One of the surprises in the new Star Trek movie is the importance of the role of Christopher Pike, the Captain of the Enterprise. And for this key part, JJ Abrams chose veteran actor Bruce Greenwood, who is no stranger to portraying strong leaders. In our exclusive interview, the actor talks about how his Pike is different, his relationship with Kirk, life on the set, and a particularly uncomfortable scene, and more. [interview contains spoilers]
Interview with Bruce Greenwood
TrekMovie: What is interesting about your character is that even though it was originated by another actor, there was only the one episode. So did you find it was a little easier for you compared to the other guys, as you had a lot more freedom to work with?
Greenwood: There is less of Hunter’s Pike in the history, but having said that, and you know this better than anybody, once part of Star Trek, it is indelible. Whatever imprint you make can’t be undone. I went back and looked at Pikes dilemma as face by Hunter and then I realized it is very different than the dilemma that my Pike faces. Having said that, they are both tremendously passionate people. The risk I was taking was with Kirk and not with my own future per se.
TrekMovie: What I was most impressed with, in regards to both your portrayal, and the script, is that in the past when you have Kirk in a film, other Captains seem weak so that Kirk would look cool. In this film, your character was the quintessential leader and Captain and Kirk was really only headed into that. Did you talk about that and how you were setting the standard?
Greenwood: Yeah. To make preceding captains less capable only diminishes Kirk at the end of the day, right? To speak of his father in these glowing terms and to be less myself would not make sense either. And I am not the first captain you see in the movie, and that captain [Robau] is phenomenally powerful. There is so much gravitas to Faran [Tahir]’s performance. They didn’t shy away from any of that.
Pike in command of the Enterprise in "Star Trek"
TrekMovie: You said you looked back. Obviously you made this role your own. But what were some of the things you decided to carry over from Hunter’s portrayal? Maybe some nuances?
Greenwood: It is more informed a sensibility, an impassioned sensibility, then picking behaviors. So for me to reveal ticks that I borrowed would first not be the truth, but I wouldn’t want to do it even if I had because I wouldn’t want to be judged for poor appropriation. So I didn’t go back with the eye to take some mannerisms an export them into my take. It was more a broader kind of view of the passion with which he approached his dilemma, and the single mindedness of that passion.
TrekMovie: In the last decade or so, you have played a lot of leaders – sub commander, the President…
Greenwood: A couple of times. [laughs]
TrekMovie: It is sort of becoming your thing…
Greenwood: We’ll see. I have done a fistful of those — so got to be careful now.
Greenwood as JFK in "Thirteen Days" and the President in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"
TrekMovie: But while you are playing Pike, does suddenly a little Kennedy slips in? Are these roles informing each other?
Greenwood: Perhaps I am more comfortable than I might have been five years ago. Because some of the territory is familiar, in terms of belief in oneself.
TrekMovie: So is that you? In this film Pike seems to always know what to do right away and never thinks about things…
Greenwood: I don’t think that is fair. He makes the decision. He is not afraid to make the decision, but it is not that he doesn’t think. He thinks very very carefully and then makes the decision, because he has to.
TrekMovie: Fair enough. There is one decision he makes in the film that still has me scratching my head and this is probably a question for Bob [Orci], but when Pike makes Kirk first officer and Spock is like ‘are you joking?’ Did you ask Bob or JJ why is he doing this? Did it make sense to you?
Greenwood: It made sense to me. What I intuit about Kirk’s ability to command can hardly be put into words. It is just that sense that the kid is incredibly rough and has a terrible bedside manner and can be abusive as with the scenario. I was not happy with the scenario [Kobayashi Maru]. We shot something in which I said to him as we are walking away after we get the emergency call, we shot something where I say "cheating is not winning." I had a long conversation with JJ About that and because I felt it was important for Pike to let Kirk know that this was not evidence of a perfect mind — this was not particularly impressive. On a technical level yes, but in terms of the lesson that he was meant to learn, it was more like what Spock says. Having said that, he has a sense of what it is going to take to prevail that is informed by his gene pool.
Clip: Greenwood’s Pike sees potential in young Kirk and asks him to enlist in Starfleet
TrekMovie: You have described this role as a father figure and some of these actors are quite young, like Anton is a teenager. What was the environment like on the set? Did the father/son thing flow over, or when the cameras turned off you stopped being Captain and you were just one of the guys snapping towels with the rest of them.
Greenwood: I think it is easier for an older guy to think he is one of the guys snapping towels [laughs] and it felt that was as we were just a bunch of guys, and a girl, and we had a great time together. We played a lot of chess, played a lot of guitar, sang a lot, hung out at my house. So for me it felt that way. You will have to ask the kids if there was any sense of ‘this old cat is alright, but he still is an old cat.’
TrekMovie: You were playing the guitar?
Greenwood: A lot of people were. Anton, me, Pine.
TrekMovie: You were one of the few to work and hang out with the Romulans…
Greenwood: Well I spent a few days flat on my back with a scorpion being forced down my neck, so you can’t really call that hanging out.
TrekMovie: Eric [Bana] said that when he was doing those scenes he passed out one time, were you there for that?
Greenwood: I was so slarred on that table, that if he was hyperventilating or needed some oxygen, I was so zoned out, I might have not have noticed. It was painful on that table. We were there for two days.
TrekMovie: So when you read the script and you see how you are Captain and throwing commands around, and then you get to the….
Greenwood: Lying on a table having an earwig shoved down your throat part? You think ‘ah that will change.’ It’ll be sushi and a conversation, that you end up losing. But it is not going to be a scorpion and you are not going to get whipped, but no. It was hideously uncomfortable.
TrekMovie: So that thing wasn’t done with CGI?
Greenwood: It is a real thing and they dropped it down my throat…it was horrendous. It was a creature that they created, and it had a solenoid in it so it would wiggle and twist and writhe and it was sharp and pokey. And they did it a bunch of times and would yell ‘cut’ and pull it away from my mouth and I felt that we were getting to the end of the coverage and I said to JJ "you are not going to drop it down my mouth?" and he was like "really?" and I was "f–k yeah – let it drop, it’s not going to kill me"…It f–king near killed me. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
TrekMovie: So people are already talk about the sequel…
Greenwood: I am ready to throw down. I am open to it and gather they are as well.
TrekMovie: They are?
Greenwood: I am encouraged to think Pike will be returning.
Greenwood looks forward to playing Pike again in a sequel
Up Next – JJ Abrams
For Thursday, the day of the early premiere, we will present the JJ Abrams chat in our TrekMovie’s weeklong interview series. We talk about the buzz, deleted scenes and more…including Shatner. Stay tuned .
Other final pre-movie exclusive interviews at TrekMovie: