Almost instantly, Chris Pratt had the room eating out of his hand, regaling us with a story about a hunting trip where he was nearly gored by a moose.
A minute after Chris Pratt sat down in front of a small crowd of journalists for Universal’s Jurassic World press junket, he showed his innate ability to play the hero. As if on cue, a potted palm tree in the corner of the intimate press room fell over, knocking down the PA speaker toward a tech worker. Pratt was the first to spring to his aid, jumping up from behind the table in an attempt to catch the teetering tower.
In person, Pratt is almost exactly as you’d expect: Affable, self-deprecating, and winsomely funny. Almost instantly, he had the room of 20 or so journalists eating out of his hand, regaling us with a story about a hunting trip where he was nearly gored by a moose — an experience he says helped him prepare for his role In Jurassic World as Owen, an ex-Navy vet who also happens to train ferocious Velociraptors.
The director says he likes to surround himself with actors that are excellent at both comedic and dramatic improvisation.
On the other hand, while Pratt’s every bit as easy-going in person as his on screen personas from Parks and Recreation and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s also clear that he’s a lot brighter than he often lets on to the media. Ahead of the Jurassic World press blitz, he famously made an apology on Facebook, saying “I want to make a heartfelt apology for whatever it is I end up accidentally saying during the forthcoming #JurassicWorld press tour … I am not in the business of making excuses. I am just dumb. Plain and simple.”
He’s not, but he is a different kind of leading man than we’re used to seeing — one who is refreshingly approachable, and “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with,” as they say in politics. Or in his case, maybe a few tequila shots. Answering the handful of questions, Pratt gives long, thoughtful responses, for which he later apologizes when he realizes not all of us (myself included) will get a question in.
Related: Jurassic World review
“I’m sorry for rambling, everybody,” he says. “I’ve had like nine cups of coffee.” Aside from the moose story (Pratt claims he got within two feet of the unpredictable behemoth), one of the most interesting moments was his explanation of his more subdued demeanor in Jurassic World. He told us that director Colin Trevorrow called Pratt’s natural inclination for comedy the “third rail” on set, a metaphor about the rail in a subway line that will electrocute you when touched.
Trevorrow would remind Pratt of the third rail anytime he’d “start being goofy … or going into my normal comedic bag of tricks, some of which I used in Guardians of the Galaxy,” Pratt explains. His character, Owen, has some demons in his past that led him to the island — Pratt and Trevorrow worked out that Owen must’ve trained dolphins for the Navy, a job that seldom turns out well for the animals. As such, he has a dark side which, for better or worse, makes him much more sober and resigned than Peter Quill in Guardians. He’s still funny, but only in small doses. Most of the time, Owen is relegated to resident badass in the film.
While I missed my chance to ask exactly what kind of dinosaur Bert Maclin, Pratt’s FBI agent persona from Parks and Rec, would be, I did get to fire one off to Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the film’s female lead, Claire. Claire is essentially split into two characters in the film: The robotic, buttoned-down persona while the park is still in order, and the emotionally exposed one as the dinosaur you-know-what hits the fan.
I asked Dallas — who’s impressively insightful, yet seems nearly as humble as Pratt — what it was like to transition between the two roles. I was particularly curious about an emotionally poignant moment for her character involving a strikingly-realistic animatronic dinosaur, in which Claire seems to go from totally clinical, to fully exposed.
“That was a particularly emotional day,” Dallas explains, telling us that [creator] Michael Crichton’s only son was on the set that day. Crichton passed away when his wife was eight months pregnant in 2008, and his son never got a chance to meet him. However, he did get a chance to essentially see his father’s legacy in the flesh, as it were.
As Dallas explains it, “When we shot this movie, [Crichton’s] son was only six years old, and … he went and he saw the dinosaur, and he turned to his mom … and said ‘Mom, it’s a real dinosaur!’”
“I just burst into tears,” Dallas said. “This is his father’s legacy, and this is what his father has given to all children, and here was his son [seeing] what he thought was a real dinosaur. It was incredibly moving to me and so that day … felt really, just charged and meaningful.”
It was apparent from the hour and a half or so we all spent with the cast, including the younger actors Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, that writer/director Colin Trevorrow had assembled a pretty special group of actors for the new film. The director says he likes to surround himself with actors that are excellent at both comedic and dramatic improvisation, as well as those who have “something to prove.”
For his part, Trevorrow, whose only other major directorial credit is the indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed, knew all too well he was walking on hallowed ground when it comes to having “the audacity and arrogance” (as he puts it) to make a fourth Jurassic Park film. In particular, Trevorrow talked about skating the inherent dangers of making a “fan film” that is “derivative of the things we love, because we love them so much.”
“That was my initial fear,” Trevorrow says. “The worst case scenario here is [being] accused of just making a carbon copy of Jurassic Park,” which Trevorrow considers to be as valuable to the collective consciousness as “fables, myths, and legends.”
“This movie is one of the most pure visions of film making without studio involvement.”
“In my first meeting with [Spielberg and the studio], and many after words, that became the mission: How do we push forward and do something new, and something that has its own identity, and something that I can be held responsible for? I want to be the only one who can be blamed if this is a failure. I can’t allow it to be anybody else’s fault — if it’s a success, it’s everybody’s fault,” Trevorrow said.
The relatively unknown filmmaker tells us he was essentially given the keys to the Jurassic Park kingdom by Spielberg. The filmmaking legend was granted final cut of the film by Universal and, in turn, handed that responsibility over to Trevorrow.
“For better or for worse, this movie is one of the most pure visions of film making without studio involvement that you’re gonna see at this level. You’re seeing my director’s cut,” Trevorrow said. “The most valuable thing [Spielberg] imparted to me was, ‘don’t plan too hard, follow your instincts,’”
You can find out how Trevorrow, and the cast of the hotly-anticipated new film put all those pieces together when Jurassic World premieres on June 12. And check out our full review of the film tomorrow.