Chris Pine takes command of the Enterprise: ‘My name is not William Shatner’

May 04, 2009 | 2:31 p.m.

Sunday was the big Summer Sneaks issue of the Calendar section in the Los Angeles Times and I had an article on Chris Pine taking over the captain’s chair on “Star Trek.” Here is a longer version of that story — it was trimmed for publication for space issues, so think of this as the director’s cut.

Chris Pine by Jay Clendenin

Wearing a trucker hat, battered blue jeans and an air of breezy confidence, Chris Pine walked through the Paramount Pictures studio lot like he owned the place but felt no particular need to show anyone the deed in his pocket.

It’s precisely that mix of fighter-pilot cockiness and surfer-dude Zen that you would expect from an actor who, as the leading man in “Star Trek,” has taken on the biggest challenge of any popcorn-movie star this summer: How to play James T. Kirk without imitating the role’s originator, William Shatner?

“That’s it right there, that’s the challenge,” Pine said on that November afternoon after a screening of early footage from the film, which opens on Friday, May 8. “If I can do that, then we’re good.”

The L.A. native has apparently done just that, at least according to early reviews and a uniformly positive industry buzz that seems to frame “Star Trek” as this year’s “Iron Man,” a sleek summer movie with intense action, wit and surprising buoyancy considering all the heavy equipment taking flight.

The film, written by the “Transformers” tandem of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, begins on the day Kirk is born — the same day his father dies just 12 minutes into his first command as a starship captain. It follows Kirk through his daredevil youth and his Starfleet academy career as a rakish Romeo with a need for speed and no love of regulations. Then its off into space where he and the rest of the crew must tangle with a rogue Romulan named Nero who, like pretty much every “Trek” villain through the years, is out for vengeance.

Paramount, expecting big things, has already announced a sequel for 2011. Still, there are no sure bets in Hollywood, and though the crew of the USS Enterprise may live in the future, they might seem like the ancient past to young moviegoers. The last film under the Starfleet banner was 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which set the franchise on stunned: It grossed just $43 million in the U.S. and its eventual worldwide total barely covered its $60-million budget.

This “Trek,” though, is not your grandfather’s starship. Director J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III” and television’s “Lost’) grew up as a “Star Wars” fan and decided that Gene Roddenberry’s venerable space-frontier epic could use a bit of the George Lucas mojo (yes, that sound you hear are Trekkers gagging on their Romulan ale). This new version “Trek” has intense dogfights, a sprinkling of exotic aliens, major dollops of humor and even a bit of an icy tribute to “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Zachary Quinto of NBC’s “Heroes” is in as Spock (and, thanks to some time travel, Leonard Nimoy also appears as the Vulcan in his advanced years) and the cast includes Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, Winona Ryder and, startlingly, a cameo by Tyler Perry.

But “Trek” will fly or fail based on the man in the captain’s seat, 28-year-old Pine. “He is our star,” Abrams said, “and it was an intense challenge to take on a role that was so defined for so long by Shatner.”

On a recent afternoon, Pine sat down for lunch amid the hectic swirl of La Petit Greek on Larchmont Boulevard. He wasn’t asked for any autographs, but that may be happening quite a bit in the days to come. He is the son of Robert Pine, an actor with 4 1/2 decades of film and television work whom many people might remember as Sgt. Joseph Getraer on “CHiPs.” He said his father passed on some sage advice about the walk between the dressing room and the camera.

Star Trek Crew


“Whenever you’re on set with people that have put in the years, pick their brains — that’s our apprenticeship, that’s how the trade gets passed down, the stories, the lessons,” Pine said. “I think with my family and my background, I have a sense of the history of the business, what has come before. … Going with my dad to his auditions, I would listen to the actors talk, and it was almost like workers in a steel town on lunch break talking about the line or union issues.”

As a teenager, he worked as a production assistant on Roger Corman’sBlack Scorpion” and “did pretty much every job that can be done,” and the sawdust summer-camp vibe of that ragged production solidified his Hollywood dreams. “It was just so much fun,” the actor said with a big grin. Pine logged some television roles and also caught the eye of casting directors with his role as the privileged Nicholas in “Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement.”

His biggest impact, to date, was in Joe Carnahan’s 2006 Las Vegas underworld tale “Smokin’ Aces.” Now comes the career-shaping role in “Star Trek,” and his name has been floated to step into another major franchise, perhaps “The A-Team” remake or wearing the emerald power ring in the planned Green Lantern film. That doesn’t mean he’s focused only on roles that will turn him into action figures in America’s  toy aisles. Over lunch, he talked with great zeal about his upcoming role as a compromised campaign press secretary in “Farragut North,” a Geffen Playhouse production costarring Chris Noth.

With “Trek,” Pine says he wasn’t a loyal fan growing up but that he has marveled at its sense of “optimism and unity” and, at the risk of sounding corny, he said that like the original series in the 1960s this revival finds itself reaching for hope amid real-life global crisis.

“There’s a message in this almost utopian possibility and this team of people who must work together to overcome tremendous challenges. It’s about exploration and possibility and adventure. It’s a very appealing message and it grabs people. I hope it will at least.”

In the film, Pine has a loose-limbed swagger that at times recalls the way Shatner would slump with style in the captain’s chair. There are also moments in which Pine stretches or pops a word in the staccato manner of his predecessor, but the young actor is doing much less mimicry than some of the other cast members, such as Karl Urban, who as Dr. McCoy gleefully imitates the late DeForest Kelley’s Southern sourpuss rants.

