Chris Pine says negative 'Poolman' reviews helped him give up on perfection : Wild Card with Rachel Martin Chris Pine says his directorial debut, Poolman, got "obliterated" by critics. But the Star Trek and Wonder Woman star tells Rachel that the experience helped him reevaluate his desire for perfection. Chris also debates predestination with Rachel, reflects on the struggle to feel awe and discusses his recurring childhood dreams of having tea with an elf in a tree.

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The lesson Chris Pine learned after his new film was 'obliterated' by critics

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Hey, everybody. Just a little heads up - this episode contains a little bit of cursing.

What's a goal you're glad you gave up on?

CHRIS PINE: Perfection.


PINE: My film got absolutely decimated when it premiered in Toronto, which brings up for me - one of my primary triggers or whatever is, like, not being liked or this idea of perfection, of not creating something that is perceived as, right?

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin, and this is WILD CARD, the game where cards control the conversation.


MARTIN: Each week, my guest chooses questions at random.

Pick a card one through three.

Questions about the memories, insights, and beliefs that have shaped their lives.

PINE: I have joy. I experience joy. It still gives me joy. That's it. That's enough. There is no perfect. That is perfect.

MARTIN: And our guest today is someone you may think you have figured out. You've seen Chris Pine on the big screen for a long time by this point, playing different versions of very good-looking heroes, it must be said. Most famously, he played a young Captain Kirk in a few "Star Trek" movies. He was Wonder Woman's boyfriend and did a star turn in one of the "Jack Ryan" films. To my kids, he will always be the charming hero from the "Dungeons & Dragons" movie - thank you very much. And yes, these are all guys who always save the day. But it's clear Chris Pine is drawn to characters who push out of masculine stereotypes. They've got a vulnerability that makes them more real. And it makes you wonder what Chris Pine would do if he got to call all the shots, if he got to create his own version of a movie hero.

The answer, my friends, is Darren Barrenman, or D.B. for short. He's the main character in Chris Pine's directorial debut, "Poolman." And he is this intensely earnest guy who makes his living taking care of a pool in LA. But he's an activist at heart, passionate about fair zoning laws and about better bus routes. And this movie is so weird and big-hearted and holds so much humanity at the same time. I knew Chris Pine would be good at this game.

PINE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Chris Pine. Hi.

PINE: Oh, Rachel. You - I mean, that intro. I'm going to probably keep that intro and play...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PINE: ...It to myself as I go to bed. Earnest and big-hearted, man, that is what it's...


PINE: That's really what it's...

MARTIN: I mean...

PINE: ...All about.

MARTIN: That - that's sort of on brand for me, too. I mean, I love an earnest, big-hearted character. And I love this guy so much. Congratulations, by the way.

PINE: Thank you very much. It really means a lot.

MARTIN: This film is all you. This film is yours. You wrote the script with your friend, Ian Gotler. You directed this...

PINE: I did.

MARTIN: ...Bad boy.

PINE: I did.

MARTIN: You starred in it.

PINE: I did.

MARTIN: So of all the stories...

PINE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...That you could put all that creative power behind...

PINE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Why this?

PINE: This whole process of making "Poolman" came from a place of - my partner and I call it following the giggle. And it's a feeling of delight. And it's this thing that I feel like as we get older, we get beaten into submission by society and culture and parents and what to do and should dos and all of this. And this idea of impish play that we have as children gets lost along the way. And I think this film is my ode to the part of me that wants to smile, that there's no rules or regulations to making something other than what brings me ecstatic joy.

MARTIN: So there is this scene with the actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays a kind of antagonist to your character. And I don't want to give too much away, but it is just this most beautiful little gift in the middle of this wacko film. And it's about forgiveness, and it is just the most authentic...

PINE: Well, that...

MARTIN: ...Lovely thing.

PINE: Yeah. That - I'm so glad - I mean, the whole film, to me, reads like kind of free jazz or there's a lot happening. And it's - the tempo of it is kind of insane. And I wanted the film to bottom out for one moment and one scene where people shut up and actually, actually...


