Television screens across the world broadcast the videotaped footage of LAPD officers raining down 56 baton blows on an African American named Rodney King. Two weeks later, viewers watched another act of sickening violence when a Korean grocer shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old black girl named Latasha Harlins after an altercation over a bottle of juice. In October, the grocer was convicted of manslaughter and served no jail time. Finally, on April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley, one of the whitest exurbs of Los Angeles, acquitted three of the four officers involved in beating Rodney King. The response in South Los Angeles was loud and immediate: That night, thousands of residents, black and Latino, took to the streets, starting a four-day riot that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, injured 2,500 people, killed 58, and resulted in $1 billion in damage and 16,000 arrests.
UPDATED! The 100% Definitive, Empirical, Ruthlessly Objective, I-Will-Brook-No-Dissent Ranking of Every Song from “CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND” Season One
Clip and save for your records.
Note: For the purpose of this rigorous scientific analysis, no reprises are included. “Reprises make the data noisy,” as my old Musical Theater Epidemiology Professor used to say.
Note, the Second: In several cases, both broadcast and explicit versions of these songs exist. You owe it to yourself to get the explicit versions, always.
37. “Women Gotta Stick Together”
Here’s the thing: It’s fine. All these songs are fine. And the fact that they’re all being written, orchestrated, rehearsed, performed and broadcast over the course of a matter of weeks is astonishing. But what hurls a particular song higher up this chart is if it goes somewhere, musically or lyrically, we didn’t expect when it began. That’s the key – a song starts, we recognize its premise, or its style, and we think, “Oh. A Billy Joel bit. Got it. Ok.” If it nails the pastiche, great. But if DOES something with that pastiche, if it includes something that stands out, that feels specific to this show, it flings itself up the rankings. Can be a gem of a line like “NEWSFLASH, FUCKWADS: I’M A GOOD PERSON” or something in the performance, like the perfect trill puts on “It’s a practical proposal!” From verse to verse, it’s gotta MOVE.This song is fine, but every verse iterates what the first verse lays out. We get it.
36. “Having a Few People Over”
Here’s a good place to point out that I’m ranking these as stand-alone songs. As such, this is a dutiful EDM sendup, but it’s the visuals that really sell this thing. Gardner kills it.
35. “Textmergency/Where is the Rock”
Here’s a song that takes a genre – in this case, metal-as-envisioned-by-kids-who-spent-their-summers-at-theater-camp – and nails the parody, but doesn’t do much else. The performers are charming, but the central joke (fighting over the proper terminology) doesn’t have enough muscle to put the gag over.
33. “Gettin’ Bi”
Give it this much: it sounds like the Huey Lewis song that would be playing in the scene set in an 80s bar when the producers couldn’t get the rights to “Power of Love.” But that’s just not enough to move it higher up this list.
32. “One Indescribable Instant”
Does what it’s asked to, namely to sound like the Disney love song you half-remember from childhood. But that’s all it does, and as such it lacks the earworm potential so many of this show’s songs possess.
31. “I Could if I Wanted To”
This song couldn’t get more 90s if tied a flannel shirt around its waist and hung out in a 7-11 parking lot laughing at every joke that kid Eric from Civics class made, occasionally catching itself staring longingly at his meaty, vascular forearms. (… Um. That … that may be just a me thing.) Fontana sells, it, there’s just not that much to sell.
30. “Dear Joshua Felix Chan”
It’s sweet, it’s well-performed, it makes its case, it doesn’t move.
29. “Sexy French Depression”
You get where this is going in the first verse, but it’s got some balls: “My bed smells like a tampon/I’m in a sexy French depression” is a rhyme they don’t teach you in wherever you go to study making musicals. You know. That FAME high school? That.
28. “Flooded with Justice”
A dutiful Les Miserables take that suffers in comparison to everything around it. It’s funny enough, sure, but there’s nothing here that the Capitol Steps couldn’t do, and this show is so much better than that – more specific, more idiosyncratic. Weirder.
27. “What’ll it Be”
A great performance, some good lines. (Hands ARE sort of gross.) But maybe because it’s explicitly about a guy wallowing in self-pity, it never permits itself to break out, to leave its starting position.
26. “I Have Friends”
Bouncy, infectious, Up-With-People/Disney-Channel pep. Plus, handclaps. All songs with handclaps are good songs; that’s just science. And listen to the way that dude says “HAY-ULF an EYE-lid!” Genius. But in the end, it’s just too slight to inch any higher up this chart.
25. “His Status is Preferred”
Champlin nails this torch song, and it’s ability to fit so many disparate references to VIP perks into each line is nothing less than a feat of lyrical Tetris. It does what it does very well, but it does only the one thing.
24. “Oh My God I Think I Like You”
Sweet, adult, and matter-of-factly sexy. There are a lot of other songs like it, and it’s smart enough to know that when that’s the case, one of the tasks before it is to comment on those other songs, to achieve a kind of lyrical sentience – a musical singularity, in a sense.
23. “I Gave You a UTI”
A slender thread on which to hang a song, perhaps, but it works, because Fontana sells the song’s intricate mix of emotions - the desperation, the self-mocking self-awareness, the pride, the neediness.
