On-screen, Chris Pratt rides a motorcycle with his pack of marauding velociraptors and bounces around the galaxy with a bounty-hunting raccoon. He’s the guy you cast when you hope to pair charisma and relatability — the whole be-him-or-be-with-him thing. But if art imitates life, life doesn’t quite imitate competency porn. Chris Pratt once nearly drove a tractor over his second wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger. He was counting literal sheep on his farm somewhere (he’d rather not say) off the coast of Washington, where he’s raising Kunekune pigs named Tim and Faith and a 7-year-old son named Jack. These things happen.
This is not to say that Pratt is hapless or helpless or hopeless — just that’s he’s normal, almost defiantly so. There’s a firm line between the public Pratt, the square-jawed guy singing with Garth Brooks, hanging out with MMA fighters and golfing with Rob Lowe and the private Pratt, the Minnesota boy who really, really likes fishing. It’s not just that he’s nice, which is neither shocking nor much of an achievement, but that he’s thoughtful. He’s thoughtful in the way he interacts with others — self-aware, but self-effacing and never overplaying either hand — and in the way he considers his unique situation. Chris Pratt is a movie star. Chris Pratt is a dad. Chris Pratt is, when the pyrotechnics settle and smoke clears, a pretty normal guy doing his best.
Chris Pratt doesn’t credit his father, with whom he had a fraught relationship, for his equanimity, but he’ll talk your ear off about his older brother Cully, an army veteran, artist, and the defining male influence on his own life. That’s the guy he was thinking about while filming the new Pixar joint Onward, which follows him and Tom Holland on a mission to resurrect their dead father — confronting that old Disney curse head-on — using magic.
“You absolutely can go wrong with this subject and I’m so glad we didn’t,” says Pratt. “But it’s so true. It’s about the people who impact your life and give you guidance. Sometimes it’s your dad. Sometimes it’s not.”
The film, set in a fantasy land but grounded, Pixar-style, by emotions in extremis, isn’t treacly. Onward is the most emotionally frank film starring animated elves voiced by part-time superheroes ever made. Pratt’s voice helps with that. The man gets feels and he gives them. He’s better in a sound booth than on a tractor. And that’s fine. No one can be superlative at everything.
Fatherly spoke to Pratt about his dad, his farm, and his unique approach to parenting.
You’ve talked about your difficult relationship with your own father. Did this movie give you a different perspective on fatherhood?
It resonated with me due to my relationships with my brother and my own father. All people have a tendency to cast a glowing light on their parents and to build people up in their absence. When you lose a father, you build him up into a God-like figure in your mind. We try to make them be the people that we feel we’re missing. It’s nice to be reminded that relationships should fill us with gratitude. Yes, it made me miss my dad. And yes it made me want to bring him back for a day. But it made me appreciate my brother and how much he meant to me my whole life. Things that were absent in my father I got from my brother. And I feel so fortunate for that.
How do you approach being a dad to your own son?
Look at what your parents did for you and try to do it. Look at what your parents didn’t do and try to do that too. And don’t let overcompensation drive you away from common sense.
That’s a great point, but how do you actually put it into action?
Kids have enough friends. My son has enough friends. I am not his friend. You’re meant to be their parent. I’ve learned that the path of least resistance is the one they’ll take and that’s not always or usually the best one for them. It’s OK for them to not like you for a little bit. I’m fine with that.
One thing I know every parent grapples with is: How do you raise kids who are appreciative, who are conscious of what they have and others do not?
It’s a case by case basis. There are challenges my child will face that other kids won’t face. You weigh your own situation. I do think that in this world of privilege there’s an awareness of privilege that expresses itself in the form of guilt. It’s baggage you don’t need to put on your kids. It’s important they don’t take things for granted. Thankfulness and appreciation are one thing. My kid is 7 years old. Let’s not lead with our guilt. Let’s show love and affection. I don’t want to put a ton of guilt on my kid. That’s not fair. Let’s reduce anxiety.
I think of the semantics of how we frame it — if we worry about your kids being over-privileged, teach them how good it feels to be of service. Try to make them feel excited about giving back.
I know you do a ton of that and that you visit kids in hospitals during every press tour. Are you bringing Jack with you yet?
No, he doesn’t go with me. It’s important to me to raise him as the star of his own universe. That’s hard to do when you’re in this industry. He needs his own identity apart from being the kid of someone who is well known. He needs to be his own person apart from me and what I do for a living. I’m learning this as I go, too. I’ve been mindful of preserving his identity and not rooting it in who I am.
And I know you recently started your own production company. What’s the animating — sorry about that — idea there? Do you intend to make family-friendly entertainment?
We’re going to do everything. The litmus test is, is it trying to bring people together? I’m getting tired of seeing so many editorialized versions of what’s going on around us. Some things transcend politics. A darkened theater is the last place we can put our phone away and have a shared experience.
And of course, you’re going to offer me a big Guardians of the Galaxy 3 spoiler, right?
Of course, I am. It’s all about Star-Lord going to prom.