Best known for appearing alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1985’s Commando, by the 1990s actress Rae Dawn Chong was looking to try her hand at something new: writing and directing her own film. In 2000, Chong would complete her first (and to date only) short, Cursed Part 3, which – though never released – would play a key role in launching the career of one of today’s biggest stars.
While she was in pre-production on Cursed Part 3 in the late 90s, Chong discovered a 20-year-old Chris Pratt working as a waiter at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant in Maui, Hawaii. At the time, Pratt had no acting experience, was living out of his van and had no designs on becoming a movie star – but Chong saw enough potential in the young man to give him his first break in Hollywood.
“I know I’ll be famous and make a s***-ton of money”
Born in 1961 to famed comedian Tommy Chong (one half of popular comic duo Cheech & Chong), Rae Dawn Chong broke through as a performer in her own right with 1981’s Quest for Fire. Named Best Actress at Canada’s (now-defunct) Genie Awards for Quest, more film roles followed for Rae, including an appearance alongside her father in Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers. Lead roles came after, in hits including Commando, The Color Purple and Soul Man, cementing Chong as a young actor to watch.
Chris Pratt, meanwhile, was born in 1979 in Virginia, Minnesota, and grew up in Lake Stevens, Washington. Though he would grow up to be confident, outgoing, a good student and a keen sportsman, in his early days Pratt didn’t have any clear-cut career aspirations.
The actor reflected in 2014: “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?’ 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.’ I had no idea how. I’d done nothing proactive. It was as dumb as someone saying, ‘I’ll probably be an astronaut.'”
“Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!”
After graduating high school, Pratt attended one semester of community college – where he took his first acting lessons – but wound up dropping out. He then became a drifter for a time, taking on a number of short-term jobs (including salesman, stripper and missionary). Eventually, a 19-year-old Pratt ended up in Maui, Hawaii, where he “set up camp on the beach and lived the dream” while living out of his van.
Pratt spent some of this time performing in community theatre and trying his hand at stand-up comedy, but to make ends meet he took a part-time job as a waiter at the local Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant. The restaurant chain takes its name from the fictitious company featured in the movie Forrest Gump, and Pratt recalls “they love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face and sing you birthday songs and do trivia.”
Pratt’s confident manner served him well at Bubba Gump, and he made full use of that confidence when Rae Dawn Chong came into the restaurant one evening in the late 90s. “I was like, ‘You’re in the movies, right? I always wanted to be in the movies,'” he recalls. “She said, ‘You’re cute. Do you act?’ I was like, f*** it, ‘Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!'”
“I had this feeling about him”
Unbeknownst to Pratt, it was a fortuitous meeting for Chong as well. At the time, the actress was preparing to make her debut behind the camera with Cursed Part 3. Not an actual sequel, the film was a meta-comedy horror following the making of a new film in a horror franchise. Chong recalls, “I was directing a film that I had written, and I needed a young stud… I was in the middle of a breakup, and a friend of mine said, ‘come to Maui,’ so I went to Maui, and then [my friend] said let’s go to this restaurant.”
Chong recalls she “did not want to go,” but went along anyway – and on entering the restaurant, “this young beauty walked up to me and literally said, ‘put me in a movie.’ And it was Chris.” Intrigued, Chong “asked him if he had acted, and he listed a bunch of high school stuff, but I had this feeling about him. There was something that reminded me of a young Matt Dillon, but blond.”
Chong gave Pratt a script and invited him to a reading soon afterwards, where she was surprised to see “he was not only off-book for his part, he was off-book for the whole movie – he had memorised the script. And he was so good, and so enthusiastic.” Pratt came close to turning the part down as he couldn’t afford the air fare to Los Angeles: “I had 60 bucks… and she was like, ‘sweetie, we’ll fly you there.'”
Pratt’s first experience of acting for the screen, Cursed Part 3 also gave Pratt his start in Hollywood – although he has remarked that, to begin with, he simply “went from waiting tables in Maui to waiting tables in Beverly Hills”. Gradually Pratt build up a body of work, working on TV drama Everwood for four years and guesting on hit shows including The O.C., then getting his big break with comedy series Parks and Recreation beginning in 2009.
“My movie sucked, but he was awesome”
By the time Parks and Rec ended in 2015, Pratt had broken through into film in a big way, first with supporting roles in Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and Her, then with lead roles in blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World and The Lego Movie. More hit films would follow, including Passengers and numerous other entries in the Marvel and Jurassic franchises. (Pratt would even wind up marrying Katherine Schwarzenegger, daughter of Rae Dawn Chong’s one-time co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Cursed Part 3, the film that started it all for Pratt, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Though completed in 2000, it was never officially released; Pratt would later call it “the worst movie I’d ever seen,” and Chong has never written or directed anything since. However, she has continued to act, most recently taking the role of Florence de Pointe du Lac in the 2022 TV series adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Looking back on their experience working together, Pratt admits getting his break via Chong was something of a Cinderella story, “something you only hear about, these tales of the people who get ‘discovered.'” Chong reflects, “He was a joy on set. My movie sucked, but he was awesome.”