How Chris Pratt’s TV bosses knew he’d be a star

08.11.14 2 years ago 15 Comments

That Chris Pratt is the star of one of the biggest movies of the year (two, really, even if people didn't specifically see “The Lego Movie” for him) is perhaps surprising to filmgoers who didn't know him at all (or only knew him from supporting roles in films like “Moneyball” or “Zero Dark Thirty”). But it's almost certainly not surprising to TV fans who watched him grow up from the unexpected heart of “Everwood” as sensitive jock Bright Abbott, to a scene stealer on “The O.C.” as rich kid revolutionary Che, through his current role as man-child musician Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation” – three roles that, together, showed off the range, charisma and impeccable comic timing that he brought to the role of Star-Lord.

And it is absolutely not a shock to the people he worked for on those shows. As “Guardians of the Galaxy” prepared for its second weekend at the box office late last week, I reached out to several of the producers who hired and wrote for Pratt to get a sense of exactly when they realized he was one day destined to save the galaxy with the help of a walking tree and a talking raccoon. 

Greg Berlanti, “Everwood” creator

Why did you hire Pratt in the first place, and what were your expectations for him?

We were looking for Bright Abbott for a while, it was the last series regular we cast.  Chris walked in and had the part from the start. He just landed from the airport and didn't have the lines memorized – in fact he'd just looked at them minutes before if I remember correctly.  He tossed the pages in the air and started riffing on the scene and had us all in hysterics.  I thought… right now it's just a few lines, but he was the kind of actor you could have built a whole show around.

What was the moment – whether something he did in performance or something he did just hanging around the set – when you realized what kind of talent you had in him?

After a few episodes I realized he was even more special than we thought — we never knew what kind of dailies we were gonna get back and it became so exciting cause we would send dramatic scenes and he'd find comedy — and in the comedic ones he would find moments of drama.  I thought he was kind of like an acting Buddha — always in the present moment and always reacting so honestly and truthfully.

If someone had tapped you on the shoulder midway through season 1 or 2 and said “In a few years, Pratt is going to be the beloved star of a mega-hit summer action movie,” how would you have reacted?

I would not have been surprised.  Honestly all the success each of the cast has had beyond the show never surprises me. They were — and Chris is the perfect example of it — the kind of actors that made every line better. 

I am particularly happy that all of this success has happened to such a nice person.  Chris was the same person who walked into audition for us when he left the show — kind, warm, funny and incredibly talented and beloved.  The movie has captured all of those traits.
 

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Josh Schwartz, “The O.C.” creator

Why did you hire Pratt in the first place, and what were your expectations for him?

Our casting director, Patrick Rush, had also cast “Everwood” and he first made me aware of Chris. When he became available, we created the role of Che with him in mind. We were looking to inject some real humor back into the show, and Chris was just one of the funniest guys around. He was also super charming and so fun to watch — we kept coming up with reasons to keep him on the show because he was so good. And all the other actors really loved him too.

What was the moment – whether something he did in performance or something he did just hanging around the set – when you realized what kind of talent you had in him?

Rachel Bilson always talked about her favorite Chris joke where he would gather people on set and say “Okay, guys. Guess what movie is this from?” Beat. “Welcome to Jurassic Park…” It killed every time. On screen, the moment he played the didgeridoo, we knew he was gold. Thanks to Che, Summer became an environmental activist, and was recruited (on screen) to save the planet by none other than Mike Schur!

If someone had tapped you on the shoulder midway through season 4 and said “In a few years, Pratt is going to be the beloved star of a mega-hit summer action movie,” how would you have reacted?

100%. He was the first guy I wanted to play “Chuck”. But as fate would have it, he was destined to guard the galaxy, not the Buy More. And might I add, couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

J.J. Philbin, “The O.C.” writer/producer

What were your expectations for Pratt when he came onto the show?

We'd written this goofy character — he was supposed to be Summer's new boyfriend at college.  “Che” was an environmental activist who took himself really seriously and basically brainwashed Summer. When Pratt was brought into audition, all I knew about him was that he'd been on Everwood, so I was expecting a dramatic actor.  But as Che, Chris was just hilarious.  We just kept on writing for him, and we kept pushing it, putting him in weirder and weirder scenes, because we knew he could make anything work.  All these years later, I still remember specific scenes he was in — particularly one where he broke into the science lab at Brown, and freed all the caged rabbits, leading them out of the classroom pied-piper style while he played the didgeridoo.  It was a truly ridiculous scene.  Pratt not only made it ten times funnier than it was on the page, he somehow brought a reality to it — which wasn't easy considering what he was doing.  

What was the moment – whether something he did in performance or something he did just hanging around the set – when you realized what kind of talent you had in him?

I'm not sure I can boil it down to one specific moment… and I might be getting some of the details of this wrong… but I remember watching an episode of “The O.C.” at home with my husband (“Parks and Recreation” co-creator Mike Schur), and in my memory Chris was sitting cross-legged in a teepee, and I think he was interrupted by Summer, who told him she had just gotten engaged, and he said “That's amazing! I'll weave you something ASAP!”  And Mike and I just giggled and giggled, and rewound it a hundred times.  Not because of the joke, but something about the way Chris delivered it. He was just fun to watch.

Mike has said that you were very influential in him hiring Chris to be on “Parks and Rec.” What did you tell him?

All through season 4, I went on and on about Pratt to Mike, who agreed when he watched the episodes that Pratt was effortlessly funny.  As Parks was coming together, we talked about finding a way to use him, although I was sure it wouldn't work out for one reason or another.  I remember the day Mike came home after the audition, and said Pratt was amazing and that they were absolutely going to hire him.  As far as I knew it was a short term thing and that he'd be gone after a few episodes. Obviously that didn't happen.  But at the time I was just glad I got to watch him be funny again.

If someone had tapped you on the shoulder midway through season 4 and said “In a few years, Pratt is going to be the beloved star of a mega-hit summer action movie,” how would you have reacted?

I would've said, yep, that makes sense.

Mike Schur, “Parks and Recreation” co-creator

Why did you hire Pratt in the first place, and what were your expectations for him?

My wife had worked with him on “The O.C.,” and when we were casting she reminded me of how great he'd been in that show.  We saw a lot of really funny people for the role of Andy, but Pratt just flat won the part.  He did improvisations in the audition, with Rashida, that could've just gone into an episode of the show verbatim.  He was technically a Guest Star in our first six episodes, but that was a contractual formality — we had begun to recalculate the character and his role in the show before we even shot the pilot, because we knew we couldn't let him go.

What was the moment – whether something he did in performance or something he did just hanging around the set – when you realized what kind of talent you had in him?

It was honestly the audition.  If you mean, “within the show,” I remember looking at his talking heads in the second episode we shot, “Canvassing,” where he was talking about his next-door neighbor Lawrence, and he had done something different and funny every single time.  The real explosive break-through, for me, was in “Rock Show” when he did his talking head about all of the former names of his band.  He improvised about 30 more than we'd written and they were all great.  He also wrote the “Ann” song he sings in that episode, just because he wanted to try to write a song.  He's talented, is what I'm saying.

If someone had tapped you on the shoulder midway through season 2 and said “In a few years, Pratt is going to be the beloved star of a mega-hit summer action movie,” how would you have reacted?

I would've kept looking at that person, expectantly, waiting for him or her to tell me something surprising.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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