PINE: ...Look at one another and talk. And I wanted it to read as if it were, like, two 8-year-olds on a playground being taught by their parents how to apologize to one another and how to say, like, this is why I'm going to do this, and then you're going to do that, and then I'd like to hug you, and then we're going to hug.

MARTIN: But shouldn't we all just keep doing that? It's like we've forgotten actually how to forgive each other as 8-year-olds. I actually think we might be.

PINE: That's exactly right. Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, it is a wonderful, crazy journey of a movie. And...

PINE: I appreciate you enjoying it very much. I can't tell you.

MARTIN: Yeah. I really did. So congrats on that.

PINE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So how do you feel about playing the game?

PINE: I love an existential card game like anyone else does, you know?

MARTIN: Sweet.


MARTIN: After a quick break, Chris Pine plays the game.

PINE: Rachel, I'm a fully realized man. Come on.

MARTIN: (Laughter).


MARTIN: In front of me is a deck of cards.

PINE: Okey-doke.

MARTIN: For each question, I'm going to show you three cards, and then you choose one at random to answer, OK?


MARTIN: There are two rules, so not a ton to remember. You get one skip.


MARTIN: OK? If you use the skip, I'm just going to swap in another question from the deck.

PINE: Okey-doke.

MARTIN: And rule number two, you get one flip. You can put me on the spot and ask me the question. I'll answer it, but I'm still going to ask you to answer it. I just do it before you.

PINE: OK (laughter).

MARTIN: We're breaking it up into three rounds - OK? - memories, insights, beliefs.


MARTIN: And there'll be a few questions in each of those rounds. And because it's a game, there's a prize at the end.

PINE: A physical prize?

MARTIN: It is not physical if you must know.

PINE: OK (laughter).

MARTIN: It is also existential. But I think you're...

PINE: Wow.

MARTIN: ...Going to like it.

PINE: All right. I like this.

MARTIN: OK, you ready?

PINE: I am ready.

MARTIN: OK, let's get these. We're in round one. Round one - memories, experiences, that kind of thing. I am holding three cards in my hand. One, two, three?

PINE: One.


PINE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Who was a peer when you were growing up who you modeled your behavior after, for better or for worse?

PINE: Pass.


PINE: Yeah.


PINE: Yeah, skip.

MARTIN: Skip that question. Replacing it with one in the deck. What was a recurring dream you had growing up?

PINE: A recurring dream I had growing up is I grew up with this beautiful sycamore tree in my front yard, and I had a dream that this elf lived in this sort of subterranean lodge that had a connection with the tree in my front yard, and this, like, little door next to my garage. And I remember going in and having, like, tea with the elf. It probably was engendered by - my mother told this fantastic recurring story about this family of mice that lived in the sycamore. So I think that that's probably what dropped in my brain and percolated around and flowered into that dream.

MARTIN: I love that, though, because that - it was mostly positive, like, there wasn't a version of the dream where the elf, like, (vocalizing) ax murder?

PINE: No, I've never had - I don't have nightmares, thank God, and - I have anxiety dreams, I have fantastic anxiety dreams. But no, that was the one growing up that I remember the most.

MARTIN: Did you have - I won't prod into the anxiety dreams, but did you have any anxiety dreams when you were young, or that's mostly an adult experience?

PINE: I'm sure I did. I was a very anxious child and a pretty anxious young man and still am, but have wrestled with that demon for long enough that I think we're at a stalemate, at least for the most part now. But no, my more interesting anxiety dreams are now.

MARTIN: Moving on. We're still in round one. Next question. I'm getting my cards straight. One, two, three?

PINE: Two.

MARTIN: What's an experience from growing up when you realized your parents didn't have all the answers?

PINE: I remember very distinctly I was 16 years old, maybe, and I was driving. I wasn't driving, my father was driving his 1984 gray Saab 900, which is a f****** beautiful car. I have so many memories of that car. And even when my dad was broke, he continually spent more money trying to make that car work, much to my mother's chagrin. Anyway, but we were traveling south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. I know exactly where it is, and I remember my father saying something, and I turn to him in the passenger seat, and I looked at him, and it was as if, like, the shroud of the impenetrable parental aura dissipated...


