Leading from the Front - By Peter Wallace
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Leading from the Front - By Peter Wallace

Leading from the Front - By Peter Wallace

Over the past five years, Chris Pratt has gone from comedy sidekick to Hollywood heavyweight. His physique and career may have changed dramatically, but his steadfast faith remains the same – and the star is determined to be a role model as well as a leading man.

In all of modern Hollywood you’d be hard-pressed to find a more rags-to-riches story than Chris Pratt’s journey to cinematic super-stardom. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine the Minnesota native as anything other than a man completely suited to play the plethora of heroic on-screen alter egos he has portrayed in recent franchises – from Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill to Jurassic World’s Owen Grady and even The Lego Movie’s Emmet Brickowski.

But at the origin of his career Pratt was living up to the stereotypes of the struggling actor, bussing tables at a Bubba Gump Shrimp in Maui, Hawaii, and sleeping in a tent on a nearby beach. It’s a memory that stays with him even now, with a multi-billion dollar haul at the global box office to his name.

“A part of me thinks that living in a tent was way better than this,” the 39-year-old laughs. “It was a really great time in my life; maybe I’m looking at it through rose- tinted lenses.

“All things lead up to the next, lead up to this moment and I just treat it all like another moments. You don’t want to let your guard down, I’m not going anywhere, I plan to stretch this out. I plan on being here for a long time, and you don’t want to ever feel like… you never want to be in a position where you’re like… you feel like you peaked. I never want to feel that, and it happens so easily.”

Pratt’s move from tent to tent-pole franchise relied heavily on that kind of work ethic, but there was another underlying factor to this success that has endured from the star’s less glamorous days: faith.

“I was sitting outside a grocery store – this is in Maui – I think we’d convinced someone to go in and buy us beer,” he nods. “And a guy named Henry came up and recognised something in me that needed to be saved. He asked what I was doing that night, and I was honest. I said, ‘My friend’s inside buying me alcohol.’ ‘You going to go party?’ he asked. ‘Yeah.’ ‘Drink and do drugs? Meet girls, fornication?’ I was like, ‘I hope so.’

“I was charmed by this guy, don’t know why. He was an Asian dude, maybe Hawaiian, in his 40s. It should’ve made me nervous but didn’t. I said, ‘Why are you asking?’ He said, ‘Jesus told me to talk to you…’ At that moment I was like, I think I have to go with this guy. He took me to church and over the next few days I surprised my friends by declaring that I was going to change my life.”

Pratt’s teenage conversion first led him to lend his help to missionary organisation Jews for Jesus, and it is clear now that that same spirit still resides in him. Some high-profile figures have been known to be less open about their beliefs with the world’s spotlight on them, but this star is ensuring that his status as a household name only emphasises his role as a vocal advocate for faith and Christian principles.

Take last April’s MTV awards ceremony, for example, when Pratt made a splash on social media for opening his award-acceptance speech with the words: “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that; I do.” He went on to give the audience of young fans words of advice: “If you’re strong, be a protector. If you’re smart, be a humble influencer. Strength and intelligence can be weapons, do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”

“I worry that sometimes I might behave in a way that people might think I’m rude or inconsiderate,” he explains. “It’s important to me to be a good man and to connect with people in a good way... As a young actor I saw how fame changed people and how money and power can turn good people into bad people.

“I’m not saying that that could never happen to me, but I can honestly say that I’ve never let fame affect me and turn me into someone different from who I am. I try to make sure that every day I am thankful for the kind of life that I have and that I never take anything for granted. I will always remember where I came from and how it’s more important to me to be a good person than almost anything else.”

There’s a distinct feeling that Pratt credits his desire to be a “good person” as intrinsic to his acting success: “If you’re known for having a bad attitude,” he says, “you will not work any more, and you see it happening all the time.” But in keeping with his amenable nature, there’s only so far Pratt’s career defines him. Once the camera stop rolling, there’s no hint that his life is led in any less of a positive way.

“I owe almost everything to my parents who raised me properly and gave me discipline and a strong sense of respect for others,” he agrees. “I think when you grow up with a solid foundation in life, that will carry you forward and help you through the bad times and also make you appreciate the good times even more.”