22. “Put Yourself First”
As this list makes clear, I’m a sucker for songs that discover what they’re about as they’re being sung, and this is a particularly sharp (and catchy as all hell) example of same.
21. “Good at Yoga”
As Linda said on the show, this is Bollywood by way of Hollywood. (If she were taking kung fu, would this song feature gongs and “Chopsticks”?) But we are in Rachel’s head, after all, and she doesn’t strike me as someone who’d have a particularly profound knowledge of East Asian history and culture. A catchy song, but low-hanging fruit. (Here’s an example where the explicit version is 10x better.)
20. “Settle for Me”
I know, I know. You love this song. It should be higher! Top five, easy! Look: it’s great. The performance is wonderful. And as I mention above, Bloom’s “It’s a practical proposal!” comes in at JUST the right time, with JUST the right English on it. But once we get the setup, the execution is deft, but on rails.
19. “Cold Showers”
Oh, it’s fun. Sure, it’s fun. But everything about it maps so completely (and deliberately) over the Music Man’s “Trouble” that it has a hard time distinguishing itself. It never manages to step out of that show’s long shadow to let us see it on its own; it’s drafting on the energy of Meredith Wilson’s song, not adding its own. I do like the clever way it occasionally undercuts itself (”I don’t live here”), which re-centers us on Rachel.
18. “I Love My Daughter”
See now, this MOVES. We get it’s gonna be a country pastiche, and Gardner sells it well enough, but then the song permits him some self-awareness. We can HEAR him realizing how skeevy what he’s singing sounds, and doing something about it.
17. “Boy Band Made Up Of Four Joshes”
When I brought this list into the studio, this song ranked at number 10. But one of the songs from this week’s episode kicked it out. (Ooo! Foreshadowing! Suspense!) Which is a shame, as this song NAILS its Boy-Bandishness. The production is spot-on, the performance is perfect. And this song is pretty goddamn great at capturing where Rachel at this moment – her younger self pines for a boy band, her unconscious adult self for mental health – so we slowly realize, along with her, that her mind has created the perfect fusion of the two.
16. “Heavy Boobs”
Originally slid into this list at number 20. “They each have their own memoir” moved it up 4 slots. Such is the power of “they each have their own memoir.’ Also: if a song’s got one joke, it needs to keep interpolating it, and “Heavy Boobs” does that nicely with the spoken-word break, and its specificity and weirdness (”Paperback copy of Arabian Nights”).
15. “I Give Good Parent”
Cultural appropriation + covered dish reference = genius.
14. “The Villain in my Own Story”
I’ve said above that if a song is simply a parody or pastiche of a particular genre, its not enough for a high ranking on this list. This is an exception: it nails the “Disney villain song” genre – a genre against which, admittedly, I am helpless – but it goes somewhere. It’s another example of a song discovering what it’s about as it’s being sung. Plus, the specificity of “I’m the bitch in the corner of the poster” – and the visual gag that accompanies it (the slicked back hair!) – is hugely smart.
13 “West Covina”
A perfect encapsulation of the show, and its protagonist’s willfully skewed sense of the world – or at least, of one particular exurb. Celebrates the place by making fun of it. Makes fun of the place by sincerely celebrating it. It’s a tough tone to get right, but this very very does. (This song ranked higher earlier in the season, but we’ve got a hell of a lot more songs now, and the sheer novelty of this one has begun to wear.) (NOTE: I’m not ranking the show’s Theme Song, but if I did, it’d probably share this slot.)
12. “I’m a Good Person”
Well this song just makes your whole damn day better, is what. (Again, get the explicit version. Trust me. Thank me later.) It’s so exuberant, it’s infectious – the Zika of showtunes! Does it move from its starting position? No. Shut up. I’m gonna go listen to it again.
11. “Dream Ghost”
“You know the trope/In storytelling it’s the norm…”
Ok, it’s a very faithful (possibly legally actionable) Dreamgirls bit, and what have I said about pastiches?
I mean, I’m me, so any song that busts out the word “trope” in its opening verse has got my damn number. The fact that it goes on to be very much about narrative cliches, and their structural function – sign me the hell up.
Always bugged me that Amber Riley and Ricki Lake got such hype about their appearance as background singers. I mean, sure, it’s a cute stunt, but it’s Michael Hyatt doing the heavy lifting here, and she’s fantastic.
(Also? Not for nothing? “We’re other dream ghosts helping people on this plane” …. OF EXISTENCE GET IT RIGHT I JUST BROKE YOUR BRAIN DIDN’T I)
10. “California Christmastime”
If it did nothing else, the fact that this show gave the world this tune – a Christmas song that invokes melanoma, gonorrhea, porn and the great scourge that is white reggae – is enough to win it the Nobel goddamn Prize. THIS I BELIEVE! (One tiny lyrical nit to pick: “Well there is no easy answer/For our high rates of skin cancer”? Uuuummmm yes there is it’s called SPF look into it.)
