Chris Pine comes from solid Hollywood stock (both his parents were successful actors), but surely would have broken through all on his own. His leading-man looks have been undeniable since well before his star-making turn as Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot in 2009, while his talent as an actor has become just as apparent of late, with his simmering, intense turns in 2015's post-apocalyptic drama Z for Zachariah, and in 2016's Hell or High Water. The film is a contemporary Western that follows two brothers (played by Pine and Ben Foster) who attempt to elude the long arm of the law (Jeff Bridges) while looting a series of small banks in Texas. A surprise hit critically and commercially when it was released last summer, the film was nominated for three Golden Globes. Here, Pine recalls his first audition, the acting advice he got at the kitchen table, and that time he dueted with Barbra Streisand.
What was the first thing you auditioned for?
My first audition, professionally speaking, was for Gilmore Girls. My father [the actor Robert Pine] had gone in for an audition. I'd just graduated college and he told the casting directors that I was an actor: "My son's coming back into town. Will you have him in for a reading?" So nepotism at its best.
You're in Hell or High Water, which I have to admit is my favorite movie of the year. You're not necessarily the first person people would think of for a western. How did that come to you?
I think I asked my agents to send me a bunch of scripts, just so I could read something that was hopefully good. Or maybe they just sent it to me like agents do, I'm not really sure. We have so many possible distractions in this life between Google and the interwebs and petting your dog and collaging and daydreaming and whatever. So if anything grabs me from start-to-finish, if it's that engaging and completely absorbing, I immediately pay attention. It was concise, it was dark like Cormac McCarthy, but it had a sense of humor like a Coen brothers film. It had all these elements in this kind of stoic silence that Westerns of a certain time had, and a vision of masculinity that I don't think you often see now, which I appreciated. So I had a meeting with [the screenwriter] Taylor Sheridan, and I told him I really liked it. I said, "Who are you thinking about playing Tanner?" And he said, "Ben Foster." And I just worked with Ben so I thought that was some sort of kismet, some divine intervention. Ben and I get along like gangbusters and share a common language about life and work.
And similar Windex blue eyes.
[Laughs] Yes, indeed. Windex blue eyes, I like that. I just bought Windex the other day.
Not to free associate too much, but it's just that your eyes are an unusual color of blue. And when you're robbing a bank you don't really actually look like brothers until you have the hoods on, which is the first time we see that your eyes match.
Yeah. You know, Ben does a tricky thing that is very hard to do, which is to fall madly in love and do an incredible job inhabiting the outlying sensibilities of someone who's not all together there. But also having a deep, deep reservoir of emotion, a childlike emotional core, which is probably why I love him so much.
So you didn't have to do much rehearsal to be brothers.
We really didn't. We took a road trip up to Santa Fe from Albuquerque, we hung out a little bit at the house which stood in for the Howard brothers' home, and kind of sucked up all the magic and juice that the house had to give.
I want to see the sequel with you and Jeff Bridges's character.
Yeah, it's one of my favorite scenes. A Western on a porch, a very kind of classic moment. This man's house in the middle of a savage, brutal wilderness, and he's being hunted by the lawman who wants to take it from him. And it's written so beautifully. The last moment is that great couplet: "Maybe I'll give you peace," and then Bridges responds, "Maybe, or maybe I'll give it to you." That's the code of the film. It says a lot about revenge culture, eye-for-an-eye, this kind of Old Testament idea of if you're wronged you must wrong someone else. And Jeff being the kind of wise, Zen yogi that he is, said, "What does that say about us? That everybody is rooting for this last moment of someone dying?" [Laughs]
People want to see a wrong righted, and it's not that simple.
Yes, that's a great point and speaks exactly to the lifeblood of this film: What is wrong and what is right and who is justified and who is not?
What Westerns do you love?
I mean, I love Clint [Eastwood]. But again, for me, I'd rather talk about the visions of Westerns. Like, I read this story and the image that came to me repeated was men on porches. It might sound trite and banal and super oversimplified, but this idea of men on porches squinting through the harsh sun into the distance not saying anything, but sharing space... That is resonant to me in many, many ways. A lot of the memories I have of my father are sitting next to one another and sharing space, not saying much. Men communicate in different ways than women, I think.
I don’t say that as a judgment, but rather as a something I perceive to be true. That idea of going out into the wilderness staking a claim, trying to get the land to work. It's harsh and it's real and the sun's beating down, but here's some sort of salvation in the shade provided by the porch. Anyway, that was kind of going through my head over and over again. Even that picture of an Eastwood squinting, chomping on that cigar, the wide brim hat shading him...
Some people think Star Trek is a Western, too, in a way.
I guess. We'd have to really get super specific into fine terms about what it means to be a Western. I mean, in that case the Western doesn't have anything to do with the West.
[Laughs] It would be a Western in space.
Yeah, I don't know.
I think that's the way [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry sold it.
Is that true?
Yeah, a Western in space. That was his pitch.
Was your father ever in a Western?
F—k yeah. I have a feeling [the casting director] Lynn Stalmaster cast my dad in Gunsmoke, because my dad was under contract at Universal in 1964, and you know being under contract in the studio system you get paid to take voice lessons and horseback riding and marksmanship and all sorts of stuff like dance classes.
Singing, yeah. And, you know, [my father] did Gunsmoke, The Virginian. Suffice to say, yeah he did a bunch of them.
Did he give you any tips?
No, my parents aren't one for encouragement in that regard. They're supportive and curious, so they ask questions. And by asking questions that engages you in conversation, just like a good shrink because my mom's a shrink now.
[Laughs] She went from being an actress to a shrink.
Makes sense, though, doesn’t it?
Not really. [Laughs]
No, come on, think about it. As someone who is asked to think about why people do what they do and then exhibit emotion based on the psychology behind it, I think it makes kind of all the sense in the world.
And she loves it. She's been doing it for some 20-odd years now.
Is she a good audience for you?
Oh, they're the best. Growing up in my house, you know you'd sit around a dinner table and just talk shop. Dad would talk about his day doing a guest spot on [the TV show] Quantum Leap. And the last thing my mom did was she played Courtney Cox's mother in Masters of the Universe with Dolph Lundgren.
Oh my gosh.
So just by osmosis you take in a lot. When they come in see me we talk about stuff, the nitty gritty. Or I can call them up from set and complain about things. They're great ears.
There was a fantastic moment in the video about the record [Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, for which Streisand dueted with actors like Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, and Pine]. I loved when you said, "At first I thought she wanted me to do the whole—"
[Laughs] I really did. They didn't explain it well enough. My agent was like, "She wants to sing with you. The album comes out next year." I was like, "F—k, that's not a lot of time." [Laughter] "I got at least five or six songs to write still." [Laughter] Oh man. The ego is strong within you, young grasshopper. [Laughter] I had one song, it was spliced together. I loved that song.
Did she make you do a lot of takes? She's a perfectionist.
Truth be told, I was in London shooting a film, and she was in Los Angeles and had already recorded her bit. I mean, I know the joy of singing with Barbra would have been great... This is not trying to be cute, but my anxiety probably would have been so great that I'm not sure I would have been able to, you know, give my best. But it worked out great.