PINE: ...And left. And I knew in an instant that he was a boy that became a man. It was...


PINE: ...So far out. It was so, so far out.

MARTIN: Wait. But what precipitated it?

PINE: I have no idea. I don't remember...

MARTIN: Oh, really?

PINE: ...That. I just remember the - that distinct feeling, like, that really distinct feeling. Yeah.

MARTIN: So did that make you feel unmoored or...

PINE: I - how do I say this? I think - I had taken care of myself for a very long time, I think, at that point, so I think it was more of a intellectual moment than it was sort - some sort of kind of emotional moment.


MARTIN: We're finished with round one, and now we're on round two, and this is a new deck...

PINE: Wow.

MARTIN: ...Of cards. I know, it's moving. This is the insights round, OK? Things you've learned or things you are learning. Three new cards.

PINE: Not learning anything.

MARTIN: You're not learning anything?

PINE: Rachel...

MARTIN: Come on, man.

PINE: ...I'm a fully realized man. Come on.

MARTIN: (Laughter). You got no struggles.

PINE: No. I got...

MARTIN: (Singing) I don't believe you.

PINE: I'll go to one. I'll go to the...

MARTIN: This one.

PINE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. What's a lesson you have to keep learning over and over?

PINE: To be in awe, always. In reverentia semper - to be in awe, always. What's yours?

MARTIN: Whoa. I mean, I'll tell you mine, but that - I want to sit with that. That's beautiful, though. Mine's not as lofty or, I mean, I just - I'm an innately impatient person.

PINE: I get that. Where does the impatience come from?

MARTIN: Where does it come from?

PINE: Are you a perfectionist?

MARTIN: No, absolutely not. Oh, my God. I wish I were more of a perfectionist.

PINE: You've never been a perfectionist.

MARTIN: Zero. Never...

PINE: Ah, good for you.

MARTIN: ...Ever.

PINE: So what is the impatience from?

MARTIN: Time. I'm urgent about time. I want to use it well - hate wasting time.

PINE: Interesting.

MARTIN: And I just want to get on with it. But - so it's a constant struggle of, like, I want to get on with things. But also, you need to sit and find reverence and awe in everything, right?

PINE: Well, again, you talk about need to - need, to me, reminds me of the word should. One - I should, which I detest the word should. So I don't think you need to do a f****** thing. I think...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PINE: You know, honestly, it's, like, what makes you happiest.

MARTIN: Yeah. But - so I'm wresting this away from you. What are you - do you find yourself in points when you can't recognize awe and reverence?

PINE: Of course I do. I - on the f****** daily. Of course I do. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I'm impatient as well and oftentimes feel this kind of, like, oblique background static energy of need, should, go, do. What's happening? Why isn't it this? Why isn't it that? All of these things that are saying, the present moment is not fulfilling X. I was talking to my therapist about this. And I was like, I want to be in flow state again. Like, making this movie was flow state, 24/7/365. Well, what is flow state other than a complete disappearance of the overwhelming reality of the march of time? We go into flow state to forget about our...

MARTIN: Right.

PINE: ...Mortality. There is...

MARTIN: No, but you can't live there forever.

PINE: Well...

MARTIN: Otherwise, it doesn't exist.

PINE: ...You can't live there forever. And take everything away. What are you left with? You're left with sitting here now. So you better get really good at...


PINE: ...Dealing with getting good with boredom, getting good with frustration, getting good with all of that.

MARTIN: Yeah. All right. We're moving. Three new cards - still in insights. One, two, three.

PINE: Two.

MARTIN: Two. What's a goal you're glad you gave up on?

PINE: (Laughter) Perfection.

MARTIN: That really was a goal?

PINE: Yeah. It was just very...

MARTIN: Like, in everything or in a particular project?

PINE: No, no, no. No. I had this - I was a very hard-driving boy and man. And - you know, and I think actually - coming back to my film - my film got absolutely just decimated when it got premiered in Toronto - just, like, obliterated. I didn't read any of the...

