How Chris Pratt went from living in a van to Star-Lord

Hollywood history is littered with rags-to-riches stories, though few of them are quite as literal as Chris Pratt's. Now the face of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Pratt has come an incredibly long way since he dropped out of college at 17 after just a single semester, taking the road less traveled on his way to Tinseltown.

After cutting his teeth playing sidekicks and funnymen, the character actor was immediately promoted to the A-list when he was named the MCU's Star-Lord, going on to secure gigs fronting 2015's Jurassic World (and the sequel) as well as sci-fi tentpole Passengers and a Magnificent Seven remake. Turn back the clock to the late '90s, however, and there were no red carpets and caviar, only shag piles and fleas—he was living in the back of a van with a friend. This is how Chris Pratt went from homeless beach bum to Hollywood hotshot.

​His first jobs

After dropping out of school, Pratt had to find ways to make ends meet, and he turned out to be a natural at door-to-door sales. He worked as a coupon salesman for two years, learning skills (rejection, high energy, performing for strangers) that he claimed served him well when he finally made his dream move into acting. He told Conan O'Brien he got involved in "one of these multi-level marketing schemes where if you work really hard and make your boss a lot of money, one day you could have your own office."

His next gig was less white-collar, more no collar. In need of a bit of extra cash, Pratt decided to turn himself into what he described as "a very, very low-rent Magic Mike." The Marvel star revealed details of his time as a stripper in his hometown to Ellen DeGeneres, confirming that the stories were indeed true and that he would make "40 bucks a pop. I did it three times, I did bachelorette parties in my hometown, my friend's grandma had me."

​His invitation to Hawaii

With next to nothing to lose and his 20s looming, Pratt accepted an invitation from an old friend named Zeb, who claimed to be living the dream in Hawaii and wanted his buddy to join him. He later compared the feeling to someone "buying him a winning lottery ticket," as not only were accommodations waiting for him, but his flights and expenses en route were covered. Their "home" turned out to be an old white van with a decal of Scooby Doo and Shaggy on the side, but it didn't dampen his spirits in the slightest.

"It's a pretty awesome place to be homeless," he told The Independent. "It would be different if I lived on the streets of Chicago and ate garbage from a dumpster. We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15-20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies. You know, it was a charming time." When the weather permitted (which, in Maui, was pretty much every night) the pair would pitch a tent on the beach and spend the night under the stars.

​Rats and fleas

It wasn't all sun and surf, however. Pratt elaborated on his time as a beach bum in Hawaii during an interview with Complex, admitting he had to take the good with the bad. "We told friends we had a beach house. In a way we were homeless, but at the same time we were able to transcend the difficulty of home ownership. There was no liability, no overhead. We were truly free. Getting three Mickey's Ice 40s for $6 was a positive too." He paints an idyllic picture of a carefree life, but although he maintains that the time he spent living in the van with Zeb was one of the greatest experiences of his life, he also revealed that their beloved home on wheels was far from a dream come true. "There were fleas and mice that also lived in our van," he admitted. "And we didn't have anywhere to go to the bathroom."

​His chance encounter

One of the part-time positions Pratt picked up in the Islands of Aloha was waiting tables at a seafood restaurant—yet another job that suited his unique set of skills. "I don't know if you've ever had a dining experience at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.," he said, "but they love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face and sing you birthday songs and do trivia." It was while on shift at the Forrest Gump-themed diner that Pratt had a chance encounter with Commando actress and shrimp fan Rae Dawn Chong, who was looking for actors for her comedy horror short Cursed Part 3.

After being impressed by his enthusiasm, Chong flew Pratt to L.A. to give him a shot (she called him "a joy on set") and ended up providing him with the platform he'd been waiting for. While the film itself wasn't his finest hour, he insists he has no regrets. "I went from living in a van to having a car and a reel and my foot in the door in Hollywood. I learned how to hit a mark… Actually, I probably didn't learn anything. If you watch the movie, I'm f—ing awful. The movie's terrible and I'm especially terrible. My friends have told me it's the worst movie they've ever seen."