9. “Sex With a Stranger”
“Most people don’t know about the window” is when I laughed, aloud, alone in the apartment. Also, the “balls” rap break. (Specifically, the “hou-AWHS/show-AH” bit.) Also, “Thank god, it’s just your penis.” Also, “Don’t steal!” Also, its a sharp and knowing and ruthlessly funny distillation of some dark, dark shit.
8. “Group Hang”
I know, I know. You’re surprised to see it ranked so highly. It’s so slight! It’s just a Shakira bit – half the joke’s the damn braid! I understand. Here’s why you’re wrong.
The song’s driving dilemma gets introduced in the first line (”Cali-Mex Italian, I don’t really know what this food is”) and proceeds to get iterated again (“Salsa burritos taquitos guacamole pizza”) and again (”Spanish Spanish Spanish Spanish Espanol”) and again (”Pickle taco”) and again (”Is it just me? Maybe it’s just me!”), always adding to it, building on it, twisting it.
Plus, we get to see White Josh, and his arms, sing and … well, “dance.” And we know that dude can sing. And he can DANCE. (Check him out as a hot chorus boy on Broadway!) More White Josh in Season 2, say I. Dude needs a song. A shirtless song.
7. “The Sexy Gettin’ Ready Song”
Plants itself squarely inside the style its parodying and then – doesn’t merely parody it. Goes somewhere. Says something. Expresses the show’s specific point of view even as its crawling inside your ear to set up housekeeping.
6. “Feelin’ Kinda Naughty”
That baby-voice thing Bloom does at the beginning. The slow build to “wear your skin like a dress” and “baby teeth”. This song should be taught in schools. You know, like that one from Fame.
5. “Face Your Fears”
Champlin: good lord. The melisma. The self-importance. You can hear the “I am about to impart some Whitney-esque wisdom” in the fullness of that voice. Plus, this song is just SUCH A GOOD IDEA. An advice song filled with specific, earnestly proffered but howlingly terrible advice.
4. “JAP Battle”
A great idea, executed flawlessly. And WOW do you need to hear the explicit version immediately. (That was rhetorical. You do.)
3. “You Stupid Bitch”
Raw and real and funny and kind of terrifying all at once. Plus a key change. I’m not made of stone here, people.
2. “After Everything I’ve Done for You (That You Didn’t Ask For)”
I say again, Champlin: good LORD. The thing about “Rose’s Turn” (LOOK IT UP YOU GODDAMN INFANTS) is that it’s about a breakdown, so it keeps changing mood and melody something like six times. So does this. In fact it clings so closely to the bones of “Rose’s Turn” that it threatens to disappear under it, the way “Cold Showers” never quite escapes “Trouble.”
The reason it doesn’t? The reason it’s lodged itself here so near the top of this unbelievably impressive list of songs? Champlin’s performance is its own, singular thing. She elevates this above pastiche and makes this her story, her song, the baring of Paula’s soul. It’s a song that’s not so much delivered as unleashed.
1. “Where’s the Bathroom?”
The Earworm of Earworms. Bow down before it. There is no escape. Y’all about to get klezmerized. The performance just could not be more on point, and the way it builds to that mid-point turn, where the theme from JAWS kicks in so seamlessly: yowza. I love this song so much I’ma boycott cheddar cheese in solidarity.
There you have it. Ranked. Filed. Sealed. Your opinion on some or all of these rankings may differ. Your opinion is wrong.
So much free parking. So many empty schools. So many aborted and half developed exurbs, suburbs. Such low rent. So many hollowed-out malls with shifty-eyed security guards and put-upon bored kids. Such cheap produce. So many classmates that never left. What a lovely parks system. What a dirty lake. So many new casinos. What nice turnpike pit stops. What a low sales tax and minimum wage. What a greying population.
They moved here to have children, to make steel or cars, to teach at the college, to work for NASA, to mine salt from underneath Lake Erie. The schools were good. The land was cheap, but there were plentiful amenities. It was a proper city, but not an intimidating one. Eastern time, rustbelt industry, midwestern sensibilities. Such promise. What times they had.
They call it the Cleveland Brain Drain. We grow, we suck all the nutrients from the dirt, we learn, we save our money, and we leave.
We take jobs in the eastern cities, with their steep rent and narrow streets; we hide in expensive, drafty bars in Chicago or St. Louis, bragging about what we know; we flee to LA or San Fran or France or Lebanon and show everyone back home all the pictures. We are smiling and small against big backdrops.
We come back briefly to collect Christmas presents, roller coaster rides, hugs, memories, estates, condolences. We do not call enough. We spend our money on stupid craft brews that all taste the same – bitter – instead of on plane tickets.
We are statistics. We move by trends, like the grandparents and parents who brought us here. They placed their roots by the veins of salt that ran beneath the lake. We have placed thin roots in the air.
When we visit, we enjoy the low sales tax, eat the 99 cent peaches, roam the empty sidewalks, reflect in the windows of our closed-down high schools, and prepare to leave again. A huge hunk of us stays. But not the brain.
Another Rusame headcannon ask, what do they like to do after having not seen each other for a long time? Also, where do they usually like to meet up?
