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The Contractor's Chris Pine And Ben Foster Talk Working Together, Deceptive Stories, And Gritty Action - Exclusive Interview

There are many stories of soldiers coming home from war, but few have explored the world of private military operations like the action-packed thriller "The Contractor." When Chris Pine's James Harper is unexpectedly discharged from the Army and loses his means of providing for his family, his choices are limited. However, the Special Forces Sergeant is offered a lifeline by Ben Foster's Mike Denton, his best friend and former commanding officer, who wants Harper to join him at the elite private military organization for whom he's been working. Things go horribly awry on Harper's first mission, leaving him fighting for his life and to return to the family he left behind.

After working together in "The Finest Hours" and playing brothers in "Hell or High Water," Pine and Foster have an easy chemistry that makes the plot of "The Contractor" even more tense and their breathtaking action sequences together even more gripping. The pair sat down for an exclusive interview with Looper to discuss why they enjoy working together, the complexity behind the film's deceptively simple story, and the challenges of the movie's impressive stunts.

Third time, and it's still charmed

This is your third time working together. What do you enjoy about teaming up on screen?

Chris Pine: Firstly, I love spending time with Ben in that there's so much time on set — 15 hours, whatever it is, that I would rather choose someone I like spending [time with] on set than how quality of an actor they are. It just so happens with Ben, I get the beauty of both worlds — Someone I like to spend time with who's also one of the finest actors out there. There's a shorthand, we craft well together. We're team players as Ben has said. We trust one another. Sometimes in this business, you can get a little alpha energy amongst dudes, which can make for trickiness. With he and I, it's what's best for the scene, what's going to work, what's going to make it pop, and whether that's him or me taking the lead, it doesn't really matter so long as it works for the film. That's what it's about for me.

What about you, Ben?

Ben Foster: I have a policy that there's no eye contact on set, and only to call me by other people's character names, not mine. Chris understands that.[Laughs]

[Laughing] That's fair.

Pine: The bottled Fiji water.

Foster: [Laughing] Only that. It's a joy to work with people you dig and respect, and we're grownups who somehow haven't given up the makeup game — make it up — and it's really nice when you don't have to make up caring about somebody. It goes for any job, you'd rather do it with people you respect and know have your back and go ask some questions together.

A 'Rubik's Cube of a script'

This project deals with some really heavy issues, especially the difficulties that career military face when they return home. Why was this a story that you wanted to be involved in?

Pine: It's a really complex little Rubik's Cube of a script. On the surface, it's a very simple story, it's kind of trite, we've seen it before, it's [a] very straight, down-the-middle genre film. What's super complex for me is what lies underneath. In fact, the last image of the film (in the script) is James Harper wading out in the murky water with an oil refinery ahead of him and a broken, cracked Coca-Cola can washing by his dirty feet. I said, "That's the film I want to make." Whatever's in that kind of image to unpack, I want to get at.

This is really a character study wrapped in the packaging of an action thriller. This is the study of a man who, like all of us humans, uses fiction and stories to give purpose and meaning to their life, and the stories that he's been told and indoctrinated with are the stories of courage and sacrifice and honor, and country, America, protecting democracy. Then, very quickly, those are shown either to be corrupt or they're taken away from him, and all that he has left is the desire to survive and to protect his family. Those are things that go way beyond ideology and politics. Those are deep-seated, deep-rooted needs, and they're primal and lizard-brain stuff. I really was interested in the ideas [that] the human animal creates these stories that we live by and what happens when they are taken from you.

The complexities of filming gritty action sequences

The action in this film is unbelievable. You've both done huge action movies before, especially Chris with the "Wonder Woman" and "Star Trek" films, but this movie futures really raw, gritty action. What was different about the way you prepared for this versus some of the other big-screen action scenes you've been involved in?

Pine: For me, a lot of the fighting stuff, fighting's fighting and you have to make it work for camera, and a lot of it has to do with angles and having great stunt doubles, so that takes care of itself. The other part of it is stuff that's actually a lot seemingly simpler, but much more complicated. For instance, [in the film] the ballet of Ben, I and the two other private contractors moving our way up the stairs in the building — that's actually really hard and there's a lot of stuff happening and you have to make sure that you're covering certain areas of the room. You have to work as a team and you have to work as basically the most highly trained, most adept gun operators in the world. 

I am definitely not that. I had to take some time learning how to do that. We had a great technician on set, Bert Kuntz, who was a Green Beret Special Forces medic who spent a lot of time in theater and made sure that we didn't look like a bunch of a**holes.

"The Contractor" premieres in theaters April 1, and will also be available on demand and for digital purchase.

This interview has been edited for clarity.