Real ‘People’

film peopleChris Pine opens up about chance moments, lessons learned and the cool factor of his new film ‘People Like Us’ ALSO Writer-director Alex Kurtzman on ‘People Like Us’

Writer-director Alex Kurtzman’s new film People Like Us (★★★out of four) is one of those rare big screen comedy-dramas that manages to effectively pull you into its universe—and keep pulling you in deeper until you cannot help but care about the people who occupy it.

Much of its successful execution has to do with Kurtzman’s writing style. The film is based on the director’s own real-life experience of discovering he had a half-sister he never knew about. What we get is a refreshing, heartwamring surprise. All that, and Chris Pine, too, which never hurts at the box office. Pine plays Sam, a shady businessman with hardly any emotional ties to his family … until one day, when he sorts through his late-father’s belongings and serendipitously realizes he has another half-sibling out there to whom he must give $150,000. Enter Elizabeth Banks. As Frankie, she’s a befuddled single mom trying to raise her young son (Michael Hall D’Addario) in Los Angeles. Michelle Pfeiffer, playing Pine’s mother, and Olivia Wilde co-star. GT recently caught up with Kurtzman and Pine (read the full, exclusive Q&A with both men online) to learn more about the film, life’s chance encounters and so much more …

Good Times: I love the idea of serendipity and I write about it a lot …

Chris Pine: Really? Yes. I experience it a lot, too.
Do you believe there is … What is your feeling about that?

I think we’re all vibrating at some (different) frequency when that happens; when those two things collide. That’s what I think, so obviously you pay attention, ‘oh, what’s going on?’ But I wanted to ask you about that. I was curious if that’s something you consider or that you experience in your own life? 
I do. I am very much a believer that you can manifest things. And it’s not like, ‘I want money,’ and then money shows up on your doorstep, it’s more like … I mean, who knows the science and the chemistry and the explanation for it. But yeah, I definitely believe that if you put it out there into the Universe, in whatever way you think that means— if it’s praying or writing it down, or visualizing or whatever—that it will come to fruition in some form or another. And if it doesn’t, there is a reason why it doesn’t, and it will lead you towards precisely that which you need to realize. But yeah … I’m with you on that.

Do you feel acting was like that for you? Did you always want to be an actor?
No. I didn’t want to pursue it until I got into college, really, but yes, I think acting is the right thing for me.

I read that you often can tell when you’re reading a script, if you’re going to do the movie; that something pulls you in and you just know…
It’s not as black and white as that, but you do have those empathetic moments where you’re like … ‘Bam! Yeah. I can see it.’ With this film, it was only hindered by the fact that I was a little nervous about getting involved in something that was written and directed by the same person, because sometimes that sense of ownership by that person is so much that it’s sometimes difficult for them to let go. But Alex was wonderfully gracious in that regard.

What intrigued you most about your character?
What you see in Sam. In the beginning, he’s kind of this hurly-burly coat speech/Glengarry Glen Ross/shady salesman and then the guy you meet in the end … is just the polar opposite. What I am saying is that the journey was really big and really complete. And all those kind of tricks Sam uses in the beginning and all that stuff he uses to hide himself is just stripped away, so the person that is talking at the end, is a person that is talking from the deepest parts of himself and that was … an awesome character to try to inhabit and play with truth.

What do you love most about acting?
An experience like this, for sure. I do think we must be here for some reason … we human beings. It must have something to do with realizing your potential and what you’re supposed to put out in the world; and do more internally on a smaller scale. You know, learning things about … things this film deals with—truth, love and family, relationships, people. Yourself. And I think acting is at its best and the most fun and exciting, the most carbonated, when the material allows you to grow as a person. Not trying to make a grand statement, but I think movies like this, and even Star Trek and This Means War for crissakes, they all have something to do with your relationship to the material. It’s you pulling and pushing and pushing the pulling the material all the way down to the end, and that’s the fun. You’re forced to look at your (inner) self all the time. All the time.

So, you’re an introspective person? Or, are you?
Sure. I am definitely interested in that.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given about life?
I don’t know. It’s so hard to recall one sound bite from what my parents have been able to give me. I was really lucky to have really solid parents with a good foundation. What I will say is that I have learned that we very rarely have the ability to control our situation; our situation isn’t always the ideal; rarely is it the ideal. So, the only thing we do have control over is how we look at that experience and view our circumstance. It’s our choice as to how we want to look at it—to live in joy or happiness, or interest or exploration, or whether to live in bitterness and resentment and anger and frustration. It’s very much the story of the characters in the film; they are confronted with their family—who they are and that it’s far from ideal. But what they’re doing is trying their hardest because it’s the only family they’re given. They’re deciding, ‘How am I going to choose how to relate to this family? Am I going to choose to love them?’

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Q: There was serendipity in this for you … that you were thinking about something and the same day, it unfolded. What was going through your mind when you met the sister you didn’t know you had … especially after you just had an idea like that?

Alex Kurtzman: It’s funny. I was in such a state of shock that I realized three days later … I did the math and had had the idea that afternoon. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I had that idea.’ I don’t know what else to attribute that to other than sometimes life puts you in certain circumstances that you can’t ignore or deny, and it forces you to reckon with who you are. I actually see it as a gift. I realty do. It was an amazing thing. I didn’t know if this movie was going to be made. We didn’t write for anybody but ourselves—and for me—it was really a cathartic thing of working through things.  But I always believed that if it stayed in a drawer for the rest of my life, that I had to see the story through its completion … and that I had written the best version of the story.

Q: The chemistry was great in the film. Were you surprised by that? I mean, it’s one thing the cast people but when they show up, and something resonates …

Well, you cast on instinct. I think that for me, one of the lessons I’ve learned over time that it isn’t just how people read the lines when they come in for an audition, and obviously Chris didn’t have to audition, it’s about how they come into the room and who they are as people; that’s something I look for first. And I knew Chris from experience and I knew what he was going to bring for the character.

What about the others?

I had a really had a strong instinct about Elizabeth when we read the material together and I had strong feeling about Michael when he walked through the door. And it took one minute with Michelle and I knew she was going to play Lillian, but at the same time, you never really know. It’s a big leap of faith and you say, ‘I hope this is going to work.’ You never know until you are there, especially with scenes that are as complicated to play as these were for them … you never know what’s going to emerge. My job was to do nothing; to just let them be with each other. Trust the material. Trust them to interpret it. Let them improvise and let it just find its way.  And there were so many times when I looked at Chris and Elizabeth, and not only did they start to look like siblings but their connection and chemistry and humor together was exactly what I wanted them to be. I was so lucky to have people who were so dedicate to putting so much of themselves into it and ripping themselves open to play it correctly; to explore it and find it and be open to moments that appear on the day.

One great piece of advice somebody gave me was that you need to be so prepared that when something better presents itself in the moment, you go for that instead. It was a gift to hear that.

Chris notes that he’s introspective  …

I think Chris is an incredibly thoughtful person who is always sort of digging into himself, at least in the work we’ve done together. He’s always thinking about his own life and how it applies to the material, and what to pull of himself. The choices he makes about the parts he plays … he really thinks through it. Can I be authentic in playing this part? And I think that’s rare.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given about life?

I will credit my wife with, ‘I will take the high road,’ philosophy. And whenever my instinct is to get upset about something, she always reminds me that that’s the most peaceful way to live. And she’s always right.

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