Jurassic World stomps into cinemas with rising star Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt. -- PHOTO: UIP SINGAPORE
Chris Pratt. -- PHOTO: UIP SINGAPORE
In Jurassic World, Chris Pratt plays a velociraptor-trainer who believes they are living creatures to be respected. -- PHOTO: UIP SINGAPORE
In Jurassic World, Chris Pratt plays a velociraptor-trainer who believes they are living creatures to be respected. -- PHOTO: UIP SINGAPORE

Chris Pratt, who plays a dinosaur trainer in Jurassic World, is taking big strides in his career

Even a velociraptor hurtling along at top speed would find it hard to keep up with the velocity of Chris Pratt's ascent in the past year.

In the computer-animated flick The Lego Movie (2014), he voiced the unlikely hero, Emmet. That turned out to be a global hit which made more than US$468 million (S$637 million).

He followed that up with last year's No. 3 grossing film worldwide, the superhero-themed Guardians Of The Galaxy, in which he played the half-human, half-alien Peter Quill.

And now he is starring in one of the most hotly anticipated sequels in filmdom - Jurassic World.

This is the fourth instalment of the dinosaur thriller franchise which started with the Steven Spielberg-directed Jurassic Park in 1993, a behemoth that has gobbled up more than US$1 billion in box-office earnings. It opens in Singapore tomorrow.

No wonder Pratt, 35, announces at the movie's press conference in Park Hyatt Beijing on May 26: "It's fun to be a movie star, it's really fun."

He saw the first instalment in a theatre when he was 13 and the sense of wonder has stayed with him since.

His enthusiasm is palpable: "As a fan, I've been waiting for this movie to come out. And now the fact that I grew up to become an actor and the fact that I get to be in the movie is astounding. It's really a dream come true."

He probably found his first visit to China dream-like as well.

"I can't believe I'm in China and people know who I am, that's pretty astounding. I've never been here before."

The affable actor is dressed for the occasion in a formal grey three-piece suit and a ready smile and wink.

Earnestly, he tries to establish a rapport, no matter how fleeting, with as many people as he can, nodding and grinning in acknowledgement.

Success could hardly have happened to a nicer guy. His co-star, Bryce Dallas Howard, 34, has nothing but praise for him.

"Chris is one of the greatest human beings I've ever met, honestly. He has one of the best hearts I've ever experienced, especially in this business and I'm so profoundly excited and inspired by what he is doing right now in his career."

Howard plays uptight dinosaur theme park operations manager Claire, while Pratt is a park employee, Owen, who is training a group of smart and vicious velociraptors.

She sees the dinos in terms of their contribution to the bottomline while he sees them as living creatures to be respected.

The pair bicker constantly over their opposing views and it also does not help that they had one disastrous date together.

But when things go horribly, breathtakingly wrong - as they must in a film such as this - the two have to work together in a race against time.

As with Pratt's other roles, there is an innate decency in him which draws audiences. Of course, his sunny all-American looks do not hurt. He made it to No. 2 on People magazine's annual list of Sexiest Men Alive last year.

Jurassic World director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow, 38, says of his casting process: "You should just cast people who have a little piece of them in the character that they're playing. There's a lot in Chris that's very much like Owen."

On-screen and off, he comes across as the goofy best bud you want to hang around with - he is fun and he is funny, with nary a mean bone in his body.

While his rise to big-screen leading man status seems meteoric, he has been acting for 15 years.

He was discovered as a 19-year-old waiter at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant in Maui by actress-director Rae Dawn Chong.

From his debut in her short horror film, Pratt went on to land roles in television dramas such as Everwood (2002- 2006) and The O.C. (2006-2007) in its fourth season.

Along the way, he tasted rejection when he went for roles in high-profile films such as sci-fi adventures Star Trek (2009) and Avatar (2009).

Things began to pick up when he was cast as Andy Dwyer in the government department sitcom Parks And Recreation (2009-2015).

As originally written, Dwyer was something of a douchey boyfriend character. But even that did not stop Pratt's innate likability from coming through and the role was later reshaped to be a much more sympathetic one.

Still, it was quite a leap going from supporting TV role to galaxy-wide star.

Referring to his physical transformation from pudgy Andy Dwyer to ab-fab Peter Quill, he quips: "From the outside, it seems like it happened overnight but there was a lot of crying and turns out you can burn a lot of calories crying."

Being in shape turned out to be an important asset for Jurassic World.

He recalls: "I didn't quite fully realise the extent of the physicality of this role. During the course of the movie, there's a lot of sprinting and running and sliding. There were some days that were just strictly physical and there'd be no acting at all, just running."

That was balanced by acting on the other days, be it interacting with his human or creature co-stars.

Despite his laidback demeanour, Pratt is serious when it comes to his craft and he did his research.

He even suggested that his character Owen use a clicker to command the attention of the velociraptors in the movie, a trick he picked up from Randy Miller of Predators In Action, a company which handles exotic animals for entertainment and commercials.

His career is hitting its stride at a time when his personal life has seen some big changes.

He tied the knot with actress Anna Faris in 2009. Their son, Jack, was born in 2012.

It means that he has to balance his red-hot career with marriage and fatherhood. He muses: "You always hear this old adage 'Do one for them and one for you' - one to get paid and one that will fulfil you creatively. Now, I don't have time to do both. Luckily, the movies I'm doing are fulfilling me creatively while allowing me to pay the bills, which is good.

"But if I have that time to go off and do that indie movie, I'd probably prefer to spend that three months being present in my son's life and staying home."

There is a genuine sense of gratitude for everything that has happened in his life.

He says: "A lot of the times, actors will baulk at the idea that they were lucky. I understand how incredibly lucky I am. If you're lucky enough to be given an opportunity, you better show up and work very hard at it.

"There are people who are much better actors who will never have an opportunity to do it because it's not the way the world works."

Pratt is no wide-eyed naif and yet, he manages to hold on to a sense of optimism and a sweet, almost child-like innocence that is irresistible.

Given that Jurassic World imagines a world where dinosaurs have been brought back to life, you ask for his thoughts on reviving the extinct woolly mammoth since its genome has been fully sequenced.

He says yes immediately and then muses: "Where would you put a woolly mammoth? Ah, it's worth it, do it."

bchan@sph.com.sg

Jurassic World opens in cinemas tomorrow.