How Chris Pratt Went From Homeless Stripper to King of the Summer Box Office
Chris Pratt has come a long way from his days stripping and living in a van to become one of Hollywood’s most lovable, and bankable, action stars.
The actor, who has two blockbusters in theaters this summer with Avengers: Infinity Wars and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, is poised for another profitable year. Listed as the fifth “best actor for the buck” by Forbes last year, Pratt raked in $43 million over the past two years, according to the outlet, and is expected to make $10 million for the new Jurassic World movie alone, according to Variety.
While the actor grew up in a blue collar household and was homeless for a time, he always knew he’d be successful and famous one day.
”My high school wrestling coach reminds me about this time I came into his office and he said, ‘Chris, what do you want to do with yourself?’ ” Pratt told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. ”I was like, ‘I don’t know, but I know I’ll be famous and I know I’ll make a s— ton of money.’ ”
Still, Pratt had no idea how he was going to accomplish that. “I’ve never really had a plan,” he told PEOPLE in 2014. “I’ve always been a bit of a ham, I guess.”
Growing up in Lake Stevens, Wash., he cultivated his charm by selling blackberries door-to-door. As of 2014, Pratt’s mother was still working at a Safeway grocery store, and his father, who died that same year, was a gold miner who later worked in construction.
Pratt studied acting at a local community college for half a semester, but dropped out when he saw what he thought was a good money making opportunity. He answered an ad that asked, “Do you like rock’n’roll music? Do you like making money? Call me!” and wound up selling coupons in Colorado. “A perfect example of my lack of critical thinking,” he told PEOPLE.
At 19, he began working as a stripper. “I was always a very much naked person. I loved to always get naked. I was very free, so I thought, I may as well get paid,” he told Buzzfeed in 2013.
Pratt gave up the stripper life when a friend invited him to live off the land in Hawaii. ”I had a friend who was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to come out here,’ ” Pratt told EW. ”We set up camp on the beach and lived the dream.”
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“It’s a pretty awesome place to be homeless,” he told The Independent in 2014. “We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies.”
He eventually got a job waiting tables at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant, which led to his first big break as an actor. ”I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dining experience at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., but they love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face and sing you birthday songs and do trivia,” he told EW of the job.
One day, Pratt waited on Commando actress Rae Dawn Chong and decided to introduce himself. ”I was like, ‘You’re in the movies, right? I always wanted to be in the movies,’ ” he told EW. ”She said, ‘You’re cute. Do you act?’ I was like, f— it, ‘Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!’ “
Pratt appeared in Chong’s directorial debut, the never-released horror comedy Cursed Part III. ”He was a joy on set,” she told the outlet, adding ”My movie sucked, but he was awesome.”
Despite making just $700 for the film, he knew he had found his calling. ”The moment she told me she was bringing me to L.A., I knew,” he told EW. ”I was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’ ”
After roles as Bright, the town jock, on the WB’s Everwood and Ché, a trust-fund hippie on The O.C. (he could have been typecast as a jerk, but “I wasn’t a good enough actor to pull it off,” he told PEOPLE), Pratt landed a role in the movie Take Me Home Tonight alongside his future wife Anna Faris. “[It was] another douchebag role that didn’t really work for me, except for the fact that it got me my wife,” he told PEOPLE.
Faris was married to another actor, Ben Indra, at the time. ”I was like, ‘Well, that’s all right’ and I just did the movie,” Pratt told EW. ”But it turns out they had been falling apart for a long time. Two years later, we were engaged.” (The duo welcomed their son Jack, now 5, in 2013, and in Dec. 2017, they filed for divorce).
Pratt already had dreams of being a leading man, but ran into some early roadblocks. After failed auditions for both Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot and Jake Sully in James Cameron’s Avatar, he began to question his own potential.
”They said they want somebody that has ‘that thing,’ that ‘It factor,”’ he told EW of his Avatar audition. ”I walked into that room knowing that I did not have that thing, and I walked out thinking I would never have that thing, probably.”
Undeterred, he decided to take a different tack. ”I figured, I’ll find a way to make money and if that means I’m playing character roles, that’s terrific,” he explained. ”People have to work. I just don’t want it to be at a f—ing restaurant.”
Exploring his comedic side, Pratt got his next big break when he was cast on Parks and Recreation in 2009. While the role was meant to be limited to just six episodes, the show’s creators decided to make him an integral part of the cast.
”Almost at the point of the audition we were like, ‘Oh, we have to reconceive this, because this guy’s the funniest person we’ve ever seen. We’re not letting that guy go,’ ” the series’ co-creator Michael Schur told EW. ”Pratt is very often the best improviser in the cast, which is really saying something.”
Still, he struggled to land movie roles. When Pratt, who had gained 40 pounds playing Andy on Parks and Rec, tried out for Moneyball, he was told he was too fat to play real-life Oakland A’s player Scott Hatteberg.
Pratt decided to lose weight before Hatteberg’s role was cast. ”I’d check, maybe, once a week,” he told EW. ”I’d say, ‘They cast it yet?’ And I would just keep working out. Finally I got in good enough shape that I took a picture of myself and sent it to my agent.” He got the role.
After Moneyball, Pratt gained back the weight to appear in the Channing Tatum-led high school reunion comedy 10 Years, then dropped it again to play a Navy SEAL in Zero Dark Thirty. Watching Kathryn Bigelow’s film for the first time, he was pleased with his performance in an important action sequence. ”I bought it,” he told EW. ”I was like, ‘F—in’ A!”’
Despite building some momentum, Pratt decided to pass the first time he got a chance to audition for Guardians. ”I didn’t want another Captain Kirk or Avatar moment,” he told the outlet.
Fortunately for him, the film’s director James Gunn was struggling to find his Peter Quill. ”We tested, I think, 12 guys — fully screen-tested — some of them pretty famous,” he told EW. ”It needed to be somebody who was able to bring an extra life to the character. I thought, if the Avengers and the Guardians ever meet, and this actor is talking to Robert Downey Jr., I wanted him to give as good as he got.”
While the film’s casting director had become enamored with Pratt for the role, Gunn wasn’t easy to convince. ”I kept saying, ‘That’s the chubby guy from Parks and Rec — you’ve got to be kidding,’ ” he told EW. ”Eventually, she somehow tricked me. He came in and I knew within 20, 30 seconds he was the guy.”
Pratt’s career as a movie star finally got off the ground in 2014, when he voiced a major character in The Lego Movie, the fifth-highest-grossing film domestically that year, and made his debut as Quill in Guardians, which became the third highest-grossing film domestically that year, according to BoxOfficeMojo.
He had signed on to play Owen Grady in Jurassic World in 2013, and when the movie came out in 2015, he once again achieved box office success. The reboot grossed a worldwide total of $1.670 billion, according to the website.
This year, Avengers: Infinity Wars earned $665.8 million at the domestic box office as of this week, making it the 34th-biggest domestic grosser in terms of tickets sold, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is expecting at least a $133 million debut this weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
”It feels like something seismic,” he told EW ahead of the first Guardians release. ”When an earthquake happens, at first you’re like, ‘Is this really happening?’ And then you’re just holding on for dear life. I’m just trying to get under a doorway.”
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t enjoyed the ride. “This is definitely an exciting chapter,” he told People around the same time. “But for me, the minute I stopped being a waiter and started being an actor was when I started living my dream.”