How Chris Pratt Became the People’s Chris
Chris Pratt is halfway through a set of 100 pullups, his hands like two giant meat puppets gripping the bar. We’re doing the Murph CrossFit Hero WOD in a gym he’s installed in the farmhouse he’s renting outside Atlanta. He’s been living here since October while filming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the final
installment of the trilogy, which has earned more than $1.6 billion at the box office worldwide and spawned a video game, multiple action figures, and a ride at Epcot. Though the Guardians also appear in this summer’s Thor: Love & Thunder, the end of an era is decidedly here.
“You want to be conscious and put a lot of effort into experiencing the moment,” Pratt offers. “Like, This is going away. I want to take it in. You can’t take it in any harder than just being present to it. So I’m being present.” Still, he finds the emotional resonance bubbling up at odd times. “The other day,” the 43-year-old says between sets, already laughing at himself, “Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback”—that’s Pratt’s hometown team—“he got traded to Denver. He’s been with Seattle for about ten years. Which has been about the duration of this.” He gestures to his surroundings. “I was like, ‘Wait, hold on, what happened?’ The emotion around the last ten years sort of coming to an end . . . I was in the most embarrassing way, like, ‘My quarterback leaves, so I’m gonna cry.’ It’s hitting me in moments like that.”
For Pratt—an aw-shucks Viking in Alo shorts, his massive legs threatening to split the fabric—this is a time of transition in many ways. His other billion-dollar-grossing trilogy, Jurassic World, concludes this summer with the release of Jurassic World: Dominion. Pratt and his wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger, also just welcomed their second child together, Eloise. (Their daughter Lyla was born in 2020; Pratt has a son, Jack, with his first wife, Anna Faris.) The actor is by any measure phenomenally successful, responsible for something like $10 billion in box-office receipts if you include the Avengers films he’s been in. He’s beloved by everyone he’s ever worked with, too; midway through our interview, Pratt’s phone blows up with the Parks and Recreation text chain, a full seven years after that show’s finale. Yet today—and on other days recently, it seems—he’s been struggling to understand a disconnect between his perception of himself and who he is versus the public’s perception of him and why some corners of the Internet love to troll him. “You don’t ever wanna get caught complaining or anything,” he says. “ ’Cause I have so many blessings. I consider everything a blessing truly in my life.” But during a recent run, he tells me, he couldn’t shake this feeling: “Why are they coming after me?”
THERE IS A meta-narrative hanging over today’s conversation, and it stems from one of the dumber (yet more stubbornly persistent) Internet memes: the Worst Chris. You’ve seen this, yeah? It went viral and resurfaces periodically on Twitter, with fans debating the merits (or demerits) of the superhuman Hollywood Chrises: Pratt, Hemsworth (Thor), Evans (Captain America), and Pine (Captain Kirk).
Says James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, “It absolutely infuriates me. Chris is unspeakably kind to people; he goes out of his way to help kids. He’s an especially loving father. And there’s a lot of stuff that people have literally just made up about him—about his politics, about who he is, about what he believes of other people, you know?”
Colin Trevorrow, who directed Pratt in two Jurassic World films, echoes the point: “I don’t know why we treat each other this way.”
I have a half-baked theory that Pratt has possibly been a victim of his own success—both onscreen and in the gym. As doofus Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec, he was one of us, memorably sitting at a restaurant presciently called Jurassic Fork, insisting on a fresh rack of ribs to devour in every take just to make his costar Nick Offerman laugh. Pratt was an everyman, a hero we could imagine shooting whiskey with. But he was also tired of losing out on bigger roles to men with, well, no rolls. He hit the gym to snag the part of a major-league first baseman in Moneyball, emerging from the weight room with steel-cut abs and arms and (for the first time in his career) options. I started to wonder if the fans who loved him as Disgusting Donald in 2011’s rom-com What’s Your Number? felt betrayed, the way some women reportedly did when Adele revealed her recent body transformation.
Pratt has his own idea about the backlash. After our sweaty workout, during which Pratt (very kindly) helps me out, grabbing my legs near the end of a set so I can finish some pullups with dignity, we get into all of it pretty quickly—and at his prompting. We’re meandering through the woods around his rental home, taking the scenic route to a local sandwich shop, when an innocuous question about filming Jurassic World: Dominion overseas during a pandemic—and having to care for his then very pregnant wife via FaceTime—leads to a surprising conversation about the origins of that Internet bile and the role he believes he inadvertently played in lighting the match.
A few years ago, he explains, he was asked to give a speech at the MTV Movie & TV Awards as the recipient of a Generation Award (a lifetime-achievement honor for people with a lot of life left to live), and he was instructed to say something inspiring. So, standing next to a trophy made of golden popcorn, he spoke from the heart: “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you.” He also said, “Don’t be a turd.” But people mostly just remember the God part.
