Anyone who wanted to hang out with Chris Pratt in the late 1990s had to be OK with rats and fleas, as that’s who the young man from Minnesota, USA, was sharing his home with back then. He lived in a clapped-out van on the beach in Maui, and spent most of his time drinking and smoking weed, earning his money doing casual waiting jobs.
But fast forward to March 2015 and Pratt is sitting in a palatial suite in the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles on, what is these days, a rare break from filming. At 35, Pratt has the film world at his feet. The former homeless odd-jobber has become one of Hollywood’s great hopes. As the male lead, he made Guardians of the Galaxy one of the biggest box-office successes of the last year. Now he’s starring as the hero in the relaunched Jurassic Park franchise. And he’ll probably play Indiana Jones in the future too, at least if his advocate Steven Spielberg has anything to do with it. “Just the idea that I’m even on the list of people being considered for the role at all bowls me over,” he says, eyes wide.
It’s this attitude that sets Pratt apart from the usual, ego-driven actor set. He’s still refreshingly down to earth, a genuinely nice guy. Maybe it’s because his is not a familiar stage-school story of Hollywood success – Pratt has walked a very winding path to reach the spotlight that’s currently shining on him. He tried studying after high school, but dropped out halfway through his first semester. His career as a discount ticket agent was equally short-lived, which led to him working as a stripper – or a “cheap Magic Mike”, as he puts it – for a time, and one who wasn’t afraid to go the Full Monty for $40 a pop. He even performed at a friend’s grandmother’s birthday.
So when an old stoner friend invited him to come and hang out in Hawaii, he didn’t hesitate for a second. It was there he found that, with a bit of drive and a healthy dose of luck, waiters can become global film stars. Pratt already had a passion for performing. “I always wanted to do it,” he says. “When I was in pre-school, I saw my brother, who is three years older than me, performing in a school play. My mother was moved to tears by his performance and I thought to myself, ‘I can do that too.’”
The actress had starred in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick Commando, which Pratt had seen hundreds of times. He recognised her immediately while serving her shrimps one evening and reeled her in with his good-natured charm. The upshot: she offered him a part in her directorial debut, a horror comedy titled Cursed Part 3, and flew him over to LA.
But we’re not at the ‘and the rest is history’ part just yet. Pratt got stuck in the Tinseltown hamster wheel after his debut, desperately fighting to get parts. According to press reports, a failed audition for Avatar was the low point, but he is quick to add, “That’s just one of the movies I auditioned for and didn’t get. I wasn’t getting any parts. None! I tried for almost every movie you didn’t see me in.”
He shouts the words out with a mix of comic self-deprecation and genuine disappointment. Something spurred Pratt on, though. “It was belief in myself, a capacity for enthusiasm and the thought that others were wrong if they thought I wasn’t the right person for the part,” he says. But that’s not to say Pratt became some pushy maniac. On the contrary, he kept a healthy attitude to the roles he went after. Once the TV series he’d played his first parts in had come to an end, he said to himself, “I don’t necessarily have to be the male lead. Character parts are good too.”
This flexibility paid off, as did willingness to stuff or starve himself as roles demanded. Today, Pratt looks like a man on a health kick, with a strong, broad back and muscles bulging out of the sleeves of his polo shirt. Rumour has it that he’s not averse to a glass of whiskey during interviews, yet this time all he’s drinking is a high-end South Pacific mineral water. These days looking good is a job requirement, but it hasn’t always been so. One of his breakthrough roles was the clueless, overweight slacker Andy Dwyer in the hit comedy series Parks and Recreation. Then he lost all the weight again to play a baseball player in Moneyball. He then piled 20kg back on for a part in the comedy 10 Years.
Pratt’s best films
2011 >> MONEYBALL
Starring as a baseball player alongside Brad Pitt in this sports drama, which received six Oscar nominations
2012 >> ZERO DARK THIRTY
A Navy SEAL in the team which dispatches Bin Laden. This thriller earned five Oscar nominations
2012 >> THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT
Sidekick to the indecisive lead role, played by Jason Segel, in this charming rom-com
2014 >> THE LEGO MOVIE
Valiant builder (voice only), who turns the Lego Universe upside down
2014 >> GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Courageous thief and interstellar adventurer in the record-breaking Marvel Comics screen adaptation
And for his role in Delivery Man he even tried to get himself up to a fighting weight of 150kg. He went back to the gym for last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, though not for the sake of vanity. “I would have had no problem playing the world’s first overweight superhero,” he laughs. He liked the project so much that the hours pumping iron were worth it, so much that he didn’t give a damn about its chances of success. “I said to myself, ‘This movie’s going to be a flop and it’ll be the end of my career,’” he says. Which was not an entirely unjustified hunch. Prior to the summer of 2014, it looked like no one was interested in a gang of largely unknown comic characters chasing a mysterious ball around the Universe. The Hollywood Reporter trade newspaper crowned Pratt a Rule Breaker of 2014 for his bravery, which was rewarded with box-office takings of $774 million.
But Pratt doesn’t class that as brave. He remains unfussed by fame and celebrity. He suppressed his excitement when playing alongside Brad Pitt in Moneyball. So much so that he slightly regretted it. “Shooting a movie with him was bloody cool,” he said afterwards. “Maybe I should have enjoyed it more.”
While many actors may wax lyrical about who ‘the real heroes are’, Pratt comes across as genuine. “My heroes are people whose first impulse is to act selflessly and help others,” he says. “Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, is a hero as far as I’m concerned. And not just because he led his team to the Super Bowl two years running. He also gives a lot back to society, by visiting sick children in hospital, for example. I think that’s really cool. But most real heroes aren’t famous. It’s people who risk their asses to protect others even though they get no thanks for it.”
A cynic may conclude that, given enough time in LALA-land, this pragmatism may soon disappear. But it’s Pratt’s enduring happy-go-lucky attitude that’s helped get him here. Although he answers questions seriously, sprinkling wisecracks sparingly, Pratt’s sense of humour is ever-present. His role in Parks and Recreation was developed because the programme-maker found him so staggeringly funny at his audition.
Now he’s seen as the most talented improviser of all of them. It’s also how Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow first noticed him. Pratt puts his comic abilities down to his “life experience”. Anyone who’s had to deal with rats and lusting grannies on a daily basis learns to take everyday life in his stride.
When Pratt describes his favourite moment while shooting multi-million dollar film Jurassic World, you can sense an anarchic spark, no doubt left over from his weed-smoking days. “I’m speeding around on a motorbike in one action scene. I ended up totalling it and came off head-over-heels over the handlebars,” he says as an impish grin spreads over his face. “It was really awesome.” Though almost every aspect of Pratt’s life has changed, he, it seems, hasn’t. And Hollywood can’t get enough.