Star Trek's Chris Pine on how he took over the role of James Kirk

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Chris Pine, who takes on the iconic role of James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek, told SCI FI Wire that the main challenge in rebooting the franchise was to create a first adventure that appealed to longtime fans and also brought new fans into the fold.

Pine steps into William Shatner's boots in the May 8 release, playing a young version of Kirk. In the film, Kirk begins to emerge as the man who'll become a legendary Starfleet captain and barrels into action with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which includes Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Earlier this week, Pine told a roomful of reporters that he met Shatner for the first time only on Saturday at a charity event. "I saw Bill last night for the first time, actually, at his charity show in Burbank," Pine said Sunday at a news conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. "And he was very kind. I mean, it was a very short meeting; he had a lot of people to see, and it was a big event that had been taking place all day. But my interaction with him has only been really wonderful. I mean, I sent him a letter early on in the process and ... explained to him who I was. ... Who [is] this punk kid was who was taking over, at least for the time being, the role? And he was very kind and wished me all the luck in the world. Leonard [Nimoy] was the same way. There was a wonderful feeling of handing over the mantle ... to us. ... It was more about ... allowing us the freedom to make these characters our own without having any feelings of weight and expectation and responsibility."

SCI FI Wire spoke to Pine in an exclusive telephone interview last month. Following are edited excerpts from the first part of our exclusive two-part interview. Star Trek opens May 8. (Spoilers ahead!)

What was your sense of how J.J. Abrams went about pulling off the dual task of pleasing the die-hard fans and making new fans?

Pine: Thank God we had a great general's council behind the film. That consisted of J.J., who is the self-professed non-fan. On the other end of the spectrum you have people of [co-writer] Bob Orci and [producer] Damon Lindelof, who are avid, passionate fans and protectors of canon. I think with that came a great, great balance. One of J.J.'s wonderful attributes is that he's not precious about anything. So he's not a dictator on set.

A hundred heads are better than one. ...

Pine: If certain things needed to be cut, if a scene needed to move because the pace wasn't working, if an actor needed a certain thing, if a part of canon had to be sacrificed just to make the scene work better, then J.J. would be the one to do that, but then you had these other voices on the council that were [helping Abrams] find that balance between what was needed in the scene, what would, again, appease and work for the fans, what would make fans smile, what would make fans happy, but also never becoming too precious about it that it sacrificed the integrity of the story that we were trying to tell.

What, if anything, did you choose to borrow anything from Shatner?

Pine: J.J. and I... Well, J.J. and every person that was taking over for one of these legendary actors talked about the ways in which we could pay homage to what had been done before, but pay homage while not mimicking. So there was a discussion about how to take the scalpel and which parts to take from the original versions. And I think it comes across. Hopefully, knock wood, it comes across more nuance than beating people over the head. This is not Mr. Shatner's portrayal. But there were certain things. I remember watching the original series and being struck by certain parts of his physicality, and little things about how he walked across the deck of ship, screwy little things that I wanted to pay tribute to.

(For his part, Abrams repeated that the filmmakers were unable to find a role for William Shatner in the new film that satisfied both him and the demands of their story. "We had a scene with him in there that we wrote," Abrams said in a news conference on Sunday. "It was sort of a flashback thing, but Bill made it clear he didn't just want to do a cameo. So we ended up realizing that we would have to change the whole story and bring him back to life and make it different. We had to bite the bullet and say, this communication is more about Shatner. But we would have loved to have worked with him.")