“Maybe it was hubris. For me to stand up on the stage and say the things that I said, I’m not sure I touched anybody,” he offers, and he gets why people were put off. “Religion has been oppressive as fuck for a long time,” he says as we walk over a tiny footbridge, the words spilling out in an emotional tidal wave. “I didn’t know that I would kind of become the face of religion when really I’m not a religious person. I think there’s a distinction between being religious—adhering to the customs created by man, oftentimes appropriating the awe reserved for who I believe is a very real God—and using it to control people, to take money from people, to abuse children, to steal land, to justify hatred. Whatever it is. The evil that’s in the heart of every single man has glommed on to the back of religion and come along for the ride.”
Say what you will about Pratt, but these are big ideas he’s openly wrestling with, and it’s something I can’t imagine another celebrity in his shoes saying. The situation wasn’t helped by Pratt’s alleged association with the celebrity church Hillsong, whose official policies contain what can generously be called non-LGBTQ-affirming statements. After Pratt casually talked about his faith with Stephen Colbert in 2019, the actor Elliot Page called him out.
Pratt issued a statement at the time: “It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which ‘hates a certain group of people’ and is ‘infamously anti-LGBTQ.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.”
What he didn’t say then—and what he tells me now—is: “I never went to Hillsong. I’ve never actually been to Hillsong. I don’t know anyone from that church.” Okay. Why not say that at the time?
“I’m gonna, like, throw a church under the bus?” he replies, before reconsidering. “If it’s like the Westboro Baptist Church, that’s different.” No one’s suggesting that. But he could have, ya know, read up on Hillsong. Pratt tells me he attends Zoe Church, but I’m not sure the distinction will satisfy his critics. Zoe, also popular with celebrities like Justin and Hailey Bieber, was founded by pastor Chad Veach. He executive- produced a 2017 film that equated “sexual brokenness” with “same-sex attraction.” Pratt also mentions that he doesn’t go to Zoe exclusively. When it came time for Lyla to be baptized, he and his wife chose a norm-y Catholic church in Santa Monica where she worshipped as a kid.
So yeah, Pratt’s relationship with organized religion is maybe a work in progress. It’s worth noting that his father-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is Catholic, never took any shit for that church’s messed-up relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Religion is complicated, and I say this as a gay Jew. Does it help that the Internet’s original Bernie-loving boyfriend, Mark Ruffalo, came to Pratt’s defense in the wake of Page’s comments, calling him “as solid a man as there is”?
For some, it probably does. Hulk Smash! But if this disconnect persists and Pratt is “misunderstood,” as he says, maybe there’s a simpler reason: What if the loudest voices on Twitter aren’t all that interested in what the actor and his buddies care about? Which is, in his telling of it, “the f words: faith, fishing, fighting.” And what if Twitter is infinitely more excited about retweeting photos of Chris Pine leaving an indie bookstore in short shorts and sharing Chris Evans’s thoughts on the debt limit than it is about hyping Chris Pratt’s Bible quotes?
Chris Pratt speaking at the MTV Movie & TV Awards
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I pause here to remind Pratt that none of this noise has hurt his box-office prowess or his reputation in town (which is basically the same thing). I also remind him that Twitter isn’t a real place. “That’s a lesson I’ve learned,” he counters before getting at what’s really on his mind: “It’s not a lesson that my son has learned yet.” And that’s the root of this anguish. Pratt is still smarting from backlash over a recent Instagram post of his in which . . . well, I’ll let him explain.
“I said something like, ‘Find someone who looks at you the way my wife looks at me.’ And then I gave her some shit in the thing and said, ‘But I love you. I’m so thankful for my wife—she gave me a beautiful, healthy daughter.’ And then a bunch of articles came out and said, ‘That’s so cringeworthy. I can’t believe Chris Pratt would thank her for a healthy daughter when his first child was born premature. That’s such a dig at his ex-wife.’ And I’m like, That is fucked up. My son’s gonna read that one day. He’s nine. And it’s etched in digital stone. It really fucking bothered me, dude. I cried about it. I was like, I hate that these blessings in my life are—to the people close to me—a real burden.”
He knows he shouldn’t comment on any of this, saying with a laugh, “My publicist would be like, ‘I’m sweating, Chris, I’m sweating. What happened to the it’s-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated-let’s-move-on fucking line that we talked about?’” He acknowledges that this very conversation we’re having right now will only extend the news cycle even more. Though I’d argue that the humanity he’s showing here is what makes him such an empathetic actor.
Pratt is so clearly in love with his kids that to let any suggestion to the contrary go by is untenable. And while it’s a cliché for an actor to talk about how much he adores his family, the story he tells me next is so nakedly vulnerable—so far from the alpha-male chum you might expect and something I wish my dad had done for me—that it stays with me for months.
