Chris Pine says he’s “not really a sci-fi buff” but knew he was stepping into big shoes when he was tapped by J.J. Abrams to play the young James T. Kirk in “Star Trek,” set for release next year.

The hotly anticipated franchise restarter explores the early days of the original Enterprise crew. “They’re that iconic. They left that indelible a mark on the social psyche,” Pine says of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew.

In jumping full throttle into cramming sessions with “Trek” lore encyclopedias and watching the original series, however, Pine decided midway that he was doing himself an injustice.

“All I was doing was heaping upon myself an incredible amount of responsibility, weighing myself down with ‘You must remember to act this way’ and such,” explains Pine, taking over a part whose mannerisms, as embodied by William Shatner, have become instantly recognizable. “That’s when I was really able to let go and accept the parameters that J.J. set forth in the beginning, which was to bring what was special and unique about us to the roles.”

That meant embracing Kirk’s descriptors — charming, funny, leader of men — rather than a predigested image.

“Just try to be human,” Pine clarifies. “I got to do everything: yell, shout, cry, laugh, take charge and be vulnerable. I pulled the lucky straw.”

Pine, who’s played opposite Lindsay Lohan (“Just My Luck”), Anne Hathaway (“Princess Diaries 2”), Ben Affleck (“Smokin’ Aces”) and Alan Rickman (“Bottle Shock”), chalks up his career to hard work and incredible luck. Every job, he says, is a chance to learn something.

“It all helps focus the lens even more clearly to see exactly what I want to do, and how to do it,” he says.

At 28, Pine, who studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater and England’s U. of Leeds and has plenty of theater credits, can expect a sea change in his visibility when “Star Trek” hits screens next summer. He makes sure to note that it’s all predicated “on whether or not the movie does well and people want to work with me again,” but adds that the Daniel Day-Lewis model of maintaining a life apart from work is something he hopes to emulate.

“If you don’t have a life outside of acting,” says Pine, “you don’t bring much to the table when you do get a chance to act.”

An actor should always:
“Let go.”
Lucky break: “Having supportive parents. My father’s an actor, my mother was an actress for many years before she became a therapist, and they get it. They can be wonderfully empathetic in times of needing an open ear.”
Favorite film character: “Right now, it would have to be Howard Beale in ‘Network.’ I can’t think of a movie more appropriate for the modern age. Being mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore could describe my state of mind.”