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December 18th, 2016   admin   No Comments

How did Chris Pratt – God-fearing hunting enthusiast and former ‘fat guy’ – become a billion-dollar box office sensation? Celia Walden meets him

There’s the smallest of pauses before Chris Pratt confirms that he once worked as a daytime stripper. “It was actually pretty fun,” grins the actor. “I was an exhibitionist as a kid – always naked – so at 18 I announced I was going to be a stripper.

“I went for an interview, or an audition? Whatever it is strippers do. I submitted my resumé,” he gestures elegantly down at his crotch. “And they gave me the job. I did a couple of parties, then this one gal’s 40th when the men suddenly came home early and I had to grab my s___ and jump over the fence… And that was pretty much it. But I did OK. I made a couple of hundred bucks.”

All things considered, I think Pratt was wise to move on to a (mostly) clothed profession. After all, in August he was the youngest entry in Forbes’s annual list of highest-earning Hollywood actors (having made an estimated $26 million). He’s the leading actor in two of the biggest movie franchises out there (Jurassic World and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy), one of Time Magazine’s “most influential people in the world”, and in 2015 his films made $1.7 billion at the global box office (his 2014 total: $1.2 billion).

And now he’s about to star in one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year: Passengers. But if he ever has to go back to the day job, I know a couple of girls looking for birthday entertainment.

This isn’t the kind of quip I wouldn’t unleash on most A-listers, but Pratt’s not like any other actor I’ve interviewed. At nearly 6’2 he’s not Toon-town tiny, for one thing. He’s wide-shouldered and open-faced, standing up to greet you when you walk in and jumping ahead of you to get the door when you leave. At one point in our interview he erupts with laughter at his accidental use of the word “craft” (“it sounds so douchey when actors talk about their craft”).

Also, nothing about this 37 year-old quite coheres: I know from his Twitter feed that he’s a Christian (who discovered Jesus at 19 on a beach in Maui – always the last place you look), from Google that hunting is one of his favourite pastimes, and that although he looks like your friend’s hot ‘uncomplicated’ brother, he’s “thoughtful” (his Passengers co-star, Jennifer Lawrence’) and “intelligent” (his actress wife, Anna Faris).

Today, in a meeting room in Sony’s LA headquarters – the curve of a 20-foot Perspex rainbow just visible through the window – it’s Pratt’s turn to eulogise about Lawrence, his co-star in the drama from The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum. Set on a spaceship bound for a new planet, he and Lawrence – whom he’d never met before – play the only two passengers whose hibernation pods are mistakenly deactivated, leaving them awake and trapped a full 90 years away from their destination.

As they try to prevent the imminent collapse of their ship, and while away the time in the on-board malls, spas and bars (Michael Sheen is brilliant as an android bartender) the pair inevitably fall for each other, leading to Lawrence’s very first full-blown love scene.

Rumour has it she had to get drunk to go through with it? “Well I don’t know if it was like that,” laughs Pratt. “But look, actors aren’t like pilots, operating equipment – and sometimes doing love scenes can be awkward. I’ve done a simulated sex scene before, so it was less weird for me, but for Jen it was the first time she’d ever done anything like that. So Morton said: ‘Do you want to have a glass of wine?’ Because just like in real life it takes the edge off a bit. And I imbibed as well,” he smiles. “And, well, if that’s what it takes to get comfortable, why not?”

By the end of filming Pratt and Lawrence weren’t just comfortable with one another but firm friends. “We have a very similar sense of humour,” he nods. “And she’s very real, which is so rare now. Jen doesn’t really promote herself – she’s not on Twitter or any of that stuff – but she has this presence, you know? So she’ll burp in the middle of a press tour interview or fall down at the Oscars and everyone knows about it. Also although she takes her work very seriously, she doesn’t take herself seriously, which is nice.”

One thing Pratt is particularly proud of Lawrence for, he says, is her stance on equal pay. The actress has been very vocal on the subject since the 2014 Sony hack revealed that she and her American Hustle co-star Amy Adams were paid considerably less than their leading men. For Passengers, Lawrence is being paid $20 million – $8 million more than Pratt.

“She’s really gone at it and I think we’re making progress, although things still aren’t equal,” he says. “I know that she negotiates really hard for herself too, which is what you have to do regardless of your gender. And you’ve got to be prepared to walk away if they don’t give you want you want, because sadly you don’t get what you deserve but what you ask for in this industry.”

Pratt was neither this savvy nor this confident when he first arrived in LA 17 years ago. Plucked from the restaurant floor of Maui’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Company by actress Rae Dawn Chong, the Minnesota-born son of a supermarket worker and a contractor was given his first role in a film she was directing (the lesser known Cursed Part 3), and from there decided to follow his dream.

Like most actors, he found that dream to be elusive. He landed a small role in the teen drama, Everwood, and an even smaller one in the O.C (around the time people stopped watching it). But it wasn’t until he got the part of chubby good guy Andy Dwyer in the hit US sitcom Parks and Recreation that directors stopped begging Pratt to quit goofing around and find his “emotional centre”.

That goofiness, they began to realise, was pure gold. “When I got to play Andy, it was as though everyone got to see my clown and thought, ‘this guy is worth something.’ So I really got to hone my chops and become a better actor on Parks.”