He says his son is obsessed with this song “Valhalla Calling,” which features prominently in an Assassin’s Creed video game. Jack was on a ski trip with friends when one of the dads texted Pratt a video of the kids in the backseat singing along to some pop song on the radio. Pratt asked this guy to play “Valhalla Calling” but to pretend it just happened to be on the radio.
Minutes later, the dad sent Pratt another video. “Jack goes, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my favorite song! This is my favorite song!’ He knew all the words,” Pratt says. “And he was so proud, and it was so cool.”
PRATT DID NOT have this kind of relationship with his own dad. “I was raised by Homer Simpson, not Ned Flanders,” he says as we sit down on a bench in the woods. Dan Pratt was a taconite miner in Minnesota before moving the family to Alaska, where he worked in gold mines. Eventually they settled in Washington state.
His dad could also be “mean,” Pratt adds. “He was from the old school. He was a boxer and a bouncer. He used to fucking kick the shit out of people.” Pratt was, well, not that.
“I am a sensitive person. My dad knew that when I was a youngster, and it kind of made him dislike me. Or not dislike me but act like he disliked me—’cause he probably grew up in a world where a guy like that could get eaten alive. And so he wanted to put calluses on me. Early on, I developed humor as a self-defense mechanism—I developed Andy, really. Andy on Parks and Rec was my clown that I had honed my entire life, a guy who is affable, who’s an intelligent person playing a dumb person.”
Pratt’s mother, Kathy, has always been more outwardly affectionate. When he was very young, she worked at a local supermarket, and money was tight. When Pratt was in high school, his parents lost their home and later moved the family into a trailer. He considered enlisting in the military, as so many friends did to help pay for college, but his brother didn’t think it would be a match. So he took some community-college classes instead and then got a job selling coupons door-to-door.
These were not focused years, let’s say. Pratt moved to Maui on a whim—when a friend sent him a plane ticket—and waited tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. while living in a van on the beach. This, he says, is when he found religion. As the story goes, he was standing outside a grocery store with some friends one night—on their way to a party, no doubt—when a stranger approached Pratt in the parking lot, saying, “Jesus told me to talk to you.”
Pratt had felt a connection with God before, but something profound shifted that night and he vowed to make a change. A few weeks later, a film director came into the restaurant and asked Pratt if he was an actor. He wasn’t even supposed to be working that day. What happened over the next decade is (almost) enough to make me believe in God. Pratt auditioned for that director’s horror-comedy short film, Cursed Part 3, and suddenly found himself in Los Angeles. He landed a series-regular role on the WB’s Everwood and then wound up on Parks and Rec, as a standout funny-man in a cast of killers.
It seems ridiculous to say this now, but when James Gunn cast him as the scrappy, rakish fortune hunter Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, it was considered a risk. Chris Pratt? That guy? But it paid off in intergalactic units. Pratt’s chillaxed vibe would perfectly ground an otherwise absurdist crew of characters that included a monosyllabic tree and a gun-toting CGI raccoon. That he married Katherine Schwarzenegger—the granddaughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and daughter of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger—and became part of a legitimate American political dynasty only heightened one of the crazier rags-to-Tom-Ford stories. And in 2019, Pratt bought a $15.6 million unfinished house in the Palisades that was essentially a construction site with a view.
As a fellow child of the ’80s, I have to ask: What’s it like to have Arnold Schwarzenegger for a father-in-law? Has Pratt imitated Ah-nold’s voice to him, which is something you could definitely imagine the guy doing after too much whiskey? (“Oh God no,” Pratt says.) Okay, did he ask for Arnold’s permission to marry his daughter? (“Yeah.”) Tell me something I wouldn’t know about Arnold, I say.
“Gift giving is absolutely one of his love languages,” Pratt replies. “The most thoughtful gifts you could imagine, like quilts with all of the baby’s pictures on it. He gave us these—I don’t know what you’d call them—like statues carved out of wood. Nativity statues. They’re from Oberammergau in [Germany].”
Even if this trajectory seems like a miracle—and it does to an outsider—Pratt still won’t cite these blessings as proof of God’s existence. “Seeing David Copperfield pull a fucking trick off doesn’t mean that magic exists.” And he isn’t a saint, he seems to say, offering up a pretty great story about how he nearly quit the business, showing up at a last-minute TV audition so “stoned it was like Snoop Dogg had just shit in my mouth.”
