STAR TREK EXCLUSIVE: Casting Chris Pine as Captain Kirk
In the first part of an exclusive interview, casting director April Webster discusses the original search for actors to assume the roles of the starship Enterprise crew in JJ Abrams' relaunch of Star Trek.
As fans view the trailer for JJ Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness, there's a certain excitement generated by seeing the cast returning in their roles as the Enterprise crew - which is a fairly ironic situation considering that prior to the release of the 2009 original, there was great skepticism about anyone assuming the roles made famous by people like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.
Now imagine what it must have been like to be one of the people responsible for finding a new generation of actors to play such iconic characters as Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. One would imagine that it could have been a situation where a casting director would feel like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
"We weren't afraid of it," offers April Webster, who, along with Alyssa Weisberg, was in charge of casting, "but we knew it was going to be a challenge. We knew we weren't going to be able to match people exactly, but we did want to give at least a close indication to people; to give a sense of the characters they've known and loved for so long. We weren't going for mannerisms; we didn't want someone doing a William Shatner impersonation, but we wanted someone who would embody that spirit."
They found that someone for Kirk in the form of Chris Pine, whose credits prior to Star Trek included Just My Luck and Smokin' Aces and, since, Unstoppable, This Means War and the forthcoming Jack Ryan. "Chris was a lifesaver," notes Webster, "because we really wanted someone who could give us the cockiness but still be likable. If you look at the old episodes of Shatner and that character, he was always snarky, but there was also something enormously appealing about him. There was this sort of evil smile on his face whenever he'd see a beautiful woman. We were looking for a quality for each person and then something of a resemblance, but definitely a quality."
As to how Pine was found for the part, she adds, "We auditioned a lot of people all over the place, both in America and internationally. But there was something that he was able to bring in, that sort of swagger. Not that other people couldn't get it, but Chris just fit the bill. Sometimes you just don't know what it is that makes it work out right, you just know it. We had narrowed it down to a couple of people and he became the guy. Just in watching him with each successive reading it was becoming more apparent to us."
Amusingly, during the audition process there were quite a number of Kirk wannabes who were "doing" Shatner. "Some of the material we used," Webster reflects, "were scenes from some of the original shows. We never use them from the script itself. What was so great and it became very funny is that we had to send them out of the room to have them try again because it's a very hard rhythm to not match. Most people were good about not impersonating Shatner, but there were definitely people doing him. Obviously that's going to be an element. I was even doing it when I was reading people. So you never know. But it’s people who make it their own. That's certainly what Chris did; he brought a freshness. He's a really wonderful character as well as a leading man. Even though he's this tall, handsome guy, he knows how to play all the different corners of himself. When you find an actor like that, they bring that uniqueness to who they are and sort of interpret it through the character."
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