Pine is chugging water from the gallon jug he brought with him to the restaurant, still trying to make himself comfortable, crossing and uncrossing his legs, his knee cracking loudly with each move. At present, he's seeing a chiropractor, a masseuse, and a physical therapist. "I feel prematurely old," he says. "I'm actually having this major belated quarter-life crisis. I'm turning 30 in a couple of weeks. I've been thinking a lot about mortality. A lot about what I'm going to do with my life and how to enjoy it. One of the things I'm going to work on is being more spontaneous, letting go, embracing the beauty of come-what-may."
The last time Pine ventured into the realm of spontaneity he ended up vacationing in postwar Bosnia. "You could feel the residual tension," he says, "the vestiges of what had happened. The energy. The bones of the country." Pine concluded that trip in Poland, watching the sun set at the Birkenau concentration camp. Vinnie Chase he is not—though he did audition unsuccessfully for the role. In a couple of days, Pine tells me, he's giving the whole come-what-may vacation thing another try. "I really don't know where the hell I'm going," he says. "I think it's going to be a solo drive somewhere. I want to do some self-assessment and decompressing. I'm serious about working on that."
For Pine, it really is all about the work—acting is work; vacationing is work; merely being is work. He has a tendency to intellectualize everything. "My therapist was very wise to that way of hiding," he says, "and asked me to cut it out." But the very behaviors that thwart breakthroughs on the couch—deflecting questions with questions, obsessively seeking definitions and etymologies for every clinical term—have a way of impressing on the set. "I mainly remember him asking a lot of questions," says Denzel Washington, who stars opposite Pine in Unstoppable. "Questions for the director. Questions about the script. 'What about this?' 'What about that?' He kind of woke me up. I used to ask those questions."
Pine is even starting to question his own analytical nature. Questioning his own questionings. What's it all worth? "I'm more cerebral than I want to be," he says. "Sometimes I think I need to get crazy. Go to Vegas. Do some drugs. Get some hookers. Gamble it all away. And it never happens. I usually just end up at home on my couch—reading."
"It's all just cognitive behavioral therapy for me. How do you change how you think to make your life work?" Pine says. "I'm single and very happy about it. It's a good time to be single. I have a lot of friends getting married right now, having babies. But I think I'll be more like... the George Clooney."
Being "the George Clooney," of course, is a learned behavior, an acquired skill, and a tough thing to pull off when you're just turning 30. At that age even Clooney wasn't the George Clooney—he was married and a bit player on Roseanne. Still, Pine is progressing in the cognitive-behavioral sense. It's been over a year since he's been photographed with Audrina Patridge, late of The Hills, and though he says he frequently asks his publicist and manager to introduce him to starlets, he does suggest that their unified response—"We're not a dating service"—is, in fact, modifying his behavior.
Professionally, the evolution is further along. It's unlikely that Pine can rest on the laurels of James Tiberius Kirk for all that much longer; with only one more Star Trek movie in the works, that may not even be possible. "Talk to me in 30 years," Pine jokes. "By then it could be me and Shatner in Reno, working the lobby of some third-tier casino in our spandex."
As much as Pine owned the performance, turning a Kirk who had become tired, pudgy, and campy into a swaggering man of action, he was hardly a lock to captain the USS Enterprise. "Until six weeks before shooting, we didn't even have our Kirk," says Star Trek's director, J.J. Abrams. Pine had a couple of meaty theater roles under his belt—Neil LaBute's Fat Pig, Ronan Noone's The Atheist—but his movie work up to that point was less than must-see: a couple of castrated parts in bubblegum blunders opposite Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries 2) and Lindsay Lohan (Just My Luck). For a while it looked like Chris Pine would carry on as the guy you cast when Chad Michael Murray goes on vacation. That all changed when Abrams, on a tip a from his wife, rewatched Pine's tape. "I thought, 'Damn, this guy's pretty good,' " Abrams recalls. "Once I saw him in person, it was clear he had it: Confidence. Vulnerability. Athleticism. Fearlessness. And a willingness to look uncool—that makes him the coolest guy in the room."