LONG-READ: Chris Pratt talks about his role in Passengers

2016-12-22 07:01

Cape Town - When the screenplay for Passengers – a script that had been building a considerable buzz in Hollywood for several years - finally landed on Chris Pratt’s desk he read it through in one sitting and declared: “It’s mine.”

Quite simply, he says, the role of Jim Preston, a blue-collar mechanic travelling from Earth to start a new life on a distant planet, is unlike anything he has tackled before and he couldn’t bear the thought of another actor taking it on. 

Pratt is joined by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence in the film, directed by Morten Tyldum, that is both a love story and a spectacular adventure. It’s funny, thrilling and visually stunning and features two of the biggest stars working in contemporary cinema. 

Chris sat down for a Q&A about his role in the film and what it was like working with Jennifer Lawrence and Morten Tyldum.

The script for Passengers had been creating quite a buzz. What was your reaction when you first read it?

When I read the script I couldn’t believe that I would be given an opportunity to be in this movie. Sometimes you read a script and it just grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. I was never going to let anyone else play Jim. It was mine. The minute I read it I wanted it. And I’m so fortunate that it came together the way it did because the script had been floating around for a while and there had been several incarnations. It just never got off the ground.

Why did it grab you in that way?

It’s an epic in that it really has everything in one movie. It’s adventure, romance, it’s a thriller and it’s emotionally resonant. There are great moments of humour and spectacle all wrapped up in one movie. Once we were able to attach Jennifer it opened up to be the big movie that it was always meant to be and needs to be in order to be executed properly. I loved the script. I think it’s really good. Usually there’s at least a few things that stand out that you want to have a conversation about but with this my only note was ‘I’ll do it – but don’t change anything.

Could you tell us about your character in Passengers?

I play a character called Jim Preston who is a Rate-2 mechanical engineer. This story takes place in the near-to-distant future and Jim is a bit of a throwback to the way men used to be. He’s not rich, he’s blue collar, very much a working class guy. He’s a passenger on The Avalon, which is a starship that travels to faraway colony planets and populates these planets – not that there’s anything wrong with the Earth other than it’s overcrowded. It’s still the cradle of civilization but in the time the movie takes place we’re able to colonize planets. 

So he’s a practical guy – a man with skills, right?

Jim has what is a considered a ‘desirable trade’ so there’s value to him, with his skills, being on a planet where they’re building a new civilization. If something breaks, you have to fix it, and he’s good at fixing things. So he’s a blue-collar guy looking for wide-open spaces and room to grow. 

Describe The Avalon for us…

The Avalon is a cross between a Carnival cruise ship and the Starship Enterprise. It’s designed to travel half the speed of light and it’s part badass spaceship and part luxury cruise liner. It’s like before you arrive at your destination they wake up three or four months early so you can party – swim in the pool and rack up a big bill playing the slots or shopping at high end stores. So it’s a cruise ship in space.

But Jim wakes up too early. Could you tell us about that?

There about 5 000 passengers on The Avalon travelling to this new planet called Homestead Two and they travel in what are called ‘hibernation pods,’ which are essentially exactly what they sound like – a cocoon in inside of which each of these passenger is kept in a state of suspended animation where they don’t age, they don’t grow and they don’t get sick. His pod malfunctions and he wakes up ninety years too early. 

How does he react?

He has a brief stint where he decides he’s just going to go crazy and have fun. Why not? Also, he’s not a ‘Gold Class’ passenger so he’s limited to like the worst food, the worst meals, the worst soap. He has the smallest room and forced to live like a second-class citizen on the ship. So it adds injury to insult and creates a lot of comic beats in what is otherwise pretty harrowing circumstances in the first act. 

Tell us about Arthur, the android, played by Michael Sheen…

Jim develops a real friendship with Arthur, the android bartender, and it gives him something to interact with, as close to humanity as possible. Michael is a terrific actor and a really great guy. We’ve had a lot of fun working together and yeah, you get to see my character attempt to have a friendship with somebody who is not human and it should be great fun to watch. It was a tricky dynamic, I think, to figure out how human Arthur should be because we are far into the future – at least far enough to have created a fusion drive and travel at the speed of light and to be able to have suspended animation. These technologies are available so you have to assume that we’ve made some pretty great leaps in artificial intelligence. 

