Interview: Chris Pine, Alex Kurtzman Find ‘People Like Us’

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CHICAGO – Writer/director Alex Kurtzman has been an incredibly powerful creative voice in the world of sci-fi from TV’s “Fringe” to film’s “Star Trek” & “Transformers” but his new work comes from someplace much more personal. Starring Chris Pine, “People Like Us” was born from Kurtzman’s own desire to find the half-siblings that his father had left behind years earlier.

In the film, Pine’s Sam doesn’t discover that he has a sister (Elizabeth Banks) until his father’s passing and until he’s faced with delivering 150k to the unknown relative or keeping it for himself. Unapologetically tear-jerking, “People Like Us” offers both Kurtzman and Pine new creative avenues and the pair seems invigorated by the ability to discuss something that doesn’t involve phasers. Of course, we get around to a little “Star Trek 2” and final season of “Fringe” discussion in this interview that we all hoped could have gone on even longer. Both men were open, personal, and incredibly insightful. Come back Friday for our full review of the film.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: The film comes from a very personal place for you Alex. Chris, did you have to tap into something personal related to your family that you’re willing to share when it came to crafting your character?

CHRIS PINE: I think what’s nice about it is that some people react to the fact that it’s a man discovering his sister and how unique of a story that is but what we found is that it’s not all that unique. The fact of the matter is that everyone’s got a family, even if it’s a Beaver Cleaver kind of family. Everyone’s got their own “stuff” — Their own issues, their own anger at mom and dad. That is what family is. Family is almost naturally dysfunctional. I absolutely brought my own. I had plenty of stuff to pull from there. What Sam goes through is a very real thing. I’m in my early 30s and I think that as you’re growing up you learn certain tools about how to deal with the world. A lot of those tools deal with a strong facade so you’re not breaking down all the time. What Sam is learning how to do is pull up the shield, take off the helmet and be authentic, real, human, while maintaining a sense of self. I think we all deal with that at some point.

Alex Kurtzman and Chris Pine on the Set of People Like Us
Alex Kurtzman and Chris Pine on the Set of People Like Us
Photo credit: Disney

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: I also think it’s very clearly a film about a conscious life-changing moment. We all have life-changing moments that we don’t realize are so until later. But when you open a case with 150 grand in it and realize that either decision you make — to keep it or to find the sister you never knew and give it to her — it’s a life-changing decision staring you in the face. Can you think of a major life-changing decision in which you knew it was one and you had to pick a fork in the road?

ALEX KURTZMAN: The first thing that I would say is that it’s really gratifying to hear you say that’s what you felt in seeing the movie. We set out to make a movie a movie that had universal feelings even if the particulars weren’t your unique life story. Everyone’s a father, son, brother, sister, etc. I’m glad that you felt that way. I think the choice to make the movie was a life-changing experience for me. I had gone through my own personal experience and I realized that if I went down the road with this thing then I’m going to be sitting here talking to you about it. It’s going to be in print. How’s that going to be for me? I have to say that I feel like what I started to observe is that it’s opening up a dialogue about family experiences. That was the WHOLE point. The whole point was that everybody has a family and families are complicated but, ultimately, I think the message of the movie is that there’s nothing more important than your family. Running away from or running to your family — it’s where you come from. It’s who you are. That’s the journey that Sam goes on.

People Like Us
People Like Us
Photo credit: Disney

PINE: In my professional life, it would probably be choosing to do “Star Trek.” It gave me the opportunity to do a film like this and I certainly wouldn’t have been on Alex’s radar if not for that relationship. That was a very clear decision — stepping into a world and a type of film and a scope of a film that was wholly different to me. It was an arena where you’re more likely to get…it’s stepping on to a bigger stage with a bigger audience.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: I’m interested in the thought of opening a dialogue. Something like “Star Trek” or “Transformers” — that’s a known quantity. You say it, everyone knows what it is. When you deliver something like this, it’s a “tougher sell” because it’s not that known quantity. We all want our work to be successful but what are your expectations for a film like this as you open in a crowded summer season with an original concept?

KURTZMAN: In some ways it’s tough to compete but it’s apples and oranges. I think there’s a vast section of people that’s under-served in the summer time. They’re really looking for a movie that’s the opposite — summer’s insane. You’ve got three massive bombs, as in noise, going off every weekend. There’s not a lot else. This movie is such a different experience. I really do believe that the reason people go to the movies is to lose themselves in a world and have a visceral experience. It can be lost in a movie with spaceships and giant robots or the Enterprise or it can be this kind of visceral. That’s why people go to the movies. I think adults are looking for that. I think “The Help” proved it last summer. You can never go in thinking one way or another about it. You need to make a movie like this as true to the story as you can and hope you just put something beautiful into the world.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: It’s such a personal story for you. Why Chris? What did you see in Chris?