Pine said in his search for Kirk he went out and got a boxed set of the television series and binged.

“I realized pretty quick into that exploration that I was doing myself a disservice,” he said. “All I was doing was creating this monolithic task. There was no sense in trying to re-create what Shatner had done because it was so specific. He was unique, singular, it was his take. I did spice my performance with some of his straight-spined, almost ballet way of moving.

“Shatner will forever be James T. Kirk. There’s something set in stone about that. That actually takes pressure off me. I’m going my own way. My name is not William Shatner.”

— Geoff Boucher



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Photo: Chris Pine. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times. “Star Trek” images courtesy of Fox.


15 Responses to Chris Pine takes command of the Enterprise: ‘My name is not William Shatner’

  1. cid says:

    You bet you are no Bill Shatner. You are not even close. Your Kirk is nothing. He has no unique personality whatsoever. Just another boring baby face with false dramatic expressions — like every C-list actor does it.
    Shatner is the one and only Kirk and always will be. Much like Nimoy's Spock is the one and only spock and this new kid on the block is just a bad joke.

    • Stevo says:

      Hey stupid get a life and an enema & at the time .Purge yourself from the past .You may learn something.

    • Brett says:

      Cid: SHATNER was a "boring baby face with false dramatic expressions"! The TV series was a panorama of over-the-top, melodramatic acting. If the series had never been done in the 60's, and was trotted out for viewers for the first time in the 90's, or from 2000 on to today, the acting would be much more realistic and plausible. To bust Chris Pine for playing the role more realistically is unfair and places Shatner on much too high a pedestal. Shatner's come into his own as an actor since "Star Trek," playing lovable eccentrics on "Boston Legal" and his new CBS sitcom. This is not to say that the original series wasn't entertaining, the performances iconic, and the storylines thought-provoking. But just as we can see other actors besides Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes or Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet, we should be able to accept other actors playing the crew of the Enterprise.

    • David says:

      You are an idiot Shatner cannot be Kirk forever he is 80 now Chtis Pine is a fine actor

  2. Arley says:

    Great to see humility combined with a passion for excellence in the new Kirk. Can't wait to see it!

  3. SJ182 says:

    Chris Pine's Kirk in a lot of ways was better than Shatners :)

  4. Vic Arpeggio says:

    Get out of Mom's basement much, CId?

  5. Ash Vorgath says:

    Great film! Star Trek is back! As for "haters" who have nothing but poison in their veins, I wish they would find another planet to fester on. It always amazes me, how people who likely have never done anything with their lives feel the need to criticize others so harshly, such as the obviously miserable and narrow minded person who posted before. They are wrong, period. A similarly diseased poster was bashing William Shatner after an article on him! Alas, the dark defines the light, and the light of the new Star Trek is blinding indeed. Fantastic movie!!! I can't say enough about it, go see it. And yes, along with everyone else's performance, Chris Pine was fantastic, a seemingly effortless performance, engrossing, exhillarating and exciting, well done! Let the box office numbers speak for themselves, it's a homerun all the way.

  6. Melissa says:

    Chris Pine not only delivered, he assumed the mantle so completely I lost any intention of trying to compare him with the original because he *was* James T. Kirk.
    Fantastic job, the casting was brilliant, the story, excellent. From a long time Trek fan, you all got it right and kudos all around. Thank you Chris for a great performance and now I look forward to seeing what else you do in your talented future.

  7. me says:

    Star Trek 90210

  8. Josh says:

    I didn't know what to expect from Chris Pine, honestly. And, honestly, I was beyond pleasantly surprised. He delivered every line and nuance in between perfectly and I *believed* that he was James T. Kirk. Not for one moment did I say to myself, "This is just some sexy, young guy trying to be Kirk." Shatner should be proud.

  9. JustC says:

    It's interesting to see how people get cought up on the object of comparing the actors….I did enjoy thier portrail of the charactors.I just had a problem with the story line.To change the entire history of these charactors was disappointing to me.Every one knows that Kirk and Spoc or any of these charactors did not meet until a much later point in thier lives.And Captain Pike ended up in the wheele chair from running into a fire to save someone….Then came Kirk.And for relocating to Vulcans to another planet was my opion.Did they stop to think about the Catras that are stored /the souls of all the Vulcan knowledge.Don't change what Gene started with his creation.

  10. Bill says:

    Chris Pine came across as Kirk, and in his own way, made an old Star Trek believer a believer again.Now, I'd like to see more of each of the main characters evolve in the next movie; bring it on!!

  11. Bobby Trask says:

    Having watched Trek from the start , seeing all the episodes so many times I can say every char's line verbatim , I did feel like the studio had a obligation to TOS. I wanted to like it , as I love most things Trek , but was a little apprehensive too. I think ALL the new main players did it & did it well! I was very happy with all the casting. I wish the Shat-Man was in it , but I didnt miss Him too much cause Chris did such a great job with it. If you've never seen star trek b4 , it was a great movie , but knowing all the Char's histories , it was icing on the cake! The only big difference was that Shatner won ALL of His fights. Star Trek will live until th end of time. In the end , there will be 3 things. 1 Deity – God , 1 person – Elvis , & 1 TV show..Star Trek!

  12. Ken S. says:

    Pine was good in Trek, but I do think that he needs to inject just a little more of Shatner into his Kirk as that is what made the character. Of course, Shatner's Kirk has been the subject of much lampooning over the years, and to do so treads dangerously close to caricature, but I think that that is where the skill comes in. Screw the critics, in years to come, its the fans that will remember.

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