In 2009, Chris Pine shot to stardom playing the young James T Kirk in JJ Abrams’s box office blockbuster Star Trek. He has also appeared in Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman, Just My Luck with Lindsay Lohan and is currently shooting This Means War opposite Reese Witherspoon.
In his new movie Unstoppable, which is based on a real incident, he portrays Will Colson, a young conductor whose first day on the job turns into the most memorable day of his life. Paired with veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), they find they are in the way of an unstoppable train, heading for a populated area and certain disaster. Racing against time, it is up to Frank and Will to stop the train.
Can you tell us a little about Will?
Will comes from a family of railroaders. Having grown up in the shadows of a family who are now bigwigs at the railroad, Will left to make his own way, but when it turned out to be harder than he expected, he returned to his home town only to realize that coming home was even more difficult. Even though he’s hesitant, he’s going to make the best of working for the railroad, for now.
Will’s journey is that of a selfish guy who wanted to find success on his own. He feels like he failed so there’s a lot of self-loathing going on. That, coupled with pressure from his family, and an apprenticeship with resentful guys who make the job as difficult as possible, it just becomes a volcano.
When Will is thrown into this extraordinary situation, he’s has to decide whether to take charge, try to save these towns and be selfless. That’s what Frank really teaches him. Will is so embroiled in his own internal battle that it takes an external situation to force him out of his own skin, to be active, to stop thinking about himself and do something for others, which is what actually ends up helping him in the end.
Can you talk about Will’s relationship with Frank?
Will is pretty obstinate. He thinks he knows best, but we find out that he’s wrong and Frank is 100 percent right about everything. He finds that the old guard, or old heads as the real railroaders call them, do know a thing or two and he finally respects Frank and the very things he took for granted.
What was the most interesting or helpful thing you learned from the real railroad workers that you talked to?
It was interesting and frightening. I remember when we went to the rail yard in L.A. they said that the most dangerous place for trains is actually not out on the track, it’s almost in the yard, because the trains can be so quiet and so seemingly innocuous, but of course they’re 1000 ton beasts.
I remember this one guy telling the story that this guy got surprised on the track in the yard, and the train was only going three or four miles an hour, and pinned the guy. And then they had to call the family up because the guy was still alive as he was pinned, they said their goodbyes and the train separates from the guy and then the guy passed away.
That’s how dangerous these things are. We talked to everyone, and everyone had an experience, whether it be a conductor or an engineer, with life and death stuff.
What was doing the stunts like in this movie?
When you read the script, you forget that you actually have to do what’s written on the page! Whether that means that every scene you’re in takes place in the cab or a train, or whether you’re character jumps from the back of a truck driving 50 miles an hour onto a train that’s going even faster.
My stunt double, Daniel Stevens, was incredible. He slipped the first time and had to use his upper body strength not to get dragged under the ballast, but he did it five times!
But it was you on the truck riding alongside of the train?
Yes, and I just had to trust the stunt driver and hang on for dear life. I had bugs and gnats in my face, and even though I’m only faking the jump, there’s the stress of knowing that Tony (Scott, the director) had 40 cameras going and a helicopter hovering overhead. Of course I want to do the a good job and play to the right camera, so thee was a second there when I was catapulted off the back and thank goodness the harness caught me.
What was it like working with Denzel?
Denzel pushes and pushes you to do a better job. He’s complicated in all the best ways and he brings to much to the table that each take is different, each has a distinctive quality and if you’re present and paying attention, you can play off those nuances which gives the characters more depth. Denzel’s the best at what he does, so I took my cues from him.
You’re probably dealing with offers on a different scale after Star Trek. How are you considering roles at this point?
I’ve just been very blessed and it’s a shock to me that I get to sit on a dais and people ask questions and are interested in who I am and what I do. And I get to sit next to people, like Denzel, that I’ve watched since I was a kid.
To answer your question, it’s afforded me the luxury of choice. Star Trek afforded me the opportunity to cherry pick, I don’t know for how long, but at least for now I can say ’yes’ and ‘no’ to certain things. The guiding principle for me, because I don’t know how long it’s going to last, is to work with people I want to work with. And that’s Tony and Denzel.