It may be easy for the average fan to think Pratt’s allusion to appreciating the good times has to be linked to his last half-decade as the film industry’s go-to leading man. But off-screen, the star has had to contend with obstacles in recent times, not least the premature birth of his son Jack in 2012 with former wife Anna Faris – an event which Pratt says came to strengthen his existing relationship with God.

“We were scared for a long time,” he says. “We prayed a lot. But that time in my life, it restored my faith in God, not that it needed to be restored, but it really redefined it. The baby was so beautiful to us, and I look back at the photos of him and it must have been jarring for other people to come in and see him, but to us he was so beautiful and perfect.

“Being a father makes you more responsible. I take that role very seriously and I am very dedicated to seeing to it that my son grows up happily and in a loving and caring environment. My life has changed away from self-centred, spontaneous living because of that. And it happened sort of at the same time. Our life took a big change, and I don’t know how much of it is based on the success of the past few years and how much is that my priorities have shifted onto caring for another human being more than myself.”

Jack’s problematic birth may have been a moment in which Pratt was afforded the rare sympathies of the world’s media, but recently he has found himself in the lenses of the paparazzi once more after his unexpected divorce to Faris was announced last year. Since that time, however, Pratt has become engaged to Katherine Schwarzenegger – Arnie’s daughter, no less – and has espoused his wish to enjoy a religious ceremony with his new fiancée.

“I would like people to sense that I’m a good man and I’m trying to bring good things into the world and help people lead better and more rewarding lives,” he says. “I hope that my faith can also inspire people or at least whatever they see in my soul, they can take some hope from that and see how their own lives can change.”

Intriguingly, Pratt will soon find himself, along with many of his co-stars and contemporaries, at a career crossroads as well. This year marks the release of Avengers: Endgame, the final piece of the decade-spanning box office-busting superhero ensemble smash. Pratt’s Peter Quill is set to feature once again, of course, but Endgame represents a possible new dawn for the star after four outings as the 1980s music-loving intergalactic arbiter.

“I want to enjoy every moment of this time in my life because this is a business where success can be very fragile and it can all go away very quickly,” he explains. “I feel blessed every day. I’m getting the kinds of opportunities that I never could have expected earlier in my career. Getting to be part of film franchises is a pretty rarefied space to be in and that’s why I’ve been working so hard the last few years, but I never want to get upset over small things that are unimportant.”

There’s little to suggest Pratt’s career will nosedive as a result of his hanging up his spandex, but even so, the franchise finale marks a new dawn that the actor is relishing. With Quill assumedly retired (for now), Pratt can fall back on his indefatigable belief to chart the course for the next stages of his profession on-screen.

I always had a crazy blind faith in myself,” he says. “I knew that I would one day be playing big parts and have a great career. I didn’t know how I was going to do it and I didn’t even have much of a career plan until much later. But there was always something inside me that gave me hope and confidence that I was going to achieve something greater in life than anyone would ever have expected me to achieve.

“I always had this inner feeling that one day I was going to get to be able to play lead roles and be part of big films. I never gave up on myself and I always had faith that one way or another I was going to succeed at a higher level even though I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there.”

That being said, Pratt is under no illusions when it comes to surveying his stratospheric rise – or the path he now happily finds himself on.

“It’s almost unbelievable how my life has changed,” he chuckles. “I’ve gone from being a former door-to-door salesman and doing summer theatre, to being a Hollywood movie star. It’s way, way beyond anything I ever dreamed [of] but here I am, and I swear that I’m never going to complain about anything for the rest of my life.

“As a kid, I had dreamed of doing something heroic or important with my life, but that could have been working as a police officer – I would have been happy doing that. But I want to be the same kind of person and be a good husband and father whether I’m having a lot of success or when things aren’t going as well as you would like. That’s the kind of perspective I try to have on everything.”

Even a man as committed to representing a positive attitude for his fans has his limits, however. The time spent sleeping in tents may well have matured with a certain sense of comforting nostalgia, but Pratt’s dedication to self-betterment can truly only be measured in the tangible steps he has taken over his life and career thus far.

“As an actor, you have to balance your dreams with reality all too often and for a long time,” he nods. “My main goal was never to have to work as a waiter again – that was one job I really hated.”