Chris Pine Talks ‘Poolman,’ LA Loneliness, And His ‘Star Trek’ Future

Chris Pine is winning. He says as much when talking about the fact that his labor of love – Poolman – is getting a theatrical release with a premiere at the historic Vista Theater in LA and playing at the Angelika in New York.

The film is a winding neo-noir about a daffy disheveled pool cleaner obsessed with preserving the history of LA. If you look back on all of Pine’s many magazine covers and blockbuster turns where he’s always smiling, confident, and put together, this might seem like his biggest challenge. If you check out his much-celebrated chill style in pictures of him running errands to LA book stores or listen to him talk about the film, the subject of feeling alone, or frustrated by the way LA (and the world, in general) is rapidly losing some of its beauty and charm, though, it becomes clear that this is Chris Pine’s most personal project.

Poolman is, at its heart, something born from Pine’s desire to tell a story about lonely people in a version of LA he grew up around. A city that can give and take so much when it comes to dream fulfillment. That all of that is nestled inside of a screwball comedy is an interesting choice for the star who is also making his writing and directorial debut here. Does it work? I think so and Pine seems really happy with the end result and the fact that he was able to step away from his day job and do something that pushed on the boundaries of structure in a way that’s interesting to him. He’s also aware that some critics haven’t loved it, but his description of the film as a “wavelength” film that might not appeal to everyone speaks to a healthy view on such a subjective thing.

We discuss all of that, at length, with Pine. From the soul of this project to what he wants to bring to possibly his last go as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, the vulnerability of being the only one accountable for a film, and the poetry he sees in artfully created things.

There’s a beautiful moment in the movie with you and Stephen Tobolowsky that I don’t want to ruin, but your character talks about loneliness a little bit. It really made me think about the idea of feeling alone when you’re in a room full of people. I know this was sort of a pandemic baby, timing wise. How did the loneliness of that era come through in this character and the script?

It really had less to do with the pandemic. I would say the pandemic, contextually, was the impetus to do it because personally, I was going through some difficult moments in my life. I had to process a lot, I think it was then, compounded with the isolation of the pandemic.

The idea of the aloneness was my own. I’ve felt alone a lot of my life and outside of the cool class. And the great irony of my life is that I’m hired to play these guys that are sometimes the epitome of cool, when I don’t feel that way at all. So I wanted to make a film, ultimately, that really, at its heart, is a story about trauma and resolving trauma. But instead of going at it directly, I asked myself, “Well, what would it look like if you went completely in the opposite direction and not in a dramedy way, but go so far as to make a screwball comedy, “What would that look like? Can those two tones hold one another?” And I don’t know if I was totally successful, but that was the aim of it, really.

And a lot of people comment on the Stephen thing and the moment, and I think it’s because it’s the first time in the film that I let anybody actually listen to one another. The film is very much about my experience growing up, where it just felt loud and non-relational. And the moment in the film is when two people, the antagonist and the protagonist, find themselves in a place where they’re like two eight-year-olds on a playground apologizing to one another. Anyway, that felt good to me.

In terms of telling this meandering story… which I say that in a good way. I’m a big fan of films like The Long Goodbye. But the idea of telling a story in that way, with a searching kind of film, was the goal, “I want to tell a story like that,” or was it more that it fit this character?

I’ve very rarely had an opportunity to push the boundaries of failure. To really push the boundaries of, I’m going to just do what I want to do. I’m going to explore my instinct. And in exploring my instinct, all that is good is what delights me and what in my inside says yes. And if that means having a scene about three people talking about the whys and wherefores of an uncooked Japanese dinner, because it made me happy, then that’s what I’m going to do.

We spent a lot of time analyzing structure and we went through many permutations of it and it just, frankly, bored me. So I would rather sacrifice structure and what should happen at the midpoint for… Yeah, what I say about this is, you can come for the story, but you’re going to stay for the characters and it’s like a wavelength film. You either get on board and like it or you don’t and you like these characters and want to hang out or you don’t. And there was no conscious trying. It was simply following my giggle.


I’m curious about the aspect of his character where he’s so committed to preservation, history. Why was that a key pillar for him?

