a black trench and hoop earrings, comes over to see if Pratt needs any help, welcoming him to the store with a “nice to see you again.” Pratt is pretty sure the two have never met, but this happens to him a lot. People know his face, they’re just not sure how they know it. Though he’s had pivotal roles in some of the best movies of the last five years—Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty, Her—even people who have seen these films sometimes blank on that. It’s a testament to how deftly a dude known for broader comedy was able to slide right in, but also to the fact that the films were fronted by bigger names, like Brad Pitt and Joaquin Phoenix. That’s about to change. Pratt is at the center of two huge projects: this month’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a big-budget Marvel action-comedy in which he plays the lead, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), and a reboot of Jurassic Park, for which shooting is currently underway in Hawaii.
Still, for now, Pratt is able to fly under Lucas’ celebrity radar. This might be abetted by the fact that Chris Pratt doesn’t look like Chris Pratt, at least, not the Chris Pratt “As Seen on TV.” Today he is leaner, more muscular—even his face is chiseled. The new leading-man gig required a radical physical transformation. Or maybe radical physical reversion is more fitting.
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