Chris Pine doesn’t have a to-do list, but that doesn’t mean his career choices aren’t intentional. Mostly, the actor and producer told IndieWire, he looks for projects with a single defining characteristic: They have to be great. Over the course of the past two decades, that’s led Pine to a variety of gigs, and the multi-hyphenate has managed to fit films like his current releases (adult-themed dramas “The Contractor” and “All the Old Knives”) alongside more mainstream stuff, like the upcoming “Dungeons & Dragons” feature and the “Wonder Woman” and “Star Trek” franchises.
As Pine readies to make the jump to directing, he’s hanging his career on something a bit more zen than you might expect from such a star. As he’ll explain, really, he’s just “following the giggle.”
“It’s only intentional insofar as the projects are great,” Pine said of his choices in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I go where my interest is and my interest just so happens, in the past couple years, to have been these smaller-ish films. … I’ve had, thankfully, the luxury of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for 10 years or so really. I think there’s a clarity of purpose now that I have with my work and my life. It is very much more me [choosing], because I just have a lot of things I’ve sloughed off. I just know what I want. I know what I like. I know what will work for me.”
When Pine pointed to his current slate as proof of his interest in those “smaller-ish films,” it also revealed a stick-to-it-ness that feels increasingly rare in Hollywood. “‘All the Old Knives,’ I have been attached to for five years and it went through many stops and starts. It’s one of the best scripts I ever read,” Pine said. “‘The Contractor’ was a film that I read many years ago and had some stops and starts and was something I wanted to do. I produced and have a little bit part in a film called ‘Doula’ for Universal, which is my production company’s first step into making films. That’s a little kind of [Hal] Ashby-ian comedy.”
And it’s those kind of roles that attract talents on the other side of the camera, too. “All the Old Knives” director Janus Metz, who met Pine early in the filmmaking process, said he was relieved that his already-attached star and producer was the “perfect choice” for the leading male role in the cerebral spy thriller. “I liked him, particularly for some of his smaller — well, I wouldn’t say smaller performances, because I think they’re bigger performances — but in more of the indie work that he’s done on ‘Hell or High Water,’ ‘Z for Zachariah,’ ‘Outlaw King,’” Metz told IndieWire. “So for me, it wasn’t even a consideration.”
While Pine’s filmography is filled with projects with interesting filmmakers, he shied away from diagnosing directors as his main attraction. Pine seems to be something of an obsessive cinephile, boning up on films and taking a shine to their makers, as he did with both “The Contractor” director Tarik Saleh (his “The Nile Hilton Incident” was “incredibly stunning”) and Metz (his “Borg vs. McEnroe” tickled Pine’s interest in two-handers, and his documentary background appealed too).
Pine admitted, “I have a list of those kinds of filmmakers that I would love to work with. And yeah, that certainly can be the impetus.” (So there is a list!)
Likely not on that directors-to-work-with list: Pine himself. He’s gearing up to direct his first film, a comedy titled “Poolman” that he wrote alongside his friend and producing partner Ian Gotler (who also appeared with Pine in a pair of 2014 Funny or Die shorts). Pine will also star in the film as the eponymous pool cleaner, “a hapless dreamer and would-be philosopher” who stumbles upon a crazy water heist he sets out to solve.
“I never had a passion for acting, acting was something that seemed to pop out of nowhere and then just took over my life,” Pine said. “It seemed to be fated and it made a lot of sense. Directing, I never had a desire to direct, really, truthfully. The idea for ‘Poolman’ started as this little pebble in a pond.”
Thank his “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, her husband Sam Sheridan, and “a cocktail or two” for what came next. “We were just joking around and doing bits,” Pine explained. “And ‘Poolman’ and this character’s name, ‘Darren Barrenman,’ popped up and just made me laugh. And as I’ve been saying, I followed the giggle. I just followed the giggle and took the giggle to wherever it took me, and at the end of that giggle was me directing this film. It just seemed to be, well, yes, this is what I will be doing now.”