Because I talk about that all the time. Even driving here today, I was looking at some of the buildings that we’re building on, I don’t know, you name it, Santa Monica. Aesthetically, I find them… I am more in love with an LA… I romanticize a pre-war LA that’s the old Spanish homes and the Art Deco, the beautiful Art Deco stuff. Some wonderful buildings made in the mid-century, but they’re few and far between. The days when we had a trolley car system all over LA, traversing it you could get from the San Gabriel Mountains to the beach in 30 minutes.

I feel like we make things now that are disposable, that are made for pure function without any eye toward beauty. As if to make sustainable housing – which I’m all about and housing people – but because it’s made for people that can’t afford it, it should be made in the cheapest way humanly possible? Buildings that we look at every day, driving by, and we’re going to have to look at for the next 75 years, it breaks my heart.

I was at a museum over the weekend and I was thinking to myself about the disposability of things and… what will be in a museum for us in a hundred years? Nothing. It’s all digital, cheap plastic and gone.

Yeah! Exactly. You know what I think about this is that we are moving towards, especially with… I feel like the end game of this march of technology is to make things easy for everyone all the time. So that we’ll become some sort of Stellan Skarsgård in Dune sitting in a vat of oil, like everything’s fed into us and we just move things with our eyes. I think there’s a beauty in things that are difficult, craft that is difficult, and things that take time.

We’ll never have artisans anymore that will want to spend the time, nor will we pay them, to build the old subway terminal building downtown that’s now whatever the hell it is. There was an artisan that built something in the corner, a beautiful piece of stone masonry that no one would ever see, and yet someone paid for that guy to do it because, simply, it was beautiful. I find that deeply poetic and tragic that we don’t do that anymore.

Obviously, reviews have been a little mixed.

(Laughs) That’s generous, but I appreciate that.

Listen, it hit me. I’m on the wavelength.

Oh, good. Well, far out. I like that.

There’s only so much you can control with something like this, especially once it’s out the door. But that you were able to make this statement, that you were able to put this out there, is that enough? Or is it a disappointment if it’s not fully absorbed and heard?

Well, it’s a really good question. I think it gets to really the nut of what I’ve been experiencing the past year. I think the deep vulnerability of… There’s one thing being hired as an actor, and I’ve been inured to shitty reviews as any actor has over the years, and what you look like and the quippy bullshit the critics throw out there. You just get used to it and it’s fine. It’s all good. And also, you can hide behind the director, the writer, the editor, the release pattern, fucking the music.

Not this time.

This is about as close as it gets to being a standup comedian, walking up on stage and being right there looking at people. So I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say, it’s like water off a duck’s back. No, it sucks. And the delight that critics took in tearing this film apart was… And thankfully, I haven’t read anything, thank God, but I’ve had enough of an idea of what’s been going on.

That made me sad. But man, I tell you, the growth, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Oddly. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Better, in fact, I think of people who were patting my back because I can still sit here and say, “I watched the film over and over again, and it absolutely tickles me to no end.” It hasn’t taken away from the joy of it. There’s hurt in it, and there’s some deeper messages in it that I think are important that people don’t want to pay attention to, and that’s their prerogative. But I have my premiere tomorrow night at the Vista, and I’m going to have a party.

With Star Trek, if you get the chance again, how excited are you to grow that character? Play him at this space in your life. As more of a grownup?

So fun, so stoked. I love that character so much, and I love that world and quite honestly, I love the people that I’m playing with. I love my friends. I think we would have a blast. I think we’d have such a blast. So much has changed in… Oh my God, 17 years. So much has changed.

That’s a hard one.

Yeah, tell me about it. I don’t want to talk about it either. We’ll just scoot right past that. I think it’d be a lot of fun. And as I’ve said, I think there’s a journey with this group of people and this… They’ve said that it’s the last one that they’re making as we’re aging out, this cast. It’s a pity that they’re saying it’s the last one. Because I think there are a lot of great stories to tell.

And also, on a scale that is more manageable in appeal. Look, we always try to get to the Marvel numbers of making a billion dollars, and we never did because Star Trek is its own beast. It’s like Poolman, you either get it or you don’t. So why don’t we just make it for the people that get it and like, go on with it?

‘Poolman’ is playing in limited release. Check local listings.