If you think Chris Pratt is an unlikely choice to play a superhero, you’re not alone. The “Parks and Recreation” regular admits that, at first, even he didn’t think he was right to play world-saving Peter Quill /Star-Lord in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“People probably didn’t see me as this [character],” he says. “I’m not sure if I even saw myself in this kind of a role. But what’s really nice about this movie is that we did something that has never been done before. I’ve never seen anything like this movie before.”
Pratt has a point. He might not be a stereotypical action hero but then “Guardians of the Galaxy” is not a standard-issue superhero movie. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know there’s a looseness and irreverence to the film that makes it a big departure from, say, Chris Nolan’s dead-serious “Batman” movies.
When Pratt went in for his audition, he was somewhat on the fence about the role. “At the time, I was sort of having an identity crisis as an actor,” says the actor, who was raised in Lake Stevens, Washington. “I didn’t know what I was, if I was an action guy or a comedy guy. And I thought maybe I could do a combination of both.”
“Guardians” gives him the perfect opportunity to strut his stuff. In the film, which is set almost entirely in outer space, Pratt plays a thief-turned-hero who teams up with a bunch of fellow eccentrics to battle the bad guys (Lee Pace, Benicio Del Toro).
On the Guardians team: a green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a vengeance-seeking strongman named Drax (wrestler Dave Batista) as well as a pair of CG characters – the gun-toting, wise-cracking raccoon Rocket ( Bradley Cooper) and the walking tree Groot (Vin Diesel) who speaks only one sentence: “I am Groot.”
Director James Gunn (“Super”) says it was a challenge to find the right actor to play cheeky Peter Quill.
“We actually screen-tested at least 20 people,” says Gunn. “We looked at big stars and no-names, searching for the right person. I really wanted somebody who could embody this character and take it beyond the page, in the same way Robert Downey Jr. did for Iron Man. But nobody blew me away.”
Gunn credits casting director Sarah Finn with continually pushing him in the direction of Pratt.
“Sarah kept putting Chris’s picture in front of me and saying, “What about this guy? Why don’t you meet with him?” and I was, like, “The chubby guy from `Parks & Recreation’? You’re stupid!”
But Finn persisted. “ I don’t remember ever agreeing to even see Chris, actually,” says Gunn. “I just remember Sarah saying, “Okay, and after this guy, Chris Pratt is here.” And I was a little mad. I didn’t want to see him.
“And then Chris came in and he started to read, and this is 100 percent true, within 20 seconds, I was , like, “Holy s—t, that’s the guy. That’s who we’ve been looking for.
“Sometimes a role and a person are meant for each other and that’s what I felt this was….I thought, `chubby or not, he’s the guy. If he’s chubby, the world is going to have to be ready for the first chubby superhero because he’s still going to be better than all of the other people we [auditioned].”
Gunn isn’t the only filmmaker who’s sold on Pratt. After acing the part of Emmet Brickowski in this year’s mega-smash “The LEGO Movie,” Pratt also landed the starring role in “Jurassic World,” the latest sequel to “Jurassic Park.”
More than a decade into a career that’s including a gig on “Parks and Recreation” (which will air its final season this fall) as well as roles in movies as varied as “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Moneyball” and “Her,” Pratt is still quick to play down his talents.
When he discusses how he found the right attitude to play Star-Lord in “Guardians,” he credits Gunn with bringing out the best in him.
“The whole process for me was just trusting James, really, and taking big swings and sometimes falling flat on my face,” says Pratt, 35, who’s married to actress Anna Faris with whom he has a two-year old son named Jack. “The biggest challenge for me was trying to ignore the embarrassment of being an actor.
“It’s a pretty embarrassing thing to do. You got people pointing cameras at you and hundreds of people watching as you’re trying to be great. And almost every time, you’re not. And then there’s one moment where you are, and the editor will dig through all those takes to find it and put it in the movie.”
Pratt is just as self-deprecating about his looks and claims not to be sensitive about the media’s fascination with his fluctuating weight. Recently, Entertainment Weekly ran a chart estimating that the 6-foot-2-inch actor has gained and lost a combination of 315 pounds over the last decade.
“Are you saying I might be responsible for giving men body issues? Because if that’s what you’re saying, that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” he says with a laugh.
“Look, I know what it feels like to eat emotionally. And to be sad and make yourself happy with food and then be almost immediately again saddened, now ashamed, and again to try to hide those feelings with more food. I know what that’s like, and it’s a viscous cycle and it’s a very real thing.
“So, I know what it’s like to have body image issues. I also know that if you just work hard, enlist the help of good coaches, and be coachable and be willing to work hard , you can actually change that.”
For “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Pratt lost a whopping 70 lbs. Shedding the weight was particularly challenging for the actor since he was coming off “Delivery Man,” in which he gained 50 lbs to play Vince Vaughn’s schlubby best friend.
As ripped as Pratt got for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he insists he’s no match in the fighting department for his co-star Zoe Saldana.
“Zoe whacked me really good a lot of times,” says Pratt. “She can knock you out. I can guarantee it. She can knock just about anybody out. She’s a real athlete. She has a seriously strong kick and she’s not afraid to use it too.”