By Guy Davis, Courtesy of INSP News Service www.INSP.org / The Big Issue Australia
Chris Pratt, who visited Harvard earlier this year to receive Hasty Pudding’s Man of the Year award, would prefer to avoid death by a thousand bites, thank you very much.
“Oh, man, take me out with one big bite, please, not many little ones,” Pratt says, laughing. “Yeah, definitely a big dinosaur.”
Having a ready answer for how you’d prefer to be devoured by a prehistoric beast is perhaps one of the perks of being the (human) lead in Jurassic World, the fourth instalment in the dinosaurs-gone-wild film franchise launched by Jurassic Park in 1993.
Steven Spielberg’s smash-hit movie made an indelible impression on popular culture and spawned return visits. But it has been more than a decade since audiences were last transported to the theme park on the tropical island of Isla Nublar, where cutting-edge genetic engineering—and no small degree of hubris—resulted in the resurrection of dinosaurs for the amusement of deep-pocketed punters.
Many a moviegoer knows the outcome of the experiment: the dinosaurs, acting on natural eat-or-be-eaten instinct, ran amok, with packs of cunning velociraptors making a meal of anyone too slow or slow-witted to avoid them. And of course there was the towering tyrannosaurus rex, which was eager to re-establish its position at the top of the food chain.
Thanks to all this carnivorous carnage, the idea of a dinosaur Disneyland never really took off in the first few Jurassic films. But in Jurassic World, the dream has finally come to fruition, thanks to a cash injection by billionaire investor Simon Masrani (played by Irrfan Khan).
Still, there’s just no pleasing some people, and attendance numbers are starting to fall as the novelty of hugging a baby brontosaurus at a prehistoric petting zoo wears off. So the scientists whip up an all-new creature, the Indominus rex, a hybrid made up of various strands of dinosaur DNA, in the hope of restoring the resort’s wow factor. Needless to say, this is not a good idea. And when Indominus rex breaks out of its enclosure and starts clawing and gnawing its way toward Jurassic World’s unsuspecting patrons, it’s up to dino-wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt) to step in and set things right.
Training four velociraptors to obey his commands has given Grady a healthy respect for the unpredictable temperament of dinosaurs, but even he may be unprepared for a new species of monster that kills for sport rather than food.
Pratt’s star has risen rapidly in recent years, thanks to his role on the popular sitcom Parks and Recreation and his crowd-pleasing performance as roguish outer-space outlaw Peter Quill in last year’s box-office blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.
The 35-year-old actor, who was homeless at one point in life when living in Hawaii, is both enthusiastic and guarded when talking about Jurassic World and his character.
“I have to be careful in how I explain who Owen Grady … because I know how excited people are about this film, and I don’t want to give them the opportunity to peek under the wrapping paper before Christmas morning,” he says. “I want them to learn everything [when they see it].”
So, without spoiling Jurassic World’s twists and turns for anyone, Pratt can say that Grady is a military veteran “who cares very deeply about where humans fit into the natural order of things.” However, Grady has a healthy degree of cynicism about the powers that be funding his studies into dinosaur behaviour, and Pratt spoke with “people who work in very close proximity with dangerous animals, close enough to risk being killed,” to get a handle on his character’s personality.
“That was the jumping-off point for figuring out who this guy would be,” Pratt says. “He has a strong sense of confidence and discipline, but at the same time a lot of respect for what he’s working with.”
And because Owen is played by a post-Guardians Pratt, he’s also something of a smooth operator.
“I will say he’s as quick and merciless in repartee as he is with action,” he suggests. “He’s a rare type of dude.”
There was a time not long ago when Pratt didn’t really have the traditional leading-man credentials. His Parks and Recreation role as amiable slacker Andy Dwyer saw him develop a well-rounded ‘dadbod’ physique, and the actor was happy in what he viewed as a “funny sidekick” niche.
But after shedding some kilos for a supporting performance as baseballer Scott Hatteberg in 2011 drama Moneyball, he caught the eye of Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, who cast him as a member of the Navy SEAL team tasked with taking out Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.
“It was after Zero Dark Thirty that it dawned on me I could be taken seriously as someone who kicks down doors for a living,” says Pratt. “It was in that moment that I was able to redefine how I saw myself and understand how other people could see me.” A fan of action movies, Pratt decided to take a shot at the genre.
“But I also love comedy, and I wanted to fuse those two things,” he says. “I didn’t want to be an unlikely action hero—I wanted to be the guy who’s believable as an action hero while still being funny, and that was around the time Guardians of the Galaxy came around.
“The vision of what I thought I could do—someone who got to have fun while being heroic and saving the day—came true with that film. But it was Zero Dark Thirty that made me re-evaluate who I was and what I could be.”
Big-screen heroism would seem to be Pratt’s stock-in-trade for now. He’s filming a remake of The Magnificent Seven opposite Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, and a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel is, unsurprisingly, in the planning stages. Pratt, however, recently denied that he’s been formally approached to don Indiana Jones’ famous hat in a reboot of the action-adventure franchise, telling GQ magazine that a studio executive had only mentioned the possibility in passing.
Nevertheless, the actor is making the most of his particular style, which is striking a chord with audiences.
“It all moves in cycles, really,” he says. “I’m sure it’ll change back again and what I do isn’t quite the thing that’s ‘in’ … But it is now.”