​Living the dream

Pratt was paid a whopping $700 for Cursed Part 3, and while he claims to have made that one payday stretch out over an entire year, eventually it ran out and he was back to waiting tables for a living. He didn't start paying the bills with his acting until he landed the part of Keenan in The Extreme Team, a 2003 Gen-X spy flick about a secret group of Black Ops snowboarders who travel to New Zealand to rescue a kidnapped comrade. While the premise sounds ridiculous, it was just another rung in the ladder that Pratt had to climb on his way to becoming Star-Lord. "No one ever saw it," Pratt said when asked about the movie during an interview with KTLA. "I think maybe in Australia they saw it. That was the movie that got me out of being a waiter, I was able to use that money for long enough to get the next job and I haven't had to go back since. So basically, since that point I've been kind of living the dream."

​He blew most of his early auditions

Despite finally seeing himself as a professional actor, things didn't exactly fall into place right away in terms of auditions. Pratt kept his funds topped up with appearances in Friskies commercials while he tried to find regular work, and eventually his persistence paid off, landing the part of high school jerk Bright Abbott on the WB drama Everwood. After Guardians of the Galaxy became an unexpected box office smash for Marvel, ET dug up their very first interview with the future star, conducted on the set of Everwood. Pratt revealed his relief at finally booking a series after previous attempts to impress casting directors had all ended in disaster. "I usually blow all of the auditions I go to because I let myself get in the way of it, I'm like 'I need to act! I need to be an actor for this audition!'" he said in a Shakespearean tone. "For this one I was like 'I don't really know the lines, I'm just like this character?' And they were like 'Perfect, that's the guy we want right there!'"

​Making himself at home

Pratt wasted no time getting comfortable on the set of Everwood, where he would end up plying his real trade for a total of four years, portraying Abbott in 89 episodes between 2002 and 2006. The cast (minus Pratt and Emily Vancamp) got together for a reunion panel at the 2014 ATX Television Festival, and most of them had at least one Chris Pratt story to share with fans. On top of his love for set food—he would "eat every plate that would come to him" and once "had like four or five Thanksgiving dinners" during filming—Pratt also developed a passion for hunting while on location in Utah, and would often try to combine the two. "Try" being the operative word.

Tom Amandes (who played Pratt's father Dr. Harold Abbott on the show) revealed that after taking down an elk and freezing the spoils to enjoy later, Pratt came into some difficulty when two steaks he'd cut became stuck together. Instead of letting them defrost, he used his hunting knife to pry the two pieces apart and wound up severing a nerve in his hand. His response was "Oh, my finger doesn't work anymore."

​From Orange County to Pawnee, Indiana

Pratt's no-show at the Everwood reunion panel could be explained away by the extra duties that come with being an A-lister, though an interview he did with Vulture offers another explanation. When Everwood wrapped in '06, Pratt secured a recurring role on long-running Fox favorite The O.C., appearing in nine episodes as left-wing activist (and occasional naked guitarist) Che Cook, but when asked about his time on both shows, his response was less than glowing. "Both O.C. and Everwood, there were people on set where you learned to stay away from them on a bad day," he said. "You just never knew going on the set if someone was going to be an a–hole or not. I'm not going to get into who those people were."

There were no such complaints about the cast and crew of his next show. Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur revealed that Pratt's character was only meant to be around for five or six episodes, but after Andy Dwyer proved a huge hit with the audience, they decided to make him a regular. The critically acclaimed mockumentary opened new avenues into feature film for Pratt, who attributes the show's continued success to lead actress Amy Poehler. "She's the captain. She has the ability to be angry, with righteous anger. She's no pushover. But she commands respect. And I've never, ever seen her raise her voice or get pissed off. And she's still getting s— done."

​He predicted the future

This is one of those stories you don't believe until you see it with your own eyes. At one stage it looked as though Josh Brolin would be cast in the role of velociraptor handler Owen Grady in 2015's Jurassic World, though Ron Howard put an end to that rumor when he tweeted a photo of his daughter Bryce next to Pratt, declaring them co-stars of the fourth Jurassic Park installment. The funny thing is, Pratt himself had already predicted his own casting way back in 2010. After Howard's reveal, Parks and Rec fans started digging for this video, taken by Pratt himself as part of a supposed behind the scenes special.

