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Chris Pratt: a new species of leading man

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In the space of just two films, Chris Pratt has become the template for the postmodern action hero. ShortList’s Andrew Lowry meets Hollywood’s hottest leading man

Chris Pratt was almost Captain Kirk. At least, he wanted to be. He auditioned for it, just as he auditioned for the lead in Avatar, but it wasn’t to be. He was told he didn’t have “it”; that he was lacking in star quality. Someone clearly f*cked up. 

And not because the actors who played the roles weren’t good in them. But because if there’s a breakthrough actor working in Hollywood today who embodies charismatic star quality, it’s Chris Pratt.

First coming to (some of) the world’s attention in sitcom Parks And Recreation as Andy Dwyer, a lovable buffoon with the mind of a child and the body of a WWE star gone to seed. First intended as a one-season wonder, Pratt’s likability saw him retained for the entirety of the show’s seven-year run. His comedy skills caught the attention of Marvel, searching for a wisecracking hero to play Star-Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Reticent at first, he agreed. The rest is, well… happening right now.

This week sees Pratt front his second huge franchise in as many years – the rebirth of what was the Jurassic Park franchise – now simply the Jurassic franchise, thanks to new film being called Jurassic World. Set on Isla Nublar, like the first film (the sequels were on test site Isla Sorna), the park has now been open to visitors for several years. Pratt’s character is Owen Grady, a velociraptor trainer who switches into hero mode when things start to go wrong. And go wrong they do. Badly…

This is the fourth film in the franchise. Shouldn’t there be better safety practices by now?
Well, it wouldn’t be the same if it was a documentary about a well-functioning theme park that has a few dinosaurs in it. Or it would be shorter, at least. It follows the structure of the first film, but the stakes are higher – there are 20,000 people on the island, so when it gets violent, it gets very violent. This is a scary movie. 

The first film is as much about the wonder as the terror. Which did you respond to the most? 
Probably that wonder. When Laura Dern and Sam Neill get off their jeep and boom! Richard Attenborough says, “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” and these giant dinosaurs are walking by, it was overwhelming. I saw it when I was 13 and I just couldn’t believe it – I’d never seen anything like it before. 

Your character trains raptors – not something with a lot of real-world references. How was it acting with invisible dinosaurs?
To be honest, after Groot and Rocket on Guardians Of The Galaxy, a few dinosaurs are a breeze. What was really fun was getting to approach that character from a real point of view – who would get that job in reality? If dinosaurs have been around for 20 years and there’s a branch of the park that’s all about whether we can get raptors to behave as if they’re at Sea World – which will end well, of course – how would someone approach that? I got to talk to some awesome people who train tigers and grizzly bears, parrots and K9 dogs, in all different applications, from entertainment to war. The techniques you see me use are actually real techniques people use on bears and such, which was pretty cool. And, of course, there was a lot of dancing around looking at nothing – a tennis ball or a light, or people in grey suits with raptor heads on – and trying to make it believable. But, as I say, I’m kind of used to it. And I hate to break it to you, but none of it is real. So going the extra mile to imagining invisible ancient reptiles really isn’t a big leap.

Does playing leading men flex different muscles to playing Andy Dwyer?
Well, I have more now, so you could say that. Hey, it’s a completely different job, man – you are flexing different muscles, or maybe you’re flexing the same ones but in a different pose. Laughter is a great gauge, so if an audience is laughing, you know how you’re doing. When you do something dramatic, the result of being really good or really bad is the same – silence. The loudest thing you will ever hear is the silence that follows you really going for it in a drama. You don’t know if people are leaving you alone because you’re in that place, or if they’re embarrassed for you. I was in Zero Dark Thirty and I thought I sucked – I just thought I wasn’t working. Then I looked at it after it was cut together by some of the most talented people in the world, and it was really good. My instincts aren’t great outside of comedy – I just don’t know if I’m doing good or not. I guess I just have so much experience doing goofy comedy stuff. Maybe my instincts will get better with drama. 
 
Did changing the direction of your career feel like a gamble?
I don’t think of it in those terms. I’ve been rolling the dice ever since I was a room service waiter working in Beverly Hills and driving a $700 car. I’m playing, dude, I’m still at the table. I’m playing with house money, but I’m still gambling. It’s a huge f*cking gamble to be an actor in general. I’m just glad there have been awesome parts that came up that played to my strengths. I always knew I was physical, I knew I was more of an athlete than an actor, so getting paid to get in shape was awesome.
 
You took a pretty roundabout route to becoming an actor – was it as much of a stumble as it seems?
Well, after high school I did one and a half semesters of college. I was paying money to do what I had done in high school, which just seemed really f*cking stupid to me. I got out of that, and became a salesman selling coupons for businesses in the service industry, such as oil changes or trips to a day spa. I did that for a year and a half, and was on the fast track to opening my own office, which I did in Colorado at the age of 19. Six months later I ended up losing it all and going home with my tail between my legs. My mom had to fly me home and I was in debt – I was spiritually bankrupt and felt terrible. My friend from my hometown basically rescued me and said, “Dude, I’ve been living in Hawaii since high school, it’s amazing. You look like sh*t, you should come out here.” So he bought me a one-way ticket, and we just camped for a year. I got a job at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, lived in a van and was partying a lot. I was living the dream. I was basically retired at 20 years old.
 
Is this when you started to turn to acting?
Not actively. I remember my girlfriend at the time, her parents sat me down and asked what I wanted to do with my life. I was dating their daughter and living in my car, which they just loved. So I was just like, “Uh, I want to be an actor.” During my door-to-door salesman job, I had started doing some stand-up comedy, and I was performing little shows for my friends out on the beach. I don’t think any of my friends who knew me were surprised that I got into acting, but I was really plucked from obscurity. I didn’t choreograph anything until later, when I had more power and could make strategic moves. For the most part, I was just falling into my life and enjoying the ride.
 
That’s interesting – people think of you as laidback, but you don’t get from the beach to Hollywood without a crazy work ethic.
I guess. It’s probably the result of having the kind of hard-nosed dad who made us work every weekend. Being an athlete – I was a wrestler for 10 years – that’s an incredibly gruelling, intense sport where you’re forced to push yourself far beyond your physical limits. These things went together to make me what I am today.

You’ve been linked to playing Indiana Jones in a series reboot. Care to give us the scoop?
I don’t know what to say. I’ve got some movies coming out in the future that I’m definitely doing, and many others that I’m prospectively doing. That one – it doesn’t really fit on that scale. The idea that I’d be in consideration for the lead role is astounding. My phone’s on, but nobody’s called yet. I just don’t want to be part of the team that screwed it up. It would have to be perfect. I wouldn’t just sign on blindly – I would be hypercritical making sure the script was right.

The Lego Movie was a pretty huge snub at this year’s Oscars. How annoyed were you?
I’ve got to say, I watched the other movies and I was baffled. It’s one of those things you can’t get too caught up in. It would have been awesome – I love the Oscars. I expected it would get nominated at least for Best Animated Feature, if not Best Picture. Why not? It was awesome, as the song goes. But to say we should have been nominated means another film should not be nominated, and all of them were great. The directors and I talked about it – we’re doing another one. [Flawless Morgan Freeman impression] Time and pressure, buddy. Time and pressure.

Jurassic World is at cinemas nationwide from 11 June

(Images: Universal)

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