I always assumed that the ‘it’ factor was something actors were born with but Pratt insists he “just didn’t have ‘it’ back then.” He felt this most acutely at a humbling audition for the part of Jake Sully in the 2009 film, Avatar. “I walked into that room knowing that I did not have that thing,” he told one magazine, “and I walked out thinking I would never have that thing, probably.”

So what, in the space of the past decade, has changed? Pratt considers this a moment. “This is a terrible quote, but never underestimate the shallowness of your audience. A lot of acting just has to do with an aesthetic look; a lot of the time in show business we’re just props. It’s terrible, but it’s true. And I just wasn’t in shape back then. I wasn’t feeling good about myself. So I walked in feeling nervous and insecure about the way I looked and I started sweating. I remember that it was literally rolling down my face. And whoever that tape went to…”

He shudders – I suspect at the prospect of it one day resurfacing. “So basically for me, a lot of that ‘it’ factor was about physicality. And I realise,” he says, pre-empting my next question, “that in terms of the pressure of that physicality women have more to deal with than we do. And even when they have beauty too young it can work against them.

“Take my wife: she’s gorgeous, but she was very awkward until she was 20. So she had to develop a personality and social skills and learn how to charm her way into the club. And as a result of being gangly and awkward for so long, she learnt to be a survivor. But it is hard for women.”

Scan through the images of Pratt over the years and the weight fluctuations are remarkable, working as a kind of life and career timeline. He gained 40 pounds when he first moved in with his then girlfriend, Faris (her cooking, apparently), lost 30 to play a baseball player the 2011 film Moneyball, gained back as many in just a few months for the high school reunion comedy 10 Years, and lost it again to portray a Navy SEAL in the 2013 drama, Zero Dark Thirty.

Despite having filled out again later that year for the Vince Vaughn comedy, Delivery Man, he won over Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, who cast him as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy (needless to say, he was required to slim down again).

Is he done with all that yo-yoing? “As I get older it gets harder to do,” he sighs. “And it was a relief that my Passengers character is a mechanic, so not in superhero shape, just a pretty regular guy. Still I feel so much better when I’m in good shape, so I have to take that into account.”

But who has more fun: Pratt with the washboard abs or fat Pratt? “Oh definitely fat Pratt. Fat people are great fun,” he chuckles. “I mean this morning, I was doing hot yoga at 5.30am,” he winces.

Oh, so he’s a proper…. “Hollywood douche? Oh yeah. Meet Captain Douche. But I find yoga makes such a big difference to the way I behave. Like if someone cuts me up on the road on the way there I’ll be like ‘you motherf_____’, but on the way back I’m just: ‘hey, you’re in a hurry and that’s OK’.”

Pratt’s Christianity seems to keep him more even tempered than most. Having “never connected” with either his dad’s Catholicism or his mother’s Lutheranism as a child, the actor was introduced to an organisation, “Jews for Jesus”, by a stranger on a Maui beach at 19 – a particularly rootless time in his life – and has been a firm believer ever since.

Although he, his wife and their 3 year-old son, Jack, don’t go to church much anymore (“It’s a strange thing but big crowded places have become a different thing for us now”) they still pray before every meal, the actor “will read verses from the Bible every day”, tweet passages he finds particularly relevant, or urge his followers to pray for sick children.

“But my social media presence has changed as my life has changed,” he explains. “When I first started [on Twitter] I had no followers and could do and say whatever the f___ I wanted with no consequences. But now… and it’s the same in interviews.”

Because of the reprisals when, for example, Pratt talks about his love of hunting? The 40 guns he says he owns and the animals – elk, caribou, moose and deer – he has killed? “Yup,” he grimaces, remembering the backlash he faced last year when he described his love of hunting as “a spiritual experience” – adding: “the remorse, emotion and respect I feel, and the closeness to God that I feel when I’m out there, is my humanity.”

“But that I understood. Because hunting is such a deep part of my upbringing but to someone who didn’t have that upbringing, it must seem really f______ weird. We’ve created a society that protects itself from the darkness and the death and destruction that’s all around us. There’s probably a stack of dead bodies in a morgue within six blocks from here, but it’s so gross that we keep that compartmentalised.”

He tells me about his childhood friend’s father, Joel, “who was a big hunter and had this book with photographs of him with all the things he’d hunted and killed in it. Now I was fascinated by this book but those pictures are not meant for everybody and that’s their right. I get that, which is why I’m not going to blast everything out to my 10 million followers.”

When Pratt starts reminiscing about the open plains, “winds, breezes and streams” of his childhood, it’s hard to imagine him spending the rest of his life in LA. Yes he’s got a lot of projects on the go – the Lego Movie sequel, one more Guardians of the Galaxy movie and two more Jurassic Parks – not to mention a rumoured new franchise: Indiana Jones (although Pratt dismisses this with “Harrison Ford is still Indiana Jones, from what I understand”), but, as he points out “movies don’t shoot in LA anymore. And I’d love to bring up Jack away from all this…”

He pauses, and stares through the window at that garish fake rainbow. “But when I came here I was an outsider. And staying a bit of an outsider in Hollywood has been the key to my longevity, because I know where I come from. And LA has this homogenising effect: eventually everyone becomes the same.

“I mean look at me,” he laughs. “I was doing hot yoga at 5.30am. So if I don’t get out of here quick, I’m going to have the winter cap, the Botox and the tight jeans on in no time.” [Source]

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