There’s still about a half-hour’s worth of sunshine in Silver Lake and a few after-work joggers are parading by the large windows of the restaurant where Pine and I have agreed to meet for dinner. He strolls in, Hollywood casual and a few minutes late, chipping a silver-screen smile at Kelsey, the bartender, as he crosses the room to shake my hand. This, along with his dashing enthusiasm for the wine list —“It’s always so exciting”— is the sort of thing that’s more or less expected, but as anyone who’s ever gotten mysteriously lost trying to find the 5 Freeway will tell you, L.A. can have a way of toying with one’s sense of direction.
Somehow, for the first 15 minutes of the interview, and after some curious prodding on his part, I’m telling Pine what an arrogant ass I’ve been in my own not-so-distant past, relating a few MFA workshop experiences from a few years ago, when I found myself in a room every week with a group of gifted writers and was intimidated into shutting down creatively: “I had been there thinking I would dominate. Like, I’m going to go in and I’m gonna do this thing.”
Pine gets it, adds, “And how immediately—that self-awareness—you’re like, So then what the fuck am I doing here? Am I all about just beating people? It’s a really interesting thing.”
I tell him I figured things out, but that I had to work on myself awhile. “I was able to start getting back to a place where I’d been originally, which is, this is fun. You know? This is just fun.”
He says, “I think that’s the greatest part about being in an artistic [place], is that you get to use it as a way to grow. The only way—it’s almost like it comes hand in hand. It’s like, as you become ever more integrated and self-aware, you know what your foibles are, your weaknesses are, your strengths are.”
These subjects—self-transformation, self-realization—are where the conversation is finding focus. And Pine’s interest explains, perhaps, a conversational tic. He’s a relentless self-editor, taking care before answering any question and often restarting twice or thrice before continuing a sentence. There is no unexpurgated Pine. This trait could be ascribed to obvious intelligence, and that’s part of it. But there’s an impression that some considerable control is being exercised, a filtering of evolving options, and I feel I’m watching Pine write his responses on the fly. This is reinforced by the fact that he’s attentive to the specific words he chooses, as well as being a careful listener, at least twice recalling conversational details once-mentioned by me two glasses of wine earlier.
Composure’s the right word, especially in the sense that the moment itself is being composed. We’re seated in a corner of a white tablecloth dining room framed in lots of dark wood, attended by a genial staff familiar with Pine’s patronage and who keep a ready, but distant, orbit. As the night proceeds, wine flows and takes hold, and the noise picks up, but gradual, steady increases of intensity lend a sense that the evening is somehow choreographed, the setting conceived. I have the unexpectedly pleasurable feeling of being a character who’s found a story. I’m hoping for some good dialogue.
I say, “So you’ve said that you’re taking time to be irresponsible. How’s that coming along?”
And I get a laugh. “I don’t know if it’s taking time to be irresponsible. It’s just I think I was a very kind of by-the-books kid, studied hard and was home on time. It’s just that I’m getting older and kind of realized…the brevity of it all?”
“Did something happen to underscore that?”
“No, it just—I think I was a hard worker, and I am a hard worker sometimes to my own detriment, that I’m a little bit too…way too hard on myself. I mean, to your point—that’s why I really resonated when you were talking about when you’re in this class, you’re like, I’m gonna kick everybody’s ass. When I got into acting, you know, I would always text my agent or manager after an audition and say I killed it! Even the language of that is…to what end?”
I say, “It’s a process when you’re changing viewpoints like that, and, for me, trying to figure out how I was going to get back to writing again—was a way of trying to put myself in a centrifuge and separate those parts of my personality out that are impelling me towards this competitive, you know, what am I afraid of?”
“I like that image of the centrifuge. I think that’s right. It’s like you’re trying to distill—well, I like it, because it speaks to the many, many different parts of who you are and also that quite possibly there’s something that sinks deepest when that thing spins around, which is, maybe, that thing that is you.”
It’s a nice point, and charming given how he’s extended the metaphor.
He continues: “’Cause I’ve been so blinded by all this other shit. I kind of got into [acting] because I was around it, so I understood it on a cellular level? And on a nurture level? So I was in it because—it’s not a bad thing, it’s a very human thing—but I loved the applause and I loved being told that I was good and that, you know, that validation is incredibly, it’s incredibly appealing.”