It depends. You didn’t specify time period so I’m gonna assume it’s modern. These days the longest they spend not seeing each other is two weeks (‘cause, you know, they “cooperate” closely on some important things). They’re very busy people, so they usually meet where they have to, for business, but after that they like to go to some cafe, or bar, or just a diner, to chat. One of them would make snarky remarks, the other would respond a bit sarcastically, but then turn it into a joke or even a witty compliment, to relieve the tension.
Talking about “relieving the tension”…sometimes they start making out before they get to a room or even before they go out to have dinner. They do it in the White House when they think nobody sees them. They do it in some dark corner in Kremlin, unreachable to cameras. And of course, they do it lots and lots in each other’s homes (America has a mansion somewhere in Virginia and an apartment in NYC, Russia has an apartment in St. Petersburg and a dacha in Moscow exurb). So, basically, instead of asking “What’s new?” they cover each other’s skin with searching touches and kisses, and then they somehow know the answer. ♥
Chris Pratt’s rise to fame is so improbable he sees it as divinely ordained: the friend who sent him a ticket to Hawaii, the stranger who led him to a church, the actress he waited on at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Recalling the leaps of faith that turned him from a door-to-door salesman into a box-office king, Pratt considers what he has to prove now.
Chris Pratt wanted to cook me lunch—you can tell a lot about a person by the way they cook. And not just any lunch—a lunch made from an animal that Pratt himself had killed, in Texas, where the mesquite blooms and the buzzards turn and the wild boar does not care nor even know that the handsome man sighting the scope of a .25-caliber Winchester is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, best of this new batch—it’s never who you expect—with hits behind (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World) and hits ahead (Passengers, Guardians Vol. 2). And Pratt did kill that animal. And dressed it and shipped it back to this beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills, where he lives with his wife, actress Anna Faris, and their four-year-old son, Jack. But something went punk at the butcher, and the meat was going to take a lot longer to prepare than Pratt had expected—“Most of it’s being turned into jerky anyway”—so the steak Pratt was basting on the counter in his modern kitchen had in fact been purchased at Whole Foods. “I could tell you this is the boar I shot, and who would know, but, dude, I’m not gonna lie. This is not that boar, but this boar stands for that boar.”
Do you consider yourself a good cook?, I asked.
Pratt laughed. He was wearing a flannel shirt and jeans and had let his beard grow to stubble. No shoes, just socks. He’s a big guy, six feet three in boots, 220 pounds, in shape, and has the knock-around ease of a regular guy drinking campfire tequila on the set of a John Ford movie.
“I can make three things,” he told me. “Meat. Omelets. Fajitas. This here I’m making is a wild-boar taco. I got the recipe from my brother-in-law, because that guy knows everything.”
It was a Sunday. Pratt seemed relaxed, probably because he’d decided to take a hiatus. For a decade, he’s done nothing but work, stumbling from film to film after making his name on television. He played Andy Dwyer, the friendly chubby boyfriend on Parks and Recreation, before executing a miraculous switch to action hero, in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’d be like George Costanza turning into Harrison Ford. And Pratt is compared to Harrison Ford. Though Pratt is funnier. Looking for the proper mix, I’d say Bruce Willis with a dash of Seth Rogen. He can play deadpan wiseass better than just about anyone. He followed Guardians, which grossed nearly $775 million worldwide, with Jurassic World, which grossed $1.67 billion worldwide. He’s on the short list of actors who can do pretty much whatever they want.
Pratt’s decision to take a break results partly from some advice given to him by a childhood hero, Jim Carrey. “There’s very few people in the world who I can expect to understand exactly what I’m going through,” Pratt said. “Jim Carrey is one of them.” Pratt took Carrey aside at a party last year and basically asked, What do I do now? Carrey said, “There’s going to be a point in life where you’re going to have to prove that your family is more important to you than show business.” It’s put the actor in a mood to ruminate, recollect, make connections. At 37 years old, Chris Pratt can finally see his life as a story.
BIG TIME, SMALL TOWN
I asked Pratt about his father. In articles, he comes across as a kind of Paul Bunyan character.
“Was he really a goldminer?”
Pratt was chopping parsley. I suddenly understood why he’d chosen to cook during our interview. It gave him something to do with his hands while his mind wandered.
“He was a taconite miner in Minnesota,” Pratt told me. “He worked in iron ore; that’s a big industry. We moved to Alaska so he could work in gold mines. That’s how we operated as a family—we’d just make a decision, pick up, and move.”
“I WAS A PECULIAR KID. I WAS VERY MUCH AN INDIVIDUAL … I DRESSED FUNNY AND WAS COMFORTABLE IN MY OWN SKIN.”
After a few peripatetic years, when Pratt was six or seven, the family settled in Lake Stevens, Washington, the Seattle exurb that became Pratt’s beloved hometown. It was nuts for wrestling. Like football in Texas, every kid sized up from eight or nine by the high-school coach. Pratt would captain his high-school team. At one point, he was a top wrestler in the state. When I asked if he’d ever had his ass kicked—because having your ass kicked is character-building—he nodded sadly. “I’d be devastated,” he said. “Because I put everything into it, and if a kid beat me … but it’s good. It’s a great sport because you have to stand there and shake a guy’s hand. You look him in the eye, then his arm gets raised. No excuses. You get beat and think, Fuck!!! Then come back and wrestle him again. I wrestled the same kids for 10 years.”