MARTIN: This movie, "Poolman."

PINE: Yeah. I didn't read any of them - thank God - but I heard enough to know that people really didn't like it, which brings up, for me - one of my primary triggers or whatever is, like, not being liked or this idea of perfection, of not creating something that is perceived as, right?

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.

PINE: So in many ways, this journey thus far with this has been so great to remember I have joy. I experience joy. It still gives me joy. That's it. That's enough. There is no perfect. That is perfect. There's nothing more perfect than that. And that perfect cannot be contained. You can't write about it. You can't put it in a box. You can't give it any sort of award. It's much more special than that as - and art is - what is perfect art? It's laughable. It's laughable. It's antithetical.


MARTIN: We're going to take a quick break. Then we get a glimpse into Chris Pine's psyche.

PINE: One of my defense mechanisms is being cerebral, using words to block the emotion.


MARTIN: Last round. Round three. So this is beliefs. This is the stuff that helps you make sense of the world. OK. One, two, three?

PINE: Three.

MARTIN: Is there anything in your life that has felt predestined?

PINE: Do I have another skip?

MARTIN: Uh-uh.

PINE: Oh. I find this a boring question, unfortunately. I'll ask you.

MARTIN: I want you to engage on why.

PINE: On why is it - did you ever think about becoming a psychologist? Did you ever get into - did you study psychology?

MARTIN: No, but I am super curious about people.

PINE: You never wanted to get into that line of work?

MARTIN: No, 'cause I get frustrated with people, too.

PINE: (Laughter) So I'm going to flip it on you. What is yours?

MARTIN: Anything felt predestined? Well, I have - I don't know how I feel about destiny in general.

PINE: Interesting.

MARTIN: And if that's a concept that serves me. I also don't necessarily think that everything serendipitous that happens to me is coincidence. I'm not so interested in just dismissing those things, those synchronicities in life that are...

PINE: Sure.

MARTIN: I'd like to see more meaning in those. And so was it predestined that I met my husband a few months after my mom died when I was, like, swearing off all romantic life? I don't know, but that predestined feels like a really big, heavy word for it. But it sort of feels like it has a glimmer of that, if that makes sense. Like, maybe I was supposed to meet him then. I don't know if that fulfills the definition of something that's predestined, but that's my answer.

PINE: But you came up with these questions, no?

MARTIN: (Laughter) With help.

PINE: Then why choose this question about predestination?

MARTIN: Oh, because lots of people have - lots of people are very interested in this idea, and have real answers that say affirmatively, yes, things feel very as they were meant to be for me.

PINE: So I, like you, prefer the story of synchronicity having meaning. That is much more delightful to me than the opposite. I would rather not believe in entropy and chaos, and I would rather believe, no, there is something to that. There is something more important than us happening because that gives me - that takes some of the onus of being alive off my shoulders. So religion, to me, makes a lot of sense. I don't engage with it personally, but it makes a lot of sense.

So the idea of predestination on a very on topic - "Poolman" felt predestined. But let me explain that. I call it, like, a snowball. The snowball starts growing, and at a certain point, the snowball's so f****** large, it's just falling down the hill. So you can't do anything about the snowball falling down. You just get out of its way and let the whatever, snowball, rock, whatever fall down the hill. That's what acting has felt like. That's what writing and directing and acting in this film has felt like. That idea of it being fated, I totally buy. Yeah.

MARTIN: And that compromise, surrendering - I mean, you had total agency over this film. You made this film. But in some ways, it got to a point where it took on a life of its own, and then you just let it happen?

PINE: No. Let me again explain. The process of, like, I had this idea. I tried to find a screenwriter. He fell through. I wrote the thing. Couldn't stop thinking about it. I may as well direct it. Predestined, I'm not sure. Somehow fated and, like, there was no other thing that could be happening - yes. To your second point about the - it took on a life of its own, one of my defense mechanisms is being cerebral, using words to block the emotion. And so this film, this process of making this film, was a way for me to simply follow instinct, simply follow emotion. So this idea of, like - it came out. It just - this is what my brain and...


