Star Trek may be the gift that keeps on giving for Chris Pine.
The franchise shot the actor to fame in 2009 when he took on Captain Kirk. And years after filming it, its co-writer delivered just the kind of meaty, dialogue-driven role Pine had been on the hunt for.
Filming the first Star Trek, "I was so focused on not (screwing) up that I just had blinders on to everything and everyone on set who was not in my direct path," says Pine, who recalls meeting the film's co-writer Alex Kurtzman briefly.
But then Kurtzman "called me up really out of the blue at home," says Pine, 31, and he sent over a script for People Like Us (out Friday), a film inspired by Kurtzman and writing partner Roberto Orci's own lives.
The script was packed with emotional minefields: an absentee father who's hidden his adult love child, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), from his son, Sam (Pine). A narcissistic, secretive mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). And a payload in the form of $150,000, left in Sam's hands for Frankie upon their father's death.
Pine signed on to the Kurtzman-directed dramedy within days. "I love the character," he says of Sam, his cocky, fast-talking salesman. "I thought he was flawed and funny and dark but in a really human kind of dark way."
Sam, an "epic plate-spinning, super-adroit cocktail-party chatterer," is challenged with ditching his honed salesman shtick and facing his boxed-up past.
For Pine, the beauty in this family was in its flaws.
"What I loved about (the film), which was on the page, is that there are no golden pink bow ties by the end of the film," he says. As his character navigates the waters after his father's death and confronts the women in his life, including his hard-edged mother, Lillian (Pfeiffer), and his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde), "they all kind of still hate one another, and Sam doesn't fully get along with his mom, (but) he chooses to love her for all of her faults. He and Frankie, they were all just kind of entering the town of people - almost becoming human to be like, 'I'm screwed up, are you?' That was kind of the message of it I liked."
People was also a chance to diversify outside of Star Trek's orbit.
"After Star Trek, I did Unstoppable, and then I did This Means War, which were two not-small films," he says. "Unstoppable (the train drama with Denzel Washington) was a great amount of action, This Means War (with Reese Witherspoon) was a great amount of comedy. I enjoyed making both of them and got chances to work with people I'd wanted to work with all my life. But ... I never got into this business ever thinking that that would be the path I'd be going down."
Posing in front of a retro, cackling fireplace, Pine, dressed to the nines in a natty suit, a maroon tie and a printed pocket square, looks like the most interesting man in the world.
It's the running joke during a photo shoot at local hangout The Smokehouse, as the photogenic star imagines a glass of scotch in his hand, his blue eyes giving the camera a come hither gaze.
"I love this place," he says a few minutes later, sliding into a red leather booth before ordering a steak and a martini. The classic steakhouse vibe, located just minutes from the movie studios, reminds Pine of Hollywood's golden age. "All the Warner Brothers contract players would have come here."
Over the early dinner, candor - minus the slick salesmanship of his lead character - proves to be Pine's specialty.
He talks of the importance of setting healthy boundaries in Hollywood and keeping good friends close. He'll also admit to a certain amount of impatience with his career, and the kind of movies he loves - namely Kramer vs. Kramer, "a story really ultimately about not a whole lot other than a marriage ... and it's one of the most beautiful films ever made."
Pine's laugh booms when a reporter points out his minute-long cameo in pal Rashida Jones' new film Celeste and Jesse Forever (in which his character is cloaked in denim and turquoise), but he noticeably dims revisiting a moment in Cannes last month, when he and his girlfriend, model Dominique Piek, posed on the storied red carpet together.
Pine regrets that moment, mostly because it has led to public discourse on his love life. "It was not something we thought about, really quite honestly," he says. "I thought we were literally going to go in the back door. But there was really no great thought, we were not forming some sort of strategy. She's a great girl, and I think I'll just leave it at that."
Charting his path through Hollywood, "I'm guilty of playing the 'what if' game, or 'if I'd done that,' or 'why aren't I here?' " he says, calling himself a perfectionist. "But really, at the end of the day, I'm so firmly aware of how difficult it is to make a living doing what I do. I'm at a level I never thought I'd get to, and I'm working at that level. I know people that I never thought I'd know; I've worked with people I've never thought I'd work with."
Along with the Star Trek sequel (due May 2013), Pine's next projects include the animated Rise of the Guardians, in which he voices Jack Frost (out in November); a new Jack Ryan film, which is set to begin shooting under Kenneth Branagh this fall; and Mantivities, an indie comedy he co-wrote. Pine, who won raves in the staging of Farragut North, says he'd "absolutely" return to working on the stage.
Careerwise, Captain Kirk's future is moving at a rapid pace. "The problem is that I'm very impatient," he says. "It's like, I can't believe I'm 31, and I can't believe I'm not 21. That all went by in a blink of an eye."