Chris Pine is covered in blood, waving a pistol, locking lips with a teenage girl in Ani DiFranco groupie gear: cargo pants, tank top, boyish haircut. He and his young accomplice have just killed some bumbling Irish terrorists together, and now they're celebrating, kissing madly as Pine rubs a cat's oozing corpse all over her writhing back. This is how Pine chose to spend his summer—onstage, out of control, losing himself night after night in the part of a psychosexually comical walking, talking id. And he's absolutely killing it. The people in the capacity crowd at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles hoot as if they've been waiting for a slaughtered-cat joke this effective all their lives—or, possibly, just the right leading man to sell it.
After a six-week run, Pine has only a few performances left in Martin McDonagh's Tony-nominated pitch-black comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And good thing: "My body's all sorts of fucked-up," Pine tells me backstage after the show. "I tore my groin," he adds. "I pulled my neck and my glute, tweaked my rhomboid, sprained my fucking sacrum."
Injuries aside, channeling this paramilitary sociopath is paying major dividends for Pine. The directors Tony Scott and McG were in the audience tonight; Fox's president of production sat a few rows away; the money-minting writer-producer triumvirate of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof (Star Trek, Transformers, Lost) also took in the show. None of them came to see Captain Kirk Live. Hollywood power players simply don't show up to see you onstage on a weeknight—there's no courtesy theater requirement in this town—if they believe you're going to spend the rest of your bankable onscreen life breaking out the spandex every few years to shoot some Romulans. They will, however, come in droves for a bona fide stud with chops, one who's been entrusted with shouldering two major movie franchises (Pine is also slated to take over the role of Tom Clancy's CIA analyst Jack Ryan, previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck). "I'm not a theatergoer," says Tony Scott, who directed Pine in this month's bad-train-speeding-toward-a-good-town thriller Unstoppable. "But this is the most violent piece of theater I've ever seen—it's funny and complicated, and Chris is great in it. I know it sounds like Hollywood bullshit, but Chris is a stand-alone. A star. He's beautiful and sexy. He's got mystery and darkness. He's got everything."
Everything, that is, except for a voice. "I need to take care of my throat tonight," Pine says, pinching his Adam's apple and wincing after two hours of shouting. He eyes a box of chamomile tea. "Gotta get some hot water going."
Pine struts through the rear entrance of an Italian place in Los Feliz that makes a respectable meatball sandwich and occasionally smells like pot. He's wearing Ray-Bans, a white Hanes T-shirt, a fully deployed American Apparel hoodie, and mesh athletic shorts. He shifts in his seat, trying to find the right position to accommodate his pulled ass muscles. "This is kind of a funny place," he says. "The owner's this little old lady who chain-smokes outside."
Pine's keen on backstory, development, roots. His own formative years took place just over the Hollywood Hills, in Studio City. He attended Oakwood School, a progressive private day school in North Hollywood, where he stood out in several sports, developing such outsize athletic confidence that he planned to walk on to his college baseball team at Cal-Berkeley. Instead he discovered a passion for the Pine family business. "I started doing a ton of theater," he says. "Being onstage was like a drug."
Pine's father has a list of credits so extensive that it's a drinking game waiting to happen. (Quick: Name the only actor to show up on both ALF and Six Feet Under.) Since the 1960s, Robert Pine has appeared on Bonanza, The Bob Newhart Show, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, Family Ties, Dallas, Baywatch, The West Wing, and The Office. For the most part, those were one- or two-episode gigs, the Hollywood equivalent of day-laboring. "My father," says Pine, "calls acting a state of permanent retirement with short spurts of work." Many, many short spurts in Robert's case, with one exception: 139 episodes of CHiPs, a show Chris himself appeared on—in utero. "My grandmother was an actress too," Pine says between bites of spinach salad. "In the thirties and forties she was under contract with Universal Studios. Crazy credits, lots of them. My dad was also under contract with Universal Studios. And my first film was shot on the same stage they both worked on at Universal. Crazy, right?"
More recently, the Pines have become a clan of psychotherapists—Pine's mom and sister, both reformed actors, are now mental-health professionals. "I don't think there's anything better than talk therapy," Pine says. "And the combination of acting and therapy makes a whole lot of sense."
Pine's acting lineage provides him with a unique vantage point from which to understand the Hollywood star system and his potential place in it. Unlike the Barrymores, the Coppolas, and the Sheens, the Pines are part of the working-class community that has existed here for decades beneath all the accumulated gloss. Nepotism hardly applies to a man whose father played the Secretary of Agriculture in two episodes of 24. "I've only been on one audition with my dad," Pine says. "When we finished, we were standing outside—my dad, myself, and this other actor my dad's known forever. We were all talking about how it went and what we thought about the project, and I remember having this feeling, like it was a bunch of guys in Pittsburgh talking about steel or guys in Detroit talking about cars. Generations talking about the work they do."