Get the new May 2017 issue of Men's Fitness starring Chris Pratt, available for download on Friday, April 21, and on newsstands Monday, April 24.

These are fraught times for the American experiment. The long-standing social threads of this country are being frayed by extreme partisanship that seems ominous for its long-term consequences. This is a divided land, with common ground shrinking as the rancor grows. And though the list of things a majority of Americans can agree on gets shorter by the day, it can be stated with certain confidence that a plurality of citizens like: pie, puppies and kittens, and Chris Pratt.

Come to think of it, pie, with all that sugar and gluten, may lose in a battle with Pratt; and, unlike with pie, Americans can’t get their fill of the charismatic 37-year-old actor, who has been described as “the human golden retriever of your dreams” (BuzzFeed), Marvel Studio’s No. 1 Chris (according to Marvel’s two other star Chrises—Evans and Hemsworth), and top choice for favorite imaginary Hollywood friend, especially if he brings his actress wife, Anna Faris, with him (various fan sites).

"I do feel like I relate to everybody—to the struggles of people both out here and where I grew up. I feel like I could have a beer or a meal with just about anyone and find something to relate to."

Pratt didn’t plan to be a unifying force—it’s just the way it worked out. As the face of two franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World), he’s now one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood, bringing a much-needed touch of relatable humanity to CGI-dominated films. This month he reprises his role of Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (in theaters May 5), in which he’ll lead his band of merry mutants on another wisecracking quest to save the universe and create shareholder glee at Marvel Studios (the first Guardians grossed more than $770 million worldwide). Currently filming, Pratt will play Star-Lord in an upcoming Avengers sequel, adding to his résumé of franchise vehicles.

It’s not just the escapism of his movies that draws audiences to Pratt, it’s him: his enduring, unkillable likability. Pratt’s natural charm can survive any environment. Play a douchebag on TV’s Everwood—viewers want more. Channel lovable goofball Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation—his irresistible appeal persuades series writers to gradually turn the character into a lovable goofball.

Chris Pratt

His ease in front of the camera extends to magazine photo shoots as well. Game for just about anything, Pratt didn’t refuse any request from our photographers: He jumped and flipped on a trampoline, hopped on a horse, curled dumbbells, straddled a dirt bike, hugged a puppy—and that was all before lunch. At one point during the shoot, he sniffed his fingers in a mockery of the pretentious movie star pose—fitting for a guy with a blue-collar past who wins plum roles over Ivy League drama-school graduates.

Pratt’s hardscrabble youth—he’s the son of a stern father who worked with his hands in various jobs and a mother who was a supermarket employee for decades—may not have included training in Shakespearean soliloquies growing up in Lake Stevens, WA, but it’s taught him how to keep his head as he established himself as one of the biggest stars on the planet.

“I’m a worker, a guy meant to do a physical job,” says the guy who raised money for a new rec center in his hometown. “That’s what my dad did. That’s what my grandfather did. It’s the type of work I’d be doing if there were no such thing as acting.”

Luckily, his films usually have a fairly physical side: “When you do movies that are action-based, you’re running and jumping, diving, rolling, getting out of the way, doing stunts, being strung up on wires—and doing all the prep that’s involved in that. There’s a certain Zen to it,” he says. “You lose yourself, kind of quiet your mind when you do something physical. It’s therapeutic. I like hard, physical work.”

Chris Pratt

A galaxy apart

As established as Pratt is as a Hollywood player, he often feels out of place, like a pair of barbecue tongs in a tea house. He may have left his working-class town of 30,000, but it didn’t leave him. He’d rather pop off a few rounds at the local shooting range than spend a night at the Ivy. A practicing Christian, he attends church. And though he’s married to a successful actress—Faris grew up just 40 minutes away—the two prefer a quiet night at home with their young son to a night of clubbing.

“Even though I’ve lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life, I’ve always considered myself an outsider here—and that’s to my benefit, I think,” Pratt says.

While he doesn’t feel judged by others for eschewing the usual A-list lifestyle, he believes the film industry ignores stories about people like his parents, to the detriment of both audiences and studios.

“I don’t see personal stories that necessarily resonate with me, because they’re not my stories,” Pratt says. “I think there’s room for me to tell mine, and probably an audience that would be hungry for them. The voice of the average, blue-collar American isn’t necessarily represented in Hollywood.”

Though he’s under contract for the aforementioned Marvel sequels, Pratt is a quick study, and as he learns more about the movie-making process, he’d like to tackle a project that would correct that deficit.

Chris Pratt

“I have a script I wrote that’s very personal about my life, that I’ve written almost more as an acting exercise than something I’d produce,” he says. “But I think if I finish my career without ever having starred in something that I wrote and directed, I’ll feel some regret about that.”

Like many today, Pratt laments the divide plaguing the country, but he also believes we can bridge the gap, become a closer nation, or at least talk to one another with our inside voices.

“I was at church last night, and the pastor said, ‘You want more friends? Be friendly,’” he says. “I really feel there’s common ground out there that’s missed because we focus on the things that separate us. You’re either the red state or the blue state, the left or the right. Not everything is politics. And maybe that’s something I’d want to help bridge, because I don’t feel represented by either side. I do feel like I relate to everybody—to the struggles of people both out here and where I grew up. I feel like I could have a beer or a meal with just about anyone and find something to relate to.

“Maybe that’s what I’d want to try to express in my work if I were to write and create something, because it’s a damn shame. I don’t feel we have to be at war with each other like we are, and it’s just getting worse.”

For most people, healing the divide would seem a futile gesture. But Chris Pratt is the common ground. His optimism and determination is distinctly American. The regular guy/movie star is an improbable invention, yet here he is, living a Frank Capra life in a David Lynch world. If anybody can bring Joe Six-Pack to La La Land, it’s Pratt. He certainly believes the American experiment is worth saving.

“There are a lot of people who were born in other countries who have come here and made a fortune, and that is the American dream,” says Pratt. “There are no class systems here that can’t be broken. We certainly have our flaws, but that doesn’t happen anywhere else.” 

Get the new May 2017 issue of Men's Fitness starring Chris Pratt, available for download on Friday, April 21, and on newsstands Monday, April 24.