Maybe he’s right. Because to call this career somehow preordained—a miracle—would be to diminish Pratt’s work ethic. Fans of Parks and Rec will remember a notorious riff where Andy Dwyer rattles off a list of alternate names for his band, Mouse Rat. It’s a crazy-long, seemingly stream-of-consciousness run of 30 names that includes lines like (and I’m paraphrasing) “The band has had several names over the years: Threeskin, Foreskin, Just the Tip.” The director just let the camera roll, and Pratt crushed it. But the actor later revealed he’d actually written the list far in advance. Making it seem spontaneous in the moment was the real trick.
Pratt did it again in Jurassic World: Dominion, leveraging his own dumb-guy image for a joke. This iteration of the dinosaur franchise finds him teaming up with Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, and the rest of Steven Spielberg’s original cast. Pratt explains that when his character, Owen Grady, meets Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant, a noted paleontologist, the former announces, “Hey, I’m a big fan! I read your book. Well, book on tape.” Says the actor of his whole dumb-guy act, “It was absolutely a tactic to lower people’s expectations of me.”
Pratt’s father never lived to see this level of success; he died in 2014 after a 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis. “And MS really just fucking kicked his ass,” Pratt says. “He decided not to take any medicine to prevent it. He was, like, incapacitated, in diapers in a wheelchair—for eight years,” often watching reruns on TV of whatever movies or shows his son had been in.
What would his father have made of Guardians of the Galaxy? Pratt smiles, waits a perfect beat, then laughs. “He would’ve said something mean. To be funny. Like, ‘Yeah, good, good. That fucking raccoon can’t shoot a gun.’”
THIS SUMMER, PRATT is giving the public a preview of what the next phase of his career might look like, starring on a decidedly not funny psychological thriller for Prime Video called The Terminal List. On this eight-episode series (which he also produced), he inhabits James Reece, a 40-year-old Navy SEAL whose platoon is killed in action. When Reece returns home, he struggles to find out: Was it simply bad intel that got his men killed, or were they set up?
I’d wondered whether audiences would accept Star-Lord as a possibly rogue SEAL holding a gun in a federal agent’s mouth. The Terminal List director Antoine Fuqua had no doubts. “We’ve seen guys not as physical, not as big as Chris—guys like Bruce Willis who back in the day were witty and charming, but they could also handle weapons.” He’s right. Having now seen the first three episodes, I can say Pratt delivers—on the physicality but even more impressively on the emotional front, as his onscreen wife and child are ensnared in the conspiracy.
What may propel Pratt’s career even further—as a producer and an actor—is his refreshing curiosity, Fuqua adds: “[Chris] never pretends to know something he doesn’t know. He’ll ask. He’ll go do homework and read 12 books after you have a conversation with him. And then he’ll come back telling you about it.”
The Terminal List is a chance for Pratt to celebrate the men and women of the armed forces, which is clearly important to him, but I’m curious if the project also appealed to him on another level. James Reece is a decorated operative who—for all his strength and smarts—cannot protect the most important thing in his life: his family. Was Pratt fighting some of his own demons onscreen?
He pauses, then works through what I’ve suggested out loud: “It was an opportunity for me to play a character who takes vengeance against the people who took his family, because—as a man and a dad—I feel out of control around being able to protect my family when it comes to the press or Twitter or whatever.” He thinks on it, then adds, “I never was actually aware of that. It’s really . . . maybe that’s—I think that might be an astute observation.”
Eventually—and we’ve been out in the woods for a long time—we emerge and find that local sandwich shop. Pratt orders a hamburger to go (a cheat meal since his shirtless scenes have already been shot), and our conversation turns to what’s next. He’ll voice the title character in a 2023 Super Mario Bros. film. (He agrees to do the voice for me if I promise not to reveal it. Though I can safely say it’s not the dreaded It’s-a me, Mario.) He’s also got an upcoming animated Garfield movie. Both projects seem on-brand for Pratt. But after filming Jurassic World: Dominion overseas during the pandemic—a boondoggle that reportedly inspired the Judd Apatow film The Bubble—he was also pretty happy to work from home.
“I don’t actually know what’s gonna come next,” he tells me while we wait, insisting he doesn’t have a “ten-year plan.” Like other A-list actors who’ve earned the right to choose their material, he’s looking for great filmmakers and great stories. Getting older, becoming a father again: “You asked whether or not I’m cognizantly, intentionally turning a page. The page is turning. Whether I want to or not. Because the franchises are over.”
What he’s struggling with is what we’re all struggling with at 43. In that way, he is still very much an everyman. “I’ve been broke-broke, dude,” he says. “And I think early on in my career it was so important to me. It’s like, Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget who you are. And part of me is struggling with who I am maybe not being who I was.”
You should be able to grow, I say. How could you not, with all that’s happened?
“Exactly,” he responds.
“So yeah, you should. And I have. I’m kind of coming to terms with that. What does it mean to me?”
This story appears in the July-August 2022 issue of Men’s Health.
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