Chris Pine on the Greatest Generation and The Finest Hours
Chris Pine has forged his place in Hollywood blockbusters by brandishing a scoundrel’s swagger and a dazzling grin in films like Star Trek, Into The Woods, and Horrible Bosses 2. But when he had the chance to sink his sparkly white teeth into the terrifying true story of heroism that is The Finest Hours, Pine was happy to shed his cocky persona to play a blue-collar everyman who shunned the spotlight, yet didn’t shy away when the going got tough and treacherous.
Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, The Finest Hours dives into the incredible story of human endurance and bravery that arose one dark and terrible night in 1952 Massachusetts. A blizzard had turned the Atlantic Ocean into a hellscape for sailors. When an oil tanker sent an S.O.S., the Coast Guard sent in their A-Team. So when a second tanker’s sailors needed saving, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Pine) headed up a motley band of volunteers that included Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), and Seaman Ervine Maske (John Magaro). Together, they set forth into a frothy ocean ripped with towering waves in a valiant but reckless mission. Theirs was the greatest small boat rescue in history, yet their story went untold for decades.
We got a taste of the spectacular drama and incredible practical effects The Finest Hours will offer when we visited the set in Chatham, Massachusetts, and witnessed a wall of water pummel Pine, his crew, and a full-sized fishing boat on a massive motion base. You’ll get a full report closer to the film’s release. But to wet your appetite for this inspirational nautical adventure, we’re reeling out our onset interview with Pine, who wore a olive-colored overalls, a scruffy beard, and a look of exhaustion as he huddled close to the heater, brought out to spare us soft journalists from Massachusetts’ already biting cold. But despite the chill and his weariness, Pine was brimming with enthusiasm to talk about the man director Craig Gillespie called “an unusual underdog,” the Greatest Generation of which Bernie was apart, and how selfies relate to this sea story.
Q: So what can you tell us about Bernie?
Chris Pine: Bernie Webber. I didn’t get a chance to meet him obviously. He’d passed away. I met his daughter. You guys just missed the actual Fitz, Andy Fitzgerald and Gus, his best friend (came to visit the set), and that was a great treat. There’s a great recording of Bernie talking to an interviewer years and years ago about the rescue and I guess, above and beyond the heroism of it, you get the sense that he’s sick of retelling the story, you know? That–for him–this was his job. This was what he was supposed to do. And just like anyone clocking in for a job, his task was going out and saving people. (There’s) a real sense that there was no glory in it for him or any need for self-aggrandizement. It was just very simple.
Q: Did you connect to that, as someone who’s regularly asked exhaustively about your job?
Chris Pine: Umm, no. Well, I mean, to that aspect of it, I suppose, but no. The temperament of this character seemed altogether different from usually what you encounter in this business, which is all about fame and the glam of it. I don’t know if it’s just men of a different generation, that’s the WWII generation or just immediately after it. There was just a simplicity to the description of it. There was no drama to it. The waves were incredibly huge. What they were going up against was unbelievable in terms of the heroism of these men, but there was this almost metronomic dispatch of facts of events that had taken place; the waves were big, they couldn’t see anything. They lost their compass; it was snowing, nearly dying of hypothermia. It was the skill of the crew, but also he thought much of divine providence having a great deal to do with it.
Q: So how has watching that interview affected your performance?
Chris Pine: He struck me as a very honest, direct, open man. Ben and I have talked about it, but I really like this idea of men clocking in for the workday and it just so happens on this day, something incredible happened. But above and beyond that, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. People doing the right thing, I like the clear-cutness of that, you know?
Q: In your career you’ve done a lot of physical roles. From what we’re seeing on the ship, you really need a lot of stamina and energy. Is this the most difficult physical thing you’ve had to do as an actor?
