Chris Pine and Alex Kurtzman's New Film, People Like Us, Gets Personal.
Chris Pine, not being chased by CGI monsters, in People Like Us.
There's no doubt that you know the name Chris Pine. He is of course the leading man who made Captain James Tiberius Kirk synonymous with cool again. And the name Alex Kurtzman might not ring a bell, but it should. After all, he is the writer who made Star Trek cool again, not to mention having written Transformers and of course the recently wrapped Trek sequel and currently underway on writing the inevitable sequel to the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man.
But you won't see Kurtzman and Pine's names in the credits of a mega blockbuster this summer, but rather in People Like Us - a smaller family drama co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer about a man (Pine) who discovers, in the wake of his father's death, that he has a long lost sister (Elizabeth Banks).
The film marks the seasoned screenwriter's directorial debut and comes from his own personal experiences that mirror the film's. Pine and Kurtzman were recently in Dallas promoting People Like Us, so we sat down to discuss its "art imitates life" origins, film as a form of self-reflection, and making the hyperjump from big action to small drama. Also, Pfeiffer's hotness.
Mixmaster: Okay, first question. Michelle Pfeiffer...let's just be honest...stone cold fox?
Alex Kurtzman makes his directoral debut in this heart-warming indie tale.
Chris Pine: Stone cold. No question. Unfortunately, there was a ton of Freudian stuff between she, Olivia Wilde, and Elizabeth Banks. It was a nightmare of psychoanalysis! (laughs)
Now that that's out of the way, Alex can you talk about the true story inspiration behind this film?
Alex Kurtzman: Well, I met my half-sister when I turned 30 and I had never known her - I knew of her - but I didn't know her. And one night at a party a woman walked up to me and said "I'm your sister." It was a little shocking. And it began a big exploration of family and we got to know each other really well. I think that what I felt the most in talking to her and filling in the blank's of our lives was how much time we missed, and I think that's the feeling that is really communicated strongly in this movie. This idea that these two siblings wish they could have looked out for each other when they were little kids.
Then what was very interesting was when I began to talk to people about the story, they'd would say "Oh, that happened to me!" Or "That happened to a friend of mine." A lot more frequently than I had any idea. And I started to feel that maybe this occurrence is more common than I think. Even if it isn't your story, we all have complicated stories. Families are complicated. We have all had complicated relationships with family. The message of the movie is even broken families can be mended and no matter how far you run from your family, you always come back to it because it's where you're from. It's who you are. And I love that journey.
With this being your directorial debut, did you ever imagine your first film would be a smaller scale family drama considering the films you've written?
AK: Chris and I talk about this all the time actually. We never thought in a million years that we would be doing the movies that we do. Chris thought he'd be doing theater and I was raised in the heyday of independent film and that's what we thought we'd do. Then our lives took us down different roads...
So you could say you never thought you'd boldly go where no man had gone before?
CP: (laughs) Really, dude?
Sorry. Had to get that in there.
AK: No, but you're spot on! We just never thought it was going to happen and it's been amazing. We'll continue doing it for as long as they let us. But I think People Like Us was a reconnecting to some roots and that was a great feeling.
Chris, this must have been fun for you because the film feels more like a play and gets back to your roots as an actor.
CP: You couldn't have said it better. I have a great appreciation for the well-written, well-used word. And Alex's script was similar to playwrights like Mamet or LaBute - they have a cadence or a music all their own. And that was definitely present in Alex's script. It read like a well-written play.
It was really nice to go to work and have a day with a scene where it was two people moving about 5 feet and ending up on a couch looking at one another while talking. If you take any day on the Star Trek set, there's all this stuff happening. But there's no extraneous stuff acting in a film like this. The explosions are hopefully what's happening between the characters. It's both small and real - small and epic all at the same time. And I love that experience as an actor.
Did you set-out to make this film as a piece of cathartic art for people who had those experiences?
AK: You know, we're so lucky to get to do what we do. I think the beauty of making films is that people get to lose themselves in another reality for two hours but sometimes they get the opportunity to see themselves on screen in some special way. I know personally the movies where I have felt that have been incredibly therapeutic for me and they have really made me look at my life in a different way and have a perspective on my life. Films like Rain Man, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, Good Will Hunting. Those were all movies that really affected me. And what I loved about those movies was that they were studio movies and yet they were these wonderfully intimate character stories. It's rare these days to get that. But I really want to believe that there is a whole section of people who want more from their movie going experience than just a lot of noise. And I say that knowing I'm responsible for a lot of that noise but, look, the key to life is balance, right?
When we were leaving the screening the other night, a woman fiercely grabbed my arm and told me that she had recently found out that she had a brother she never knew about. And she said "I didn't want to get to know him but I just saw your movie and I realize that I have to." And that was so powerful. If people can have that kind of experience going to the movies, I feel like what a gift that is for all of us.