”Here’s to you!” says Chris Pratt as he downs his first, but by no means last, Jack Daniel’s shot of the day. They say it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, but technically it’s 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, and Pratt is about to spend five hours being photographed in the costume of Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord), the planet-hopping thief-turned-hero of the new Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy (rated PG-13, out Aug. 1).
In Guardians, Pratt leads a group of misfits the likes of which have never been seen on the big screen: There’s Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned assassin Gamora, wrestler Dave Bautista’s vengeance-seeking behemoth Drax the Destroyer, and two CG characters — Rocket, a raccoon-like critter voiced by Bradley Cooper, and the walking tree Groot, whose single line of dialogue (”I am Groot!”) is repeatedly enunciated by Vin Diesel. ”What sets this movie apart is that it is in space,” explains Pratt, 35. ”I love all the Marvel movies, but you’re sort of limited to ‘We’re going to destroy Chicago’ or ‘An alien person lands in some middle-American town.’ This has really unlimited potential in terms of the worlds they can create.”
Pratt’s suggestion that today’s photo session at hostelry Barcadia should kick off with everyone present drinking a shot of Jack — and in his case, another one five minutes later — would be approved by his character. As a child, Quill is kidnapped from Earth by the shady Yondu (Michael Rooker), then grows up to be something of a rogue. ”Peter Quill spends a lot of time in space bars,” says Pratt. ”If there’s a sequel, we’ll probably find out he’s got a lot of half-alien kids.” Pratt’s afternoon drinking also jibes with his real-life fondness for the finer — and the more fattening — things in life. That might explain the often portly physique of Andy Dwyer, his character on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. ”It was like the fatter I was, the funnier I got,” Pratt says.
But last year, the actor got in six-pack-sporting shape for Guardians, and he has maintained that sculpted look for his starring role as a scientist in next June’s Jurassic World, a fourquel now shooting near New Orleans. Moreover, EW’s plan to go out drinking with Pratt tonight is dealt a serious blow when, halfway through the shoot, he starts mulling an evening gym session. Luckily, the idea disappears — right around the time Pratt takes a third and fourth shot. Photos over, your writer and the actor head out in search of food (which we never get around to ordering) and beer (which we most definitely do).
”Oh, yeah, I’m super-fun when I’m drunk,” says Pratt, after we position ourselves around a patio table at a joint called the Ugly Dog Saloon. ”If you drink with me, I get funnier. If you don’t drink with me, I just get louder.” Pratt, you see, is a bit of a throwback in an age when movie stars — especially movie-stars-in-waiting — speak as if they’re reading press releases packed with publicist-approved messages. Naturally, this worries his wife, actress Anna Faris (CBS’ Mom), to no end. ”Anna tells me to reveal less of myself,” he says. In interviews? ”Interviews. Twitter. Whatever. She’s like, ‘Don’t give it away!’ But I can’t help it. It’s my favorite topic in the world — myself,” he says, laughing. ”Try and stop me!”
If you only know Pratt from Parks and Rec, you might think he’s an odd choice to front two big-budget action sci-fi movies (three, if you count his role as Emmet Brickowski in The LEGO Movie). Not so long ago, he would have agreed. In fact, when he was first asked to meet about playing Peter Quill, he turned it down. ”I was probably scared,” he says, ”and thought I was too fat to play a superhero.”
The teenage Pratt, on the other hand, would not have been surprised at all by his professional rise, which also includes a trio of Best Picture nominees over the past three years: 2011’s Moneyball, 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, and last year’s Her. ”My high school wrestling coach reminds me about this time I came into his office and he said, ‘Chris, what do you want to do with yourself?”’ Pratt says. ”I was like, ‘I don’t know, but I know I’ll be famous and I know I’ll make a s— ton of money.’ I had no idea how. I’d done nothing proactive. It was as dumb as someone saying, ‘I’ll probably be an astronaut. I’m sure I’ll stumble into an astronaut suit and end up in space one day.”’
Pratt was raised in Lake Stevens, Wash., by blue-collar parents — his mother still works at the Safeway grocery store; his father, who died last month, was a gold miner who then worked in construction. After high school, Pratt studied acting at a local community college for half a semester, then made a move you won’t find in the Handbook for Ambitious Young Actors: He relocated to Hawaii and lived in a van. ”I had a friend who was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to come out here,”’ Pratt says. ”We set up camp on the beach and lived the dream.” He got a job at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., which suited his personality. ”I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dining experience at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., but they love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face and sing you birthday songs and do trivia,” he says. One day, the 19-year-old Pratt waited on actress Rae Dawn Chong (Commando) and decided to carpe the hell out of the diem. ”I was like, ‘You’re in the movies, right? I always wanted to be in the movies,”’ he recalls. ”She said, ‘You’re cute. Do you act?’ I was like, f— it, ‘Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!”’
Chong was prepping her directorial debut, a horror comedy called Cursed Part III that she shot in L.A., and gave Pratt a shot. ”He was a joy on set,” she says. ”My movie sucked, but he was awesome.” Although Cursed Part III was never released, Pratt had found his calling. ”The moment she told me she was bringing me to L.A., I knew,” he says. ”I was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”’
TV networks seemed to agree. In 2002, Pratt, then 23, scored the part of high school jock Bright Abbott on the WB drama Everwood, and after that show’s four-year run, he was cast on Fox’s The O.C. as lefty activist Winchester ”Che” Cook. ”It was the final season of The O.C. and the kids were checked out,” he says.