I asked Pratt if he played high-school football. He has the aura of big-time, small-town. He told me that his father had been a star player in his own day. “He was bigger than me, much bigger, and he’d light up the stadium when he carried the ball. He wore number 76, and for years I thought the gas station was named for him. So of course I played.
“I was a great football player,” he said, then stopped and looked at my recorder. “Don’t say I said that. But, dude, I was a great football player. I was a fullback and an inside linebacker. I never had the speed to play college. But I loved it. I don’t think anything will ever take its place. The competition, the team. You get a little bit of that in acting. You get it with action films. You have to train, be in shape. I think I learned more about how to handle myself as an actor playing sports than I ever did in theater.”
Theater? How did that start?
Pratt’s brother. And he’s important. He’s got a sister who still lives in Lake Stevens, but Pratt’s brother, three years ahead in school, is the key figure in his life. If you were to look at a picture of the Pratts in the early years, you’d see Dan junior, known as Cully, doing something heroic—he’s now a cop—with Chris in the distance, wide-eyed. “He was hands down the best big brother anyone could ask for, super-supportive and always helped me, and loved me, and took care of me,” said Pratt. “We spent our entire childhood, eight hours a day, wrestling. One Christmas, he was in a play, a musical, and sang, and it knocked everyone’s socks off. My mom was crying. And I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”
By senior year, Pratt was wrestling, playing football, starring in plays, and writing and acting in every kind of assembly. “We did Grease and we did Michael Jackson’s Thriller and ripped off S.N.L. sketches,” he told me. In other words, Pratt was that rarest of figures. The high-school Renaissance man. Friend of the outcast, confidant of the powerful. Neither bullied nor bullying. An exchange between Pratt and his wrestling coach has been repeated until it’s become legend. According to Entertainment Weekly, the coach asked Pratt what he planned to do with his life: “I was like, ‘I don’t know, but I know I’ll be famous and I know I’ll make a shit ton of money.’ ”
When I tried to drill down on this—I wanted Pratt to lay out his plans in detail; I suppose I was behaving like the coach—he talked more about his father. He’d been a high-school star and lived off that for the rest of his life. “I guess that’s what I planned to do,” said Pratt.
During Pratt’s senior year, his father was diagnosed with M.S., which runs in the family. “He was beyond wanting to accept help,” said Pratt. “If left untreated, it can be devastating, and he left it untreated. For a couple of years he had symptoms, I think, but didn’t say anything. Every once in a while he’d wear an eye patch and say he got something in his eye at work, but it was because he had double vision,” a symptom of M.S.
Dan Pratt Sr. died in 2014. When I asked Pratt if his father got to enjoy his son’s success, he said, “Some of it. He watched a lot of TV in his final years. That’s pretty much all he did, just sat in front of a TV. So, yeah, I think it made him proud, and it was cool that I got to find some way to connect with him, because he was a hard man to connect with.”
Pratt’s mother worked in the Safeway—there was not a lot of money. The Pratts lost their house while Chris was in high school. They rented a place until he graduated, then moved into a trailer. They offered Chris a sleeping loft in a shed out back, but he became roommates with a friend instead. He was thinking of joining the military, but, again, his brother: “He ended up going into the army and told me not to. I think he saw something in me. I was a peculiar kid. I was very much an individual and happy to be an individual. I dressed funny and was comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know. I never did ask him why.”
Pratt waited tables and took classes at a local community college, including a theater course. “I did a scene—something I wrote—and the teacher took me aside and said, ‘You should think about doing this professionally.’ He saw something.”
Pratt didn’t finish a full year of C.C. “It felt exactly like high school except I had to pay for it,” he explained, “and, for a kid living hand to mouth, that didn’t make sense. So I got a job as a salesman going door-to-door.”
“Yeah, I saw an ad in the newspaper.”
The ad went something like: Do you dig rock ‘n’ roll and making money?
Of course, the answer to both questions was yes.
FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC
Pratt was arranging wild boar on a tray and sliding it into the oven as he talked. “Hey, dude, does 300 degrees sound right to you?”
I told him it sounded low. Everything in my house goes in at least 350. He called his brother-in-law, the one who knows everything, to check. “You know what would make a great end to this story?” said Pratt, laughing. “If we ended up in the hospital with food poisoning.”
I asked about that sales job.
