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Chris Pratt: Middle-aged 'Tomorrow War' soldiers are fighting for their kids

Chris Pratt stars in sci-fi adventure The Tomorrow War. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Chris Pratt stars in sci-fi adventure "The Tomorrow War." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, June 30 (UPI) -- Chris Pratt says his military-themed, sci-fi adventure, The Tomorrow War, is the rare screen story that explores what happens when middle-aged men and women, not teens and 20-somethings, are sent into battle.

"You are dealing with people who are making life decisions based not on the life that they could lead, but rather the world that they're leaving for their children," Pratt, 42, said in a recent Zoom conference with reporters.

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Set for release on Amazon on Friday, the film follows those pressed into confronting an existential threat 30 years in the future. It was written by Zach Dean, directed by Chris McKay, and co-stars J.K. Simmons, Sam Richardson, Betty Gilpin and Edwin Hodge.

"My character, Dan, is doing this because if he doesn't go, they're going to take his wife in his place," Pratt explained.

"This is something he has to do to protect his family and to protect his daughter and leave her with a home life of having her mother there. It's a different theme to think about someone being drafted away from their children rather than children being drafted away from their parents."

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Dan -- an Iraq War veteran, high school teacher and married father of a little girl -- is feeling adrift, wondering what his purpose is in life when soldiers from the future announce humanity is in danger of being wiped out by ravenous, super-strong creatures in 2051 if people all over the world don't fight back.

"It's a very beautiful thing that we're meeting Dan in a very handsome middle age," said Gilpin, 34, who plays Dan's wife, Emmy.

"He's at a point in his life where, I think, it's very relatable, especially with this last year [in real life during the coronavirus pandemic], where suddenly there's these, 'pencils down, who are you?' moments, a freeze on looking at who you are and you aren't the person that you thought you would be."

Gilpin believes the movie reflects how humans are innately protective and rebellious.

"Our souls were born to be revolutionaries, and our daily life looks a lot more 'iPhoney' and 'BuzzFeed quizzy' than we thought it was going to look," she said. "Apocalyptic stakes and Greek [mythology] stakes are much more relatable. That's why I like science fiction. Because even though some of the circumstances may be outlandish, it feels a lot more [like] how I feel inside."

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Dean had been wanting to tackle the idea of conscription -- or forced enlistment into the military -- for years. He eventually landed on the concept of "not having it be about necessarily an ideology or patriotism or loyalty to protect your country, but being about, literally, your desire to save your own kids."

"Who doesn't sign up for that? It's a different thing. We're not asking for an abstract idea. It's about parenting," the screenwriter said.

Simmons, 66, who plays Dan's father James, was drawn to The Tomorrow War because it is a fun popcorn movie that also addresses important issues.

"There's beautiful family stuff with Chris' character at home with Betty and their daughter," Simmons said, adding he thought the strained relationship between James and Dan also would be a "worthwhile journey" on which to go for the actors.

"It was great to be able to incorporate, again, really, that small picture with the gigantic picture of 'Are we going to save the world or not?'" Simmons said.

He credited Dean with developing the father-son relationship on the page and praised McKay for giving the actors the opportunity to approach their performances from various angles and tones.

"You end up doing six or seven takes of a given scene and then the director has six or seven significantly different versions of the emotion, and the passion, and the drama and the comedy to choose from," Simmons said.

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Pratt said Dan blames James for him not being "happy with his station in life."

"[Dan] realizes through the course of this story, that in fact, he has more similarities with his father than he's even realized, and in coming to grips with that, gets to a place of grace and of acceptance and forgiveness for his father because he sees that it wasn't easy for his father, either," Pratt said. "That's a real pivotal moment that comes in adulthood."

The actor likened weaving life lessons into a sci-fi action movie to sneaking medicine into a hamburger to get a dog to take it.

"Any medicine that's in this movie, it's going to taste like a hamburger," Pratt said. "Don't worry about it. It's like a great entertaining, vibrant, exciting blockbuster movie. There might be a little takeaway from it, but mostly it's fun and exciting."

Richardson, 37, describes his reluctant soldier character Charlie as an "everyman" who brings some comic relief to the stressful story.

"People do rely on comedy or humor as a defense mechanism," he noted. "That's very real, so I wasn't trying to play very broad, wackadoo comedy. You also need that release valve of all the action and so much happening in these high stakes, and so it was fun to get to play that release valve."

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Hodge, 36, plays Dorian, a cancer-stricken soldier who signs up for several tours in the futuristic war.

"Just to simply channel Dorian, I can look at the men and women in service. I've spent many years with wounded warriors talking to vets who suffer from PTSD, things of that nature, just to understand a different perspective of how we deal with war and the consequences that reflect on us physically, emotionally, mentally," Hodge said.

Dorian feels like he has nothing to lose, assuming either the disease or his foes eventually will kill him.

"Then he meets Dan, who has this huge weight on his shoulders and simply everything to live and fight for," Hodge said. "It's that turn, that meeting that sets this precedent for Dorian, that, though, his future is bleak ... something positive could happen with the defeat of the aliens in 2051."

Asked which part was the most challenging to shoot, Pratt recalled sequences when present-day characters leap into 2051, fall from the sky in Miami and land in a pool.

"There was some serious water work that we got to do and that was a lot of fun," he said.

"We got to jump off of this high dive that we built out of a fork lift and jump off into the water," the actor added. "The camera followed us down and then you had stunt people jumping down and landing on top of you forcing you under water. That whole sequence probably took two or three days, was really cool, really fun, really physical."

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Gilpin's character didn't have much running, jumping or fighting to do.

"I play the frowning therapist wife," she quipped. "I mostly sob in a cardigan, which is action emotionally.

"There was a day where Chris had a ton of action stuff and was training really hard. There was a day where I had a bagel and I thought, 'I want a second bagel.'

"They announced there were almost no more bagels and my adrenaline was sky high. We were rolling and, luckily, I ran outside, got a second bagel and came back just in time for action."

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