"Man, I just got a text message… from Steven Spielberg. God, it's so annoying," he joked before composing a made-up reply. "Sorry Steven, I was asked by Parks and Recreation/NBC to do behind the scenes. Which is to say, everyone else was asked and said no. But I have no shame, as you know by the endless gift baskets. I'll have to get back to you later about Jurassic Park 4. Boom." Rumors that Pratt also predicted he'd star alongside a tree, a raccoon and a wrestler in the highest-grossing film of 2014 remain unconfirmed.

​The chubby buddy

The success of Parks and Recreation and the cult following that started to build around Pratt's character made movie studios pay attention. While his supporting roles in Take Me Home Tonight and What's Your Number? (both 2011) could be chalked up to the fact that his wife Anna Faris was the star, he won roles in 2011 Best Picture nominee Moneyball, Judd Apatow's 2012 comedy The Five Year Engagement, and Certified Fresh war drama Zero Dark Thirty off his own back. But even then, he struggled to shake the tubby sidekick typecast, gaining 60 pounds for his role as Vince Vaughn's lawyer buddy in the 2013 comedy The Delivery Man.

"For me, I saw it as an opportunity to play somebody who is really depressed and I know that when I'm fat, I'm depressed," the actor admitted while promoting the movie. "In the original [2011 French Canadian film Starbuck], the brilliant actor who played Brett's role was a slightly bigger guy and I thought it really worked. There are scenes where my daughter is playing with my jowls. I'm wearing a bathrobe, I'm this disheveled fat masculine man."

​James Gunn laughed at the idea of him as Peter Quill

His reputation as a fat funny guy almost cost Pratt his dream gig. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn admitted that when Pratt's name first appeared on his desk, he scoffed at the idea of him leading the line as Star-Lord. "[When] somebody first suggested him to me, I thought, 'you got to be kidding me. This chubby guy from Parks and Rec?'" Gunn said during the press tour of his first MCU movie. "'There's no way I'm going to make that guy the star of my movie.'"

Pratt had already been turned down for the parts of James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot and Jake Sully in Avatar because he didn't have the "it factor," and he himself was worried that he was "too fat to play a superhero," but in the end both he and Gunn were wrong. As soon as the director saw Pratt reading for the part, he was sold. "I knew within 20 seconds of his audition this is absolutely the guy."

​Marvel wouldn't show him the script

The part was his, though that's pretty much all Pratt knew for a good while. The actor told ABC's Nightline that his contact with the Disney-owned studio was brief at that stage, to the point where he wasn't even allowed to see the screenplay. "Marvel did not show me a script. They're like, 'Hi, we're Marvel.' And I was like, 'Hi, I'll do anything.' And they're like, 'Yeah, you will.'" The radio silence lasted so long that Pratt still had no clue what was happening when he met up with Gunn to discuss the movie.

"James said, 'Do you have any questions?'" Pratt said, reenacting the meeting. "I said, 'Do I have any questions? Of course I have questions! Marvel's not going to let me read the script, I have no f—ing idea what I'm doing, I don't know this character, I don't have any goddamn sides. Do I have any questions? How long do you have?' And he was like, 'That's what Peter Quill would say.'" The meeting was enough to calm Pratt's nerves, and after that there was only one thing left for him to do in order to become Star-Lord.

​From Lard Star to Star Lord

Pratt tipped the scale at 300 pounds when he went in to audition for Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was only after winning the role that he made a vow to shed some of it—60 pounds, to be exact. The actor lost the weight over a period of six months using a workout that included running, swimming, kickboxing and even a full triathlon. Marvel hooked him up with a personal trainer and nutritionist who had Pratt consuming 4,000 calories a day and endless amounts of water in order to replace his fat with stacks of muscle. "I was peeing all day long, every day," Pratt told Men's Fitness. "That part was a nightmare."

But he also revealed the benefits of maximizing his body's potential to the health mag, saying that being in such great shape gave him "a sense of absolute control." By the time the Guardians of the Galaxy shoot began, Pratt looked very much a genuine superhero, both onscreen and off. As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fast approaches, something James Gunn once said is starting to make a whole lot of sense: "The truth is, Chris Pratt is the biggest movie star in the world. It's just people don't know it yet."