“Absolutely. And that’s exactly it, is that I feel like I woke up having been involved in this business from a certain perspective and—I don’t know—I finally saw that perspective with clear eyes and I was, I don’t really dig working from this angle of needing to win, needing to be… it was a process that kind of left me completely out of it. Because it’s—what was it you said about beating the others? Because who’s it all for, then? I win and then what? It’s like eating cotton candy—you eat it and you’re, who’s fuckin’ next? It’s aggressive. So I’m still figuring it all out, but I think, for me, it’s finding the joy again.”
Since this story’s evolving in real time, I want to know what the hero’s up against. “Where is the conflict coming up for you now in life? If your life were, right now, going to be put up on screen?”
He mulls a few half-sentences before he finds a thread. “It’s like waking up in your thirties—it’s waking up and being, okay, so here we are. I’m thirty-four. That’s happened. This is how you’ve gone about your life. This is how it made you feel good, this is where you felt shitty. It brought you to here. These are the material things you have. This is the state of the world. This is how much more time you probably have left. And it’s just being super clear about—this is one of the defaults of our system in our world, this entertainment world—is so very easy to feel as if you’re at the center of the universe. Even if you aren’t a gross narcissist, you just feel like—this interview, a lot of people will give a shit about. Ultimately they really won’t. You think that take is the most important, that moving decision is the most important, or how much you’ll make here is going to turn the tide. All you have to do is look up and just re-remember how very minute you are. How very brief we have now is.”
So I ask, “Is this like an awareness of mortality? I mean, ’cause it seems like that’s what you’re talking about. For me, honestly, that didn’t happen—my father died, ten years ago, and that’s when I was—”
“How old were you when he died?”
“I was thirty-eight. And he was sixty-nine. He was a lifetime smoker. It just caught up to him. And I don’t think he ever thought—”
And so we get into it for a few minutes. I tell him about losing my father and he, as usual, pays close attention, but he eventually lands on a statement about success.
“I just think I—up until a few years ago, I was close-minded in my conception of what could bring me sustenance,” he says. “That it’s not this kind of—achievement can be very empty. I think it’s glorified nonetheless, but it can be very empty. And, you know, it’ll sound like whatever it’ll sound like, but just slow it down. You know, appreciate the food, appreciate the conversation, appreciate—and there is great joy in that.”
The emptiness of achievement rings as a key note. I say, “You have a reputation as a perfectionist. You come off as a perfectionist.”
Pine raises the question of what perfect could be, and then begins to define it as a form of people pleasing. “In failure there is glory. Pushing and throwing yourself off a ledge, or, that is, if you don’t have the freedom to do that. The danger in art is that it’s exhibited and then it’s critiqued and then the ego gets involved. And, well, because the ego’s a very violent thing, we know then so-and-so likes that. They like that. You have to be superhuman not to listen to that voice, but the conflict is always then going beyond that to say, it’s almost like, Fuck you… I’m nowhere even remotely fuckin’ near that place.”
“So you think that’s true for you then, that you do have this drive…?”
“I definitely have, for sure. I mean—”
“What’s the fear for you? Where is that coming from?”
“I think again—I would have to go way in depth with you and I’m not going to, but it’s—one learns certain things. So you talk about your father. We are creatures of…generational trauma. And I loved the idea of that, is that—I’m not just alone here right now. I’m a product of my parents, who were brought up by their parents, who were brought up by their parents. If my great-great-great-grandfather was an abusive alcoholic—that trauma—or if he was an abusive narcissist—all that kind of just relays its way down the line…to where you are sitting right now. So you learn certain things, you’re brought up in certain ways. And that’s one thing that I definitely have.”
Pine also has a busy career, for which he’s taking an array of roles that vary from his turn as the intrepid captain of the Enterprise. Horrible Bosses 2, for example, which opened late November, is a fun continuation of the first film’s madcap situational antics and clown-chums chemistry. My initial impulse when seeing the film was to resist it, to play skeptic at the magic show. But I found myself chuckling along in short order, enjoying the wack-vortex conjured by Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, and Charlie Day. Pine, aggressively complicating the worst-laid plans of the film’s leads, seamlessly accents the ensemble and is a natural in the genre. There’s a scene in which Day’s character, Dale, defending his point-of-view towards a vulnerable Rex, played by Pine, asserts “He’s just really, really, really, really, really likeable.” Part of the hyperbolic joke, of course, is that it’s a wink at the audience and Dale, after all, is only half-joking.