“I was selling coupons for things like oil changes or trips to a spa,” said Pratt, who told me it didn’t really matter what he was selling because a salesman only has one product: himself. “I was great at that,” he said. He got absorbed in this new gig, walking through town, making the same pitch again and again. It turned out to be perfect training for a future life of audition and rejection. “That’s why I believe in God and the divine,” he told me. “I feel like it was perfectly planned. People talk about rejection in Hollywood. I’m like, ‘You’re outta your fuckin’ mind. Did you ever have someone sic their dog on you at an audition?” ’
If you sold enough coupons, you got to run an office somewhere in the country—you’d become a manager, in other words, moving pieces around the board. That was the carrot Pratt was chasing. It took 15 months, but he finally got it. Given charge of an office outside Denver, he left Lake Stevens in the way of a kid leaving home to meet his destiny. What a strange interlude for a leading man: this drab complex outside this strange city, salesmen fighting over the Glengarry leads. “We rented an apartment,” Pratt told me. “I slept on the balcony. And partied. I wasn’t even 21.” The novelty wore off as the truth became plain. He’d been caught in someone else’s moneymaking scheme. As the old wisdom advises, when you sit at the poker table, look for the sucker. If you can’t identify him, leave—it’s you. Pratt called his boss one morning. “ ‘This is too much for me,’ “ he said. “ ‘I’m more in debt every month. I’m so depressed. I can’t do it.’ And she said, ‘I just want you to know, Chris, that there is nothing else out there.’ “
“I WAS AN OUTSIDER, NO CONNECTIONS … NOTHING, A COMPLETE FOREIGNER TO HOLLYWOOD.”
Pratt’s mother sent him a ticket. Two years had gone by, and he was back in Lake Stevens, exactly where he’d started. Left on his own, he might have followed the classic trajectory—hero at 18, relic by 45.
So what happened?
I was rescued, he told me.
As he said this, he stuck a fork in the oven and came at me with a piece of meat.
“Try this and tell me the truth. We can always drive down to Soho House and eat there.”
I chewed slowly.
He said it again. “Tell me the truth.”
I did not want to tell him the truth—because I liked him and did not want to go to Soho House. If I did tell the truth, I’d have said, “It tastes like burning.” Instead I said, “Good!”
He closed the oven, went on. “One of my best friends heard I’d been floundering. I had everyone convinced I’d been off doing this great sales job and making money, and I wasn’t. I had no prospects, no job, was still sort of riding the glory of high school. He saw that and bought me a ticket to Hawaii, where he’d been living.”
Pratt remembers what it was like when he first got to the island, the green hills and blue sea, how all that beauty contrasted with his mood. “My friends picked me up in a van. They had a cooler of beer. But I was not in a great place.”
Pratt got a job at Bubba Gump Shrimp, a chain of restaurants that grew out of Forrest Gump. For Pratt, it was like door-to-door, a kind of acting; he threw himself into entertaining tables of kids and conventioneers.
Were you good at that job?
“I was Gumper of the year,” he told me. “They gave me the award. I got my name on a plaque. It was the kind of place that … Did you ever see the movie Waiting … ? Anna’s in that movie, and she’s great. Or Office Space? Did you ever see that? You know how [Jennifer Aniston] can’t handle the fuckin’ flair? Well, I was a monster with the flair.”
Pratt was living on the beach. There was a van with a couch, a tent with a blanket. On its face, it was an idyll, five or six friends, none older than 20, never out of earshot of the breakers, yet Pratt was lost, the perfection of the locale making his estrangement only more keen. Like neon in the daytime, or a blue note on a bright day.
“I was sitting outside a grocery store—we’d convinced someone to go in and buy us beer. This is Maui. And a guy named Henry came up and recognized something in me that needed to be saved. He asked what I was doing that night, and I was honest. I said, ‘My friend’s inside buying me alcohol.’ ‘You going to go party?’ he asked. ‘Yeah.’ ‘Drink and do drugs? Meet girls, fornication?’ I was like, ‘I hope so.’ I was charmed by this guy, don’t know why. He was an Asian dude, maybe Hawaiian, in his 40s. It should’ve made me nervous but didn’t. I said, ‘Why are you asking?’ He said, ‘Jesus told me to talk to you …’ At that moment I was like, I think I have to go with this guy. He took me to church. Over the next few days I surprised my friends by declaring that I was going to change my life.”
O.K. Let’s stop for a moment. Because this is strange and so distant from what we expect of a movie star, especially of the clever, slapdash, wise-guy variety. But everyone needs a story to make sense of their life. Even the most successful. The extreme demands explanation. For Pratt, success, so extreme it scared him, is explained by metaphysical intervention. Which caused him to take control. In that moment, he yielded. His path has been clear ever since.
One day, and this was the key development, Rae Dawn Chong, an actress and the daughter of the great stoner Tommy Chong—she’d reached a professional peak in 1985 when she starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando—walked into Bubba Gump Shrimp. “She was with her producing partner,” said Pratt. “I think they were on vacation in Kihei. I wasn’t even supposed to take a shift that day. I was always giving away my shifts because I didn’t have much overhead. I lived in a van. But it was like I had a premonition. I always wanted to go to Hollywood. I just didn’t know I was going to get there.”
Pratt approached Chong with full, flare-filled, Gumper-of-the-year charm.
He says, “I’m your server.”
She says, “I’m Rae Dawn Chong.”
He says, “You’re a movie star.”
She says, “You’re cute. Do you act?”
He says, “Fuck, yeah, I act. Put me in a movie.”
She asks for his phone number. He does not have a phone—he lives in a van—so gives her the number of his friend Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson). She leaves a message the next day, but Michael Jackson forgets about it. Then Michael Jackson remembers. He tells Pratt, “Dawn or some Chinese chick or something … you got a message.”