Chris Pine: That’s actually kind of great fun. It’s like a big roller coaster ride. It is pretty terrifying when you see all that water coming at you, but it is really fun. Yeah, it gets more difficult when we’re out there and they’re pounding us with the elements and the wind and we’re in a ginormous aluminum box basically that just traps the cold weather, the cold air, so it can get difficult. There was a particularly cold morning the other day and definitely the time where I could feel myself just about breaking. And then you see Andy Fitzgerald who was actually out there on the boat and you shut up real fast, as we’re in dry suits and I have a heating shirt and the whole bit. It is hard, but it’s a nice, easy way for all of us to understand how difficult it may have been. I mean, it’s really, really cold. And here I am pretending to steer a boat in no current. The stories of what they had to do with the boats flying out of the water, the rudder’s out of the water, they’re going doing these steep, steep pitches not being able to see anything. It’s difficult but it’s no comparison to what actually happened.
Q: I find it kind of ironic that you guys are filming this movie at a time when there are a lot of military guys out there who are turning their stories into books and then turning them into movies. Have you guys talked about the fact that, generationally, it’s such a different thing? What do you think changed where guys used to just take it home with them and never talk about it and now it’s suddenly become this commodity?
Chris Pine: Yeah, I couldn’t have articulated it any better. I think we just live in a time of the selfie. So there’s a sense that everyone’s uniqueness and importance on this planet should be displayed and reveled in, and that there’s kind of a piece of glory for everyone. And there’s a lot to be said for that because a lot of people do do wonderful things. And it has a lot to do with the internet and the proliferation of different forms of media and media outlets, ways to tell your story, from blogs to pictures to whatever. But yeah, when I talk about the simplicity I really do like those stories. Again, this is a movie. This is entertainment. But if there are themes to explore which are valuable for people to witness and think about, I think ours would be to do right and to do good for no other reason than to do it. That it’s just the thing to do, which is to be a good man without the need for validation or for encomiums and awards and gifts and all that. It’s just to do good is good.
Q: How is it balancing his drive to save everyone with his own personal concern, his romance? Because that’s really the only thing we get beyond you guys going on this mission.
Chris Pine: I think it makes for great drama…I think what I really responded to–above and beyond what I had spoken about before about Bernie–was that in many ways this is like this bizarre, anachronistic film that shouldn’t exist now with all the Marvel characters and everything. This is almost like a studio film from the ’50s, you know? There’s no cursing and people are good and right and love conquers all. It’s really very sweet. There’s a sweet earnestness to this film that people will either engage with or the cynicism of the world will win out, but I hope that people appreciate that. There’s these two really beautiful, sensitive, wonderful people in this world and they find great love and then the story ends and you can imagine them having a family and disappearing into the night to raise a family and have a good, decent life. Holliday (Grainger) is absolutely wonderful and so beautiful and angelic and I think she’s kind of the light in the Dark Night Of The Souls that we go out on in this crazy journey, will return to this really, really warm person that Holliday embodies so well. So it’s a great thing for my character to have that and for the audience to root for that. Again, the story’s very wonderfully kind of simple. There’s no irony in this film. It is what it is.
Q: What sets this apart from other lost at sea movies?
Chris Pine: Just like space, it’s a pretty powerful thing when there are men on something that is uncontrollable and violent, and it’s Mother Nature really at its most chaotic. So there’s great inherent drama in that, in the unknown of what’s underneath the water. But yes, I would say because this is a period film set in a time of the Greatest Generation, or however it’s classified, perhaps it is that. It’s a simple story about good men doing great things and it does have an earnest. I don’t like the word earnest, but I don’t see any other descriptive that’s as apropos. It’s just what you see is what you get. What was [Robert] Redford’s film called again? All Is Lost! It is, in many ways: man against the sea, man against the sea, man against the elements. Can he survive? It’s the triumph of the human spirit and all that kind of stuff. And also the really violent beauty of the ocean, it is that. There is something studio film-ish about it of a time passed that I think we all really enjoy. I mean, if you just look at the collection of faces in this film it’s just great, just great. Good mugs [laughs], good like hardy mugs. Not mine, but I mean…
The Finest Hours opens in theaters on January 29, 2016. Look for more from our set visit early next year. Check out the film’s new trailer in the player below.