In between their sweeping cinematic jaunts into “space, the final frontier,” filmmaker Alex Kurtzman and actor Chris Pine are exploring an intimate, deeply personal story of “People Like Us.”
About eight years ago, Kurtzman — who with his writing partner Roberto Orci has penned screenplays to action-packed blockbusters like “Mission: Impossible III,” the first two “Transformers” movies and J.J. Abrams' 2009 “Star Trek” reboot — encountered a woman at a party who introduced herself as the half sister he'd never met. The experience helped inspire the fictionalized “People Like Us,” which also marks Kurtzman's directorial debut.
“What excited me about this was the idea of getting to do a movie where you couldn't cut away to a robot or a spaceship, where the scenes between the characters had to be as alive as anything. And I loved that challenge,” said Kurtzman, talking about the new film with Pine by phone from Dallas.
“I did meet my half sister when I turned 30, so I was drawing from a lot of personal experience for it. And the whole thing was extremely cathartic and a lot of fun.”
Building on his cinematic breakthrough portraying Captain James T. Kirk in “Star Trek,” Pine plays Sam, a self-absorbed salesman whose recently deceased father tasks him with delivering $150,000 to spirited single mom Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her troublemaking son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), who turn out to be the half sister and nephew Sam didn't even know he had. Deep in debt, Sam is reluctant to turn over the cash, so he conceals his identity and sets out to get to know Frankie and Josh.
“He's a complete BS artist in the beginning of the film and for much of the film, and he does a great job — or at least he thinks he's doing a great job — of spinning all the plates at once until things start to unravel,” Pine said of Sam.
“Anytime you take on a character ... you just have to find the parts of the character that you can understand. I mean, no matter how bad the individual, everybody has reasons for why they do what they do. Sam unfortunately at 30 is a really emotionally disconnected man who spends the length of the film trying to become a better person.”
Although he and Kurtzman conversed briefly during the making of “Star Trek,” Pine, 31, said they bonded much more intensely with “People Like Us.”
“He called me on a Thursday and asked me to read the script. On a Friday, I got it. I read it on a Saturday, Sunday I called my agent, and by Monday it was basically a done deal. It was something I responded to immediately, and it was a beautifully written story and a much smaller story in terms of scope and the slice-of-life quality that it had than I'd done before. And that interested me greatly,” Pine said.
“The fact that it was personal to Alex was definitely interesting, but it didn't increase the appeal for me. I think when that really came into effect was when we started rehearsing the script and the movie. ... Clearly, he was going to try to bring this thing to life and you couldn't help but want to give it your all and do your best.”
Kurtzman, 38, said his closeness to the material made it ideal for his directorial debut.
“It certainly helped in the sense that I felt like I was able to speak from a place of authenticity about the material itself. You know, it took me and Bob and our writing partner Jody Lambert eight years to write the script. So by the time we were actually on set doing it, we'd thought about those scenes backward and forwards in a hundred different ways,” he said.
“But the gift for me was being surrounded by such a talented cast and a talented crew, and everybody was there because they wanted to be there and they were working for almost nothing. I think that it sort of made us a family trudging forward together in a really kind of arm-linked way.”
Next May, film fans will get to embark on another space adventure with Pine and Kurtzman, who reunited with Abrams' for the as-yet-untitled “Star Trek” sequel, now in postproduction.
“What was really kind of fun for all of us on the first movie is that we basically got to show the bridge crew coming together. And I think that the mistake that we didn't want to make in the sequel was assuming that just because they're together they're the finely tuned machine that you fell in love (with) from the original series. They still have a lot of work and a lot of growing to get to that place,” Kurtzman said.
“I think the film takes people on a journey from Point A to Point B, and Kirk is still on his way to Z, let's say. He's still on his way to becoming the captain that we all know him to be,” Pine added. “I think the (special) effects and explosions are just as great if not greater in this new installment, but I think it's matched by really strong and really interesting character development.”