Alex Kurtzman
Alex Kurtzman
Photo credit: Disney

KURTZMAN: We had worked together already and I feel like what I saw…in “Trek,” the story of Captain Kirk is a roguish boy with big father issues and kicking against what he’s supposed to do and he comes out “sitting in the chair.” In a weird way, there’s a parallel there. And his presence on screen — he’s a man. There aren’t a lot of men on screen. But, in here [points to his eyes] he’s a kid. He knew what was going on with Sam. He has put on all this armor but he’s really a kid who was looking to be recognized and loved.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: How is Alex different from other directors?

PINE: I’ll bow to Alex for all time. A big actor fear when you have someone who’s written and is directing and it’s very personal for them is that you’ll enter a situation where there’s such a tight marriage to the material that you’re little more than a peripheral satellite. I told him that I couldn’t do it if I couldn’t be a collaborator. I needed to own it as much as he did. It’s the only way I could work. From the beginning, nothing was precious in this very personal material. Everything was up for discussion. I often think that it’s a trait that Alex shares with J.J. I think it comes from their work in television in that the speed that make you television — there is no time to be precious. It’s about making what is best, how to make it the BEST. Whatever the case, Alex allowed me to own the material just as much. I’m quite stunned by it. There was never a moment where I was faced by defensiveness. “OK, let’s try that.” It was always about the material. It was just great. It was like being in a labyrinth and having great people to help figure the way out. Often times, you have people with clubs trying to keep you down. (Laughs.)

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: Is that a set-wide collaboration?

KURTZMAN: Absolutely. The first thing I said to the crew on day one — “This is our movie. We’re making it together. It’s not MINE.” Part of it for me was that after having lived it all I wanted was other people’s input. In order for the movie to ring true…when you cast actors, it’s about how they say the lines but not really. It’s about what they say between the lines and how much you feel that. In a movie like this, you need to see the real personalities coming through. Or it’s that real, intangible thing you can feel when something is not coming through.

People Like Us
People Like Us
Photo credit: Disney

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: If every movie is a learning experience, what did we learn here?

PINE: It is very true. Life is all about fully realizing your potential — what are you meant to do; what are you meant to do well.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: I’m still working on that.

PINE: Welcome to the club. For what we do…or for painters with their art or for musicians with their music…look, even as something as nonsensical as “This Means War” or “The Princess Diaries 2,” even stuff in my career that is not “Hamlet,” there’s a reflection of exactly where I am in my life. There’s a reason why these things come into…there’s a reason that you’re sitting down for this interview. You can really track what you’re involving yourself in because there’s a REASON you’re involving yourself in those things. What is the specific learning experience on this film? Many things but what I would say is that definitely…there are wonderful lessons to be learned about acceptance and throwing away resentment and embracing love. I accept you for all of the awful things you’ve done but I still love you. That’s an important lesson. I still struggle with it. I think we all do. There are certain things I learned about the process as well that I think I’m finding a more fulfilling way of doing things.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: My readers would yell at me if I didn’t just throw it out there — “Star Trek 2” and the final season of “Fringe,” tell me everything you know! I’m not expecting any exclusives but should we be excited for the final season of “Fringe”?

KURTZMAN: Oh, for sure. Once you know that you’ve designated an ending, it frees you up to go nuts.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: More nuts than you already have?

People Like Us
People Like Us
Photo credit: Disney

KURTZMAN: By the way, on “Fringe,” it’s really hard to top ourselves. I think it’s going to be great. I think people are going to be very satisfied. It’s always thrilling and wonderful to challenge yourself as to how you’re going to end a show. There are unbelievable minds at work there. On “Trek,” the one thing I’ll say is that we did not want the assumption to be, “Oh, they’re a bridge crew, everything’s fine, they’re all pals.” They came together at the end of the first movie but there’s still a lot of figuring out how to function. That’s a big part of what goes on.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: I’m interested in how you developed as an actor between the “Star Trek” films now that you bring up these issues about growth and learning. Do you think “Star Trek 2” is a better film because of the longer-than-usual time off between the sequels because your growth?

PINE: Just getting older. The old adage — youth is wasted on the young. If I could go back to my younger self and de-angst-ify. There’s more experience. Life is deeper, more complicated. Without a doubt…I’m not the best actor in the world but I work hard at what I do. Hopefully, I will get better…I’m sure of it. What makes a great film actor — watch Meryl Streep. She has these beautiful moments with relaxation and stillness. Beautiful, sublime moments. We respond. “I’ve been there.” And they come from a real stillness. As a young person, many of us…there’s very few of us who can do it young. Gosling was able to do it. Just to sit still. To not force that space and the energy of the moment. That’s where magic comes.

Find the magic in “People Like Us” when it opens this Friday, June 22, 2012 in theater everywhere. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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