LOS ANGELES—Leonard Nimoy, who has directed several films and television shows, should know something about how valuable a good performance is to a movie. In a Los Angeles hotel room, he says that the new film Star Trek probably wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t believe that the young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) would dispense with what appears to be a deeply rebellious attitude after just a short conversation with the captain of the starship Enterprise, Christopher Pike (played by Vancouver-raised actor Bruce Greenwood).
Watch the trailer for Star Trek.
“If Chris Pine could do anything else but join Starfleet after Bruce Greenwood told him what his life should be about, I would be very surprised,” Nimoy said. “He had to do what Bruce Greenwood told him to do and make something of himself.”
In the film, which opens Friday (May 8), Pike takes Kirk under his wing and brings him into the world of Starfleet and the Enterprise. Pike’s first officer is the Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto). The rest of the crew is made up of recent graduates who assume that they are on a training mission. They have to grow up fast when they are attacked by a Romulan ship from the future out to settle scores for events that have yet to occur.
Pike is not the first character Greenwood has played who has leadership credentials. The list includes a couple of CEOs, a fictional president, and even a real one, John F. Kennedy, whom he played in 13 Days, the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He says, though, that he doesn’t actively look for those kinds of characters.
“I have done a few of those characters in movies that have gone beyond the radar,” Greenwood says. “Perhaps they come to me more often for those kinds of things than they do for other things, but it’s not something I seek out. I am generally just drawn to the strength of the story. If they invited me to play the desiccated heroin addict, I would be thrilled, but I guess there is a danger I would play it with some kind of authority.”
Greenwood’s résumé is not unlike those of many B.C. actors. He started out with small roles in locally shot shows like The Beachcombers and Danger Bay in the early years of the province’s film and television boom. By the late 1980s, he had moved on to L.A. and a recurring role on St. Elsewhere, the TV series that launched Denzel Washington’s career. While he continued to work in the U.S., he was “discovered” by another B.C. native, director Atom Egoyan, who brought him home for Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter.
Even though he made Los Angeles his home two decades ago, he may be the most quintessential British Columbian of all our actors. He grew up in Kerrisdale, where he played rugby for Magee secondary school, started acting in UBC’s drama program, and has skied most of B.C.’s mountains, tearing his knee at the age of 15 in the Kootenays. Despite the injury, he managed to keep active and recently completed a film called Mao’s Last Dancer that saw him having to train as a ballet dancer. He says that although the pain from his shattered knee hasn’t gone away, he has never let it get in the way of his career or his homegrown love for sports.
“I have had five rebuilds of my knee since my skiing accident in Kimberley,” he says. “I played rugby after that because I still had cartilage. I eventually lost all the cartilage. I always have to figure out if there are railings when I am climbing stairs. So it can be a problem. I live in fear of having my knee worked on one more time and of not having it worked on one more time.”
Greenwood still comes home often. In L.A., he says, he jumped at the opportunity to be involved in a Star Trek promotion that would give him a chance to see his family. “The people of Vulcan, Alberta, felt that they had been left out because there was no scheduled screening in their town, but they don’t have a theatre there. So Leonard [Nimoy] called the local paper to see what could be done. The studio [Paramount Pictures] set up a screening for them in Calgary that I will be at next week [early May]. Then Paramount was nice enough to fly me from there to Castlegar [B.C.], where I will rent a car and drive to [the West Kootenay town of] Kaslo, where I will be able to see my nephew as the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz. That will be great.”