Pratt picked up the script from Chong. It was a comedy called Cursed Part 3. There were no Parts 1 and 2. It was a film about a film crew being haunted while making a film about a haunting.
Chong stopped Pratt halfway through his audition.
She said, “We’re going to use you.”
“Did you get a big part?,” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “I was the lead.”
When Pratt learned the movie would be shot in L.A., he told Chong he’d have to bow out. He couldn’t afford a plane ticket. “I had 60 bucks,” he told me. “And she was like, ‘Sweetie, we’ll fly you there.’ ”
The movie took 10 days to shoot and was never released. When I asked Pratt to describe it, he hemmed and hawed, searching for the words, washing his hands in the sink as he did so, then, in the way of a person who’s decided, Fuck it, I’ll just tell the truth, said, “It was the worst movie I’d ever seen.”
So what was its historical function?
It got Pratt a screen credit and a manager and a reel. It got him into the game. “The whole reason that movie came along was just so I could be brought to Hollywood.”
What did you look like back then?
Because Pratt became known as a lovable chub in the office down the hall, I was curious about how he was first presented. “I looked exactly like Heath Ledger,” he said. “I had long blond hair, still bleached out, Hawaiian … That’s what people were always saying: Man, you look just like Heath Ledger. Then I saw Heath Ledger on the cover of Vanity Fair, and I thought, Hey, I do look just like that guy.”
I asked Pratt what life was like in Los Angeles in those first years. He talked about living cheaply, waiting tables, taking small roles in big movies and big roles in small movies. (He met his wife while playing her love interest in Take Me Home Tonight, circa 2007.) “I was an outsider, no connections, no nepotism, nothing, a complete foreigner to Hollywood.”
The breakthrough came with Everwood, in 2002, which Pratt describes as “a single-camera, dramatic show for the WB. It went four seasons and was absolutely life-changing. That’s when I became an actor, and that was the first time I’d ever got into money, real money.”
“I ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO HOLLYWOOD. I JUST DIDN’T KNOW I WAS GOING TO GET THERE.”
Most people probably got to know Pratt as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, which ran from 2009 to 2015. It was supposed to be a one-episode deal, a guest spot, but the character took off. Pratt gained weight while shooting the first season—partly because he thought it worked for the character, partly because he’d just been married and people tend to fatten up in those first, blissful years. It’s a Darwinian thing: the hunt is over; it’s time to laze in the sun. He did not consider the downside—other than lethargy and trouble breathing—until he auditioned to play Oakland A’s first-baseman and catcher Scott Hatteberg in 2011’s Moneyball. “That was the first time I heard someone say, ‘We’re not gonna cast you—you’re too fat.’ So I decided to drop the weight, like in wrestling. I couldn’t afford a trainer, so it was all running and crash-dieting and cutting alcohol.”
Pratt had always wanted to play an action hero but did not think he could pull it off.
What changed your mind?
“Zero Dark Thirty,” he said. “That’s the first time I bulked up, got into great shape because I was playing a navy SEAL.”
Nervous when he sat down to watch the film, he came away with a new view of himself. “I was like, My God, I buy that guy,” he said. “I’m SEAL Team Six in that movie, and I felt like it was real. I can do this. I can play those roles.
“Guardians had come around, and I passed,” Pratt said. “James Gunn [the director] passed on me, too. When they announced it, I looked it up and saw a list of the top 20 dudes in Hollywood who might play Peter Quill. I was not on that list. I did not want to go in and embarrass myself. My agent said, ‘Guardians is everything you’ve been saying you want to do.’ I said, ‘Fuck, you’re right.’ But I’m going to go in there and do exactly what I mean by action comedy. My brand of stuff. Brash. Honest. I played the room. Jim Gunn, the way he tells it is like this: ‘Who do we have next? Chris Pratt? What the fuck? I said we weren’t going to audition the chubby guy from Parks and Rec.’ ‘Well, he’s already here.’ They’d tested probably 10 people, spent a lot of money, and James wasn’t convinced on anyone yet. When I finished [my scene], he said, ‘Do you have any questions?’ I was like, ‘Are you fuckin’ crazy? Tell me everything.’ I gave him my Peter Quill version of an answer. Once you get smart about auditioning, you learn to audition before they say ‘Action.’ You walk into the room as the character. You let them think the person you are is close to the character they want. You make them think you already are that guy. Gunn was like, ‘Damn, this is it.’ ”
Pratt was alone when he saw the movie the first time, in a theater rented for that purpose. “When it started, I was like, This is fuckin’ awesome! Then I saw the first scene of myself dancing and kicking rats, and I was like, Oh, my God, disaster. This movie is gonna suck. I was just so hypercritical of myself. Then the next scene comes on and you see Rocket and Groot, and I was like, Wait a minute—this movie might be really fuckin’ good.”
That movie, which opened in the summer of 2014, changed everything for Pratt. In a moment, he went from that to this. “I made a genre jump,” he said, “a category jump, some kind of jump.”
