Chris Pine trades the Enterprise for runaway train
Chris Pine may never be able to shake the label "Captain of the Enterprise," nor should he want to. In between Star Treks though, he gets to handle some other cool machinery. In this week’s Unstoppable, Pine plays a train conductor paired with a veteran (Denzel Washington), who have to stop a runaway train.
"It was interesting and frightening when we went to the rail yard in LA," Pine said. "They said the most dangerous thing isn’t out on the track, it’s in the yard because the trains can be so quiet and seemingly innocuous, but of course they’re thousand ton beasts. I remember this one guy telling the story that this guy got surprised on the track, and the train was only going 3 or 4 miles per hour and pinned the guy. They had to call the family out because the guy was still alive as he was pinned, they said their goodbyes, and the train separates from the guy, he passed away... I mean, that’s how dangerous these things are."
Unstoppable is based on a true story of a daring rescue, but the film is a fictionalized account. It carries all the dangerous detail the real rail workers face every day though. "Everyone we talked to had an experience, whether it was a conductor or engineer, with life and death stuff," Pine said. "People trying to cross the tracks, there’s no emergency stop button, a lot of people have experience traumatic events."
Directed by Tony Scott, Unstoppable puts Pine and Washington into the action themselves. Pine has daring scenes where he’s jumping from car to car, getting blasted by spilling flakes of farm stock.
"It’s a credit to Tony, really," Pine said. "Everything was practical. Not only were we on trains, on the tracks, we had two trains. One train that looked like the train, that one was chopped up so that cab could be circled by this 360°-camera so we could run scenes over and over again and feel like we were driving the train and not be hindered, and run the scene. It was such a freedom and a liberty to be able to do that."
Pine will give credit where it’s due, to the stunt men. "Pretty much every time I’m not connected to any vehicle, if someone’s jumping, it’s not me," Pine said. "I did most of all of it, except for jumping onto moving vehicles. I’m on the truck and I’m about to jump, but I go like that [with my arms], and then my lovely stunt double did it. But actually, that was one scary thing is that when he jumped from the truck back onto the train, we use it in the movie. He slips, and you see him slip, and that train is going 30 miles an hour, and he slipped, and I think his wife had just had a child that day, or something. If he had slipped and gone under, that’s real stuff."
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The new Jack Ryan?
The star may be happy to let the professionals do it, but the director insisted on authenticity wherever he could.
"He’s got a fear of heights," Scott revealed. "So we had him up at 25 ft on a 50 mph train. It wasn’t an easy task to get him up there. Chris was down there between the two trains. It’s actually sugar puffs, the potato flakes. What we want is a snowstorm, and I thought we can’t have a snow storm this time of year. We re-created a rain storm with sugar puffs and potatoes."
For Scott, action is easy. At least, it’s what he does. Unstoppable is at its heart the story of a new guy coming into a tense situation with the old guard, and having to pull together in a crisis.
"The scenes when I’m dealing with performances, when I’m actually looking at the guys and hoping I’m covering them the right way [are hardest]," Scott said. "This is about two guys resolving their difference through the course of this journey, which is great. You’ve got the beast, you’ve got the guys coming to terms with who they are and their differences. It’s great in terms of the drama of these two different worlds."
After Star Trek, the box office success and critical praise it garnered, Pine must have his first pick of choice scripts. He’s even been attached to restart the Jack Ryan series. "I’ve been very blessed," Pine said. "It’s such a shock to me that I get to sit and have people ask questions and seem interested in who I am and what I do. It’s afforded me the luxury of choice, to cherry pick for I don’t know how long but I’m in a time right now where I can at least say yes and no to certain things. I think the guiding principle to me is seizing the moment, working with people who I want to work it. That’s Tony, that’s Rosario [Dawson], that’s Denzel."
With unstoppable, there are real people involved too. The characters are not named after Jesse Knowlton and Terry Forson, and the timeline does not follow their path exactly. They did catch a runaway train and slow it down to safety in May, 2001.
"We mixed and matched, because the event you’re talking about came [just before] 9/11," Scott said. "We mixed and matched in terms of my research and the homework that I do in terms of the characters and the event, so it’s a mixture. That’s why it says ’inspired by.’"
Washington and Pine got to know Forson and Knowlton though. "Terry and Jess came here [to Los Angeles] and we went to the Pig & Whistle and had a couple beers, talked. It was great to get a sense of their dynamic in real life. They were married together for a while in the sense that they were conductor and engineer together. They were the couple. What’s really interesting is that hierarchy in the train is very real. Those guys that are old heads and have been around for a long time demand a certain level of respect. Just because the newbie’s gone to school and learned to do his job doesn’t mean he knows all the ins and outs of the job in practicality. They told the story of the newbie coming in and pressing his luck, trying to show the old guys how it was done. He was in for a world of hurt."
Those stories make great dramatic additions to Unstoppable, even if they come from other rail yard tales. "I tap into every aspect, and then I bring it home," Scott said. "I do transcriptions and tapes, I cut and paste those transcriptions. I got the script, one of the rare scripts where I read it, and I’m a slow reader, I’m terrible, and this script, I said, ’Goddamn, this is fast! This is good!’ and all it is, is your initial response to the script. That’s why I hoped the movie came out, so I think I’ve done a dovetail from fourteen months ago to now, and I think the movie does achieve what I attempted to do. That was a fast read on that script in every possible way; in terms of character, in terms of action, and in terms of vision."
Unstoppable opens Friday.
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