But although Jim desperately wants Arthur to be human, he’s obviously not and that plays a pivotal part in the story?

I think Michael, with the help of Morten, did a great job of determining just how human he would make this android character – just enough so that often Jim would forget that Arthur isn’t human, which also drives the story forward because Jim goes to Arthur for advice when he’s deciding whether he should do something or not. And Arthur gives him advice – which is not the best advice. It’s not the advice that a human would give you but Jim clings to it. 

Tell us about Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and how we meet her?

She essentially saves his life, in a way, because he finds something on which to focus his attention. He starts to fall in love with her through the glass (of her pod). Not only her physical beauty, but also who she is as a writer and as a person, her voice, her laugh. He is able to pull up videos and to see her and he really falls in love with her. So she gives him a reason to live. 

So tell us about working with Jennifer…

She’s been great, man, really great. She’s a phenomenon. She can turn it on like that (clicks fingers). Some actors like to do mental and vocal warm ups and acting drills and stuff and Jen is like an opera singer who can just open here mouth and make a sound you didn’t know existed. That’s what I feel she does with acting and it’s really incredible to watch. I really feel like I’ve made a life long friend and it’s been one of the highlights of making this incredible movie.

The Avalon is a huge part of the film, obviously, a character in itself…

You get the feeling that something is wrong with the ship. But you don’t know exactly what it is. Morten is a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick and it was the same in The Shining where the hotel itself is a character. The ship is falling apart and there are ominous beats of robots malfunctioning and lights flickering on and off and you’re not sure if it’s haunted or possessed. 

And your crew created real sets as opposed to creating the ship totally with green screen. How important was that?

The sets were huge – huge! And on top of that they’re going to animate five stories up because you know the ship is several kilometres long. And the bigger the ship the more isolated, the smaller, you would feel. They put together amazing props, toys and cars and screens everywhere, and it’s really cool. The detail is pretty amazing and everything is so well thought out and planned.  It felt like we were on a real ship. I’m a huge fan of talent and when I see sets like that, that the crew built, you can’t help but be in awe. There were literally hundreds of really talented artists working on this movie. I’m forever impressed by the magnitude of this type of movie. When you have something real against which you can react it just makes your job easier. With acting one of the keys is to create ‘real’ environments so you can react in a comfortable, organic and honest way without having to fake it that much.

Could you tell us about the scenes where Jim is in zero gravity? 

The weightlessness stuff is really difficult to nail. Being hung by wires you’re really trying to fake the idea that gravity is not pulling down at your hand or your feet and you’re suspended by your belt. It’s some of the best ab workouts I’ve ever done (laughs). I kind of want to get a wire rig at my home gym just to do some ab work! It’s really, really difficult and Morten is really particular. He wants it to look perfect and he doesn’t move on until the angle is perfect through the whole take. So we did a lot of work and it’s frustrating, hard work. But you know, I feel like I’m cut out for that type of work, the physical stuff…not to brag, but my brains are in my glutes, bro! Seriously, I’ve been trained to do that. I grew up as a wrestler and I did sports more than I ever did acting and so it’s nice to do that stuff where it’s just physical sometimes.

The spacesuit looks amazing. But what was it like to actually wear it?

Oh yeah, it’s one of the many great costumes Jany created. It’s so beautiful, it’s worth it. I say ‘worth it’ because it’s a pain in the ass. It’s really heavy, probably about eighty to a hundred pounds, and it takes like 45 minutes to put on or take off. 

If you had the chance to leave everything and everyone behind to travel to another planet, the way that Jim does, would you do it?

Me? No. Maybe when I was younger I would have. But I’m a family man now. I’ve got a wife and a son and people who depend on me. 

What about if they went with you?

I’ve got a wife and a son and people who depend on me. And you know, I’ve got a pretty good thing going on here on Earth. I don’t think I’m going to land on a planet, colonise it and make it big as an actor, you know what I mean? (laughs).

The film releases in cinemas on Friday, 30 December. 

(Photos: AP)

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