PINE: ...Body wanted to do collectively together. It was the most harmonious in that regard, which is not an answer to your question, but I think...

MARTIN: No, but I liked where it went.

PINE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Last one.


MARTIN: Last one.


MARTIN: One, two, three? Three new cards. Pick a card one through three.

PINE: Two.

MARTIN: Has your idea of what it means to be a good person changed over time?

PINE: Has my idea of what it means to be a good person changed over time? Let me go Jackson Pollock this for a second. So the way that I hear that, to be a good person - I like this idea - I remember learning it when I was learning some form of meditation - and I think it's a Buddhist meditation, but the loving-kindness meditation, and where do you start? You start with yourself. So a lot of what I hear that question as is how - my evolving sense of what it means to be a good person is to begin by being as kind as you can to yourself. And hopefully, from embracing yourself that deeply, that love transmits itself outward.

MARTIN: Do you see that manifesting in your external relationships? When you are kinder to yourself, does your life get better? Do your relationships get better?

PINE: Yes, of course. I mean, you talk about frustration. I think that kind of, like - I also think about the idea of the fist is not a closed fist. It's not an open fist. It's a fist at the ready. The fist at the ready can do anything. It can clench. It can, you know, it can be as, like, delicate as a ballet dancer. You want to be supple. So becoming supple allows for anything to happen. You can ride whatever wave is thrown at you. If you're rigid and things aren't conforming to what you need it to be right now, it makes you miserable. And you getting miserable, then you become miserable. It can be to other people. So, yeah, I have found, for sure, that I've - yeah, I'm marching more, I think, in that direction.


MARTIN: You won the game.

PINE: I won a...

MARTIN: Right.

PINE: What did I win - a hug?

MARTIN: (Laughter) A virtual hug.

PINE: Ay (ph).

MARTIN: Ay. You won a hug, but you also won a trip in our memory time machine.

PINE: Awesome.

MARTIN: So this is the deal with the memory time machine. You get to revisit one moment from your past that you would not change anything about. You just want to linger there a little bit longer. What moment do you choose?

PINE: I was in my front yard four years ago. And it was one of these days in spring where it's like it doesn't know whether or not it wants to be hot or warm or if it's raining or cloudy or sun-filled in Los Angeles. And it was the first bloom of my flowers in my front yard. And I have this great big garden that kind of looks like controlled chaos. It's like a wonderland of plant life.

And I'm standing in, like, a - in a foot of warm water, and I'm looking up at the sky. And the clouds break, and there's this, like, gentle rain of water coming down. And the sun comes - crests over this gray cloud and shines its gorgeous light through all of these very delicate raindrops that are coming down. And I swear to God, it was like communing with God. It was, like, a moment of - talk about being in awe. It just was like, what on Earth? That was, you know - how awesome it is to be alive.



MARTIN: Chris Pine. His new movie that he wrote, directed and stars in is called "Poolman." Chris. This was great. Thank you.

PINE: Thank you very much.


MARTIN: If you want more from Chris Pine, we've got a bonus WILD CARD+ episode available now. Chris talks about the tension between being an introvert and being a movie star.

PINE: One of my most favorite lines that I've ever said in a part is, I was raised to be charming, not sincere. And that resonates very deeply with me.

MARTIN: You'll also get to hear last week's guest, Issa Rae, answer an extra question. WILD CARD+ is a new way to support our work here at NPR. And you get perks like sponsor-free listening and bonus episodes with more of our guests. Check out WILD CARD+ by going to Next week on WILD CARD, we hear from poet laureate Ada Limon.

Do you think there's more to reality than we can see or feel?

ADA LIMON: One hundred thousand million percent.

MARTIN: (Laughter).


MARTIN: This episode was produced by Lee Hale and edited by Dave Blanchard, with help from Lauren Gonzalez. It was fact-checked by Susie Cummings and mastered by Maggie Luthar. WILD CARD's executive producer is Beth Donovan. Our theme music is by Ramtin Arablouei. You can reach out to us at We'll shuffle the deck and be back with more next week. See you then.


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