Of the film, Pine says, “It’s ridiculous. I think it’s really funny. I think it’s better than the first. The guys were so good—their attention to detail, these three guys, is incredible. Their timing is great. To be around that kind of comedy just offers you a shit-ton of freedom. It’s like, as specific as they are, they’re creating the world in which they work. Once they got that down, it’s a fuckin’ free-for-all.”
As for the methods of the film’s stars, perhaps Pine expresses admiration for what he himself is interested in accomplishing: finding freedom by creating his world. World-making is then, for him, a continual process of self-reflection which, hopefully, leads to something true in performance. Talking about Marlon Brando in The Godfather, he says, “There’s a percolating, in-front-of-your-eyes-happening reality that’s not mimicry. We understand this is intangible, but we believe [it] to be what we call authenticity. If your work is doing that, you’re also simultaneously doing that with your own self. The blossoming of those two things kind of goes hand-in-hand. I think it can be, with the right amount of awareness, it can be a really good thing.”
Pine also stars in Disney’s Christmas-due Into the Woods, a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical featuring a constellation cast: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, et. many al. The story intertwines the fates of various Grimm’s fairytale characters, complicating the extraordinary notions of wishing and what it means to live happily ever after. Asking him about his experience with the project, I immediately mess up his character’s name, saying, “You play Prince Charming ...”
“I am Cinderella’s Prince,” he says, correcting immediately. “It’s a talking point, believe me.” He expands: “It really says something, I think, about how good Sondheim is... that he takes all these fairytales, these kind of very two-dimensional people and all of a sudden these two-dimensional people get three-dimensional, multi-dimensional. They’re deep and they’re dark and they’re dirty and they’re wonderful and they’re, you know, comic. And they’re sad. They’re human beings. And then you have someone like Cinderella’s Prince who is—I mean, he doesn’t even have a name. He is as if he’s taken from the pages of the book, and in his complete two-dimensionality has to encounter all these human beings that he has no idea how to deal with. He just has his storyline that’s written down. He’s a very post-modern prince. He’s just stuck in this real world and he’s, ‘I don’t like it here. I like my story, which is, I love to be in love—let’s play that game. If you can’t do it, I don’t even know how to interact with you.’ So he’s—he’s ridiculous. He has big hair and tight pants and thinks he’s great and—I loved it.”
Fairytale monsters are still in mind when, as we’re close to wrapping up, Pine again speaks to coming to terms with the real, the authentic. He offers: “Yeah, there’s been a lot of shit that I’ve had to figure out, and it has a lot to do with what we were talking about earlier, just like, like you’re on this giant cannon or catapult. You have all this support and love, you’ve got a basket full of groceries, and water for days, and you’re given a weapon. And then you’re catapulted out in the world and you’re, like, this is great, this is great, this is great. Then you land thirteen years later—holy fuck. The food’s nearly gone. I only have one spear left. And there’s a giant ogre coming at me. I’ve gotta figure out, now—you have to figure out your own way in the world. The whole necessary part is being self-reflective enough—like, the mirror that was put up to you—that’s what’s going on? That’s why this is happening? And that I think has, God willing, made me a better person. You know, hopefully, in the future, will make me better at what I do and what I love.”
We finish a bottle of wine and Pine stays far longer than the appointed time, chatting over this and that before giving in to the demands of texting friends. We shake hands and he glides out of the restaurant and into a black SUV ready to take him to whatever the evening has in store. I settle up, walk out to the sidewalk, check my email, make for my car. It’s a warm night and Silver Lake always feels like a mix of what’s been and what’s to come. Montaigne got it right when he said, “I do not portray being: I portray passing.” This neighborhood, for me, keeps the past while feeling very now, an always-moving target.
Photographer: Tetsu Kubota for bridgeartists.com. Stylist: Sean Knight for jedroot.com. Groomer: David Cox for celestineagency.com. Set Designer: Sonja Kroop at SonjaKroop.com. Prop Assistants: Caitlin G. Dennis and Amy Marie Slocum. Location: Mack Sennett Studios at macksennettstudios.net.