He cemented this image in 2015’s Jurassic World, in which he not only played the Harrison Ford-type role but played it in a Steven Spielberg property. From here, expect his roles to be of the major-star action-adventure or Oscar-bait variety. Passengers, in which Pratt stars opposite Jennifer Lawrence as a traveler who, put into hypersleep for an interstellar voyage, wakes 90 years too early, is in theaters now. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be released in May. When I asked Pratt why he did Passengers, he said, “It’s the best script I’ve ever read.”
“Oh, really?,” I said. “I read a quote in which you said Cursed Part 3 was the best script you’d ever read.”
“At that point it was,” he said, laughing. “It was also the only script I’d ever read.”
A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE
Pratt set the table as he talked. Tacos, rice, peppers. He called his son and the nanny in to eat—Faris was out of town—then grabbed a remote control, turned on the TV, and began flipping. Donald Trump came on. We talked about Trump’s gross Access Hollywood video, the one that collateral-damaged the career of egg-’em-on Billy Bush. “ ‘When you’re a star, you could do anything’—the offensive thing to me about that was Trump calling himself a star,” said Pratt. “It’s like ‘Come on, dude.’ It’s not because I consider myself a star, but if I ever heard someone say that, one of my peers, I’d instantly lose respect for them.”
Pratt turned the TV to the World Series—he did this for me. I live and die with the Chicago Cubs. Just before we sat to eat, he got on his knees and had the rest of us get on our knees, and we held hands, and he thanked God for the food and the life, and he even put in a word for the Cubs. At the end of the meal, he poured shots of tequila. Casa Dragones. He’d been given a case after Jurassic World. I noticed a guitar on the wall. When I asked about it, Pratt said, “Let me show you the good guitars.” He went upstairs and came back with two acoustics—a Taylor and a beautiful Gibson, which he’d played while guest-hosting Saturday Night Live, in 2014. He picked it up and began to sing “Lady,” a Kenny Rogers hit just as cheesy as AM radio. Then we played together—“Up on Cripple Creek” and the Hank Williams Jr. tune “A Country Boy Can Survive.” He strummed a few chords, then talked about a guest appearance he’d recently made on his wife’s CBS sitcom, Mom. He’d learned the Kenny Rogers tune so he could sing it on that show. “I played it, then we kissed,” he told me. “Normally, when you do a kissing scene, it’s awkward, and when it’s done you say, ‘Are you O.K.?’ But this was different. After they yelled ‘Cut,’ we laughed and just kept on kissing.”
I'm really liking this blog, your posts are very engaging and informative! Your commentary about the socioeconomic conditions which gave rise to the McMansions reminded me of the large houses I've seen everywhere in Ireland built during the 90s 'Celtic tiger' boom, many of which were abandoned eerily half finished - is this a related phenomenon? What do you think of the architecture of these houses?
This is really fascinating! The “Celtic Tiger” boom ran parallel to the mortgage crisis in the USA, caused by the same factors: risky and downright criminal lending practices and the actions of the big banks and Wall Street leading up to the liquidity crisis that lit the fire of the Great Recession (but more on that later in its own post.)
Abandoned tract homes and McMansions were really common right after the recession, however the blight here in the US has been somewhat mended since then, mostly through demolition rather than finishing the unfinished houses.
Many residential developments were heavily invested in by venture capitalists and investment banks, such as Lehman Brothers, who fronted the initial capital to get the projects off the ground. When the meltdown happened in 2008, suddenly there was no more capital - not even enough to bulldoze the projects that were already underway.
In 2014, The Atlantic ran an interesting article titled The Unfinished Suburbs of America in which it documented the issues associated with Stockton, California’s unfinished developments from the perspective of the homeowners who live on its boundaries. The term “recession ghost town” was flung about by overzealous media.
This excellent photo essay documents the eeriness of unfinished exurbs and suburbs through aerial photography. The speculative housing bubble was the worst on the west cost of the US, but the east coast was also hit hard as well.
I plan on doing a special post devoted to abandoned McMansions, so stay tuned!
(ex)Urban: No Snakes in the City and The War to Come
I hate snakes.
I don’t know if it’s an irrational fear, some sort of repressed childhood trauma, or the result of a deep, holy desire to avenge man’s defeat to the wily serpent in the oft-cited historical Battle at Eden. (Wait, that isn’t an historical battle? It’s a biblical thing? Oh, didn’t know that…thanks.)
No matter, I hate snakes.
And I love the city. Perhaps I love the city in some small way because of a simple undeniable reason: There are no snakes in the city. (Admittedly, that cannot be true, but who cares what science and facts might say…you don’t see snakes crawling down 5th Ave next to the Burberry Store, so they don’t exist.)
In walking through the house we’re aiming to buy, I had the great fortune of running across this ridiculous creature.
What’s that? A Texas Rat Snake? And it is 5 feet long? And it lives in my prospective garage?
As if it wasn’t hard enough to move from the charming inner city hood we’re in to the sanitized suburb out yonder, now I have to do a full on inspection of every nook and cranny for evil, crawling beasts?
I didn’t think it would be an easy process to become and ex-urbanite. I never thought that I’d be warring against snakes as part of the deal.