But while Pine might chalk some of his bigger choices up to something as whimsical as “following the giggle,” there seems to be something more considered under the surface. Metz is the first person to note that it was Pine’s own passion for “All the Old Knives” that was as exciting for him as any other element of the Amazon Original film. “This was always a passion project for Chris,” Metz said. “We really connected about what this would essentially be, our vision for this film. I think he trusted what I wanted to do with it. We really stuck with the story. It’s much to his credit that this film got made.”
The film joins Pine’s growing list of producing projects, starting with Sheridan’s Black Dahlia–inspired limited series “I Am the Night,” which aired on TNT in 2019. Since then, Pine has produced “All the Old Knives,” “The Contractor,” and “Doula.” The experience has been a revelatory one, and one that’s humbled him.
“Well, I’ll tell you this, the past two years I started this production company, Barry Linen Motion Pictures, and to get behind the scenes producing, something I really don’t know anything about, I have even greater respect for producers of merit who really stand the test of time and see things through,” Pine said. “And also I’ve learned, quite bluntly, that it doesn’t matter what my name is or whatever cachet I think I may have, it doesn’t mean something’s going to get made or bought at all. It’ll get me in a room and that’s great and I love getting in a room, but it won’t get it bought or made.”
Despite his starring roles in a number of high-profile Hollywood projects over the years, like Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” films or the recently resurrected “Star Trek” series, Pine said he’s not often recognized in his daily life. “I’ve thankfully, either because people have zero interest in me or they don’t recognize me, maintained a high level of anonymity, which I’m extremely grateful for,” he said.
Paramount Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection
One person who remains recognizable to a certain subset of television fans and movie lovers — think “CHiPS” obsessives, Game Show Network watchers, and classic Western devotees — is Pine’s dad, fellow actor Robert Pine. Spend enough time cruising old game shows like “Match Game PM” and “Password Plus,” and the elder Pine pops up a lot, one of many stars of the ’70s and ’80s who recurred as celeb guests on the popular shows.
Pine lights up at the merest mention of his dad. “Oh, yeah, you saw my dad!,” he said when I mentioned how many old episodes of “Match Game PM” my household consumed during the early days of lockdown. “He did a lot of those. I don’t know why he did them. I should ask him.”
The actor might be somewhat guarded when talking about his own filmography, but give him the slightest of nudges toward his father’s life and career, and he’s off like a shot. “This is just the Pine family lore addendum, but he met [iconic comedian] Jonathan Winters and they got very close,” Pine said. “So when I was a kid, every once in a while, Jonathan Winters would call, but Jonathan being Jonathan would be playing a character and he would go on these 20-minute monologues, like, ‘Now this is Fern Cappadocia from Warner Bros. marketing. Is Bob Pine there?’ He’d just go on and on and on making up these fucking stories.”
Pine couldn’t keep the smile off his face. “My dad’s had a hell of a career,” he said. “He got his SAG card in ’64. Was under contract at Universal. Got paid to be an actor, got paid to take horseback riding lessons. He was on ‘The Virginian,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Love Boat.’ He was in ‘The Graduate.’ My father was in ‘The Graduate’! When Dustin Hoffman goes to the fraternity to find out where Katharine Ross is getting married, there’s a shot of Dustin talking to some guys in a bathroom, and good old Bob Pine is there. Then they cut back to Dustin and I think my father is the one that’s answering him.”
He added with a laugh, “At least he says so, but I’m not sure.” (A cursory examination of the classic Mike Nichols film reveals a possible elder Pine, visible only from behind, answering Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock with plenty of good-natured charm: “Santa Barbara!”)
Pine’s enthusiasm over his father’s work is, admittedly, quite charming. And it brings us back around to the old to-do list question, in perhaps a different form. When I noted that talent often tell me that to-do lists and career checklists don’t tend to really pan out in Hollywood, Pine got characteristically reflective. A list implies some sense of inevitability, the possibility that asking for something will make it happen. He doesn’t believe in that.
“They can, they could,” he said of such lists. “I like to think of it as like, there is no deserve. ‘Deserve’ is a term or word that I feel very triggered by like, ‘Well, I deserve such and such. I deserve that.’ This business will teach you very quickly that there is no deserve. There just is what there is.”