Star Trek interview

Friday, May 08, 2009
By Abbey Khan


At a recent press conference, the stars of the new Star Trek film talked to us about their experience on the set and their own knowledge about the original series.

Chris, what did you find intimidating about taking on such an iconic character played by such an iconic actor?
Chris Pine: I think it was two fold in that it’s a big ten fold studio big budget movie and the pressure is that a lot of people are expecting it to make a lot of money and that it is Star Trek which comes the added and protective fan base. But once I met J.J. Abrams and I got a sense of what he wanted to do with it and he wasn’t looking for a bad impersonation of what Mr. Shatner had done and realizing what Mr. Shatner had done was so unique, was so specific and was so iconic—in many ways it was very liberating because I knew that I had to run in the opposite direction to kind of make any mark of my own.

Eric, you usually play the good guy but here you’re the villain. What does it take to go from one extreme to the other?
Eric Bana: I don’t make the distinction in my head actually. Every film I’m in I try to play a character that I find interesting, and whether it’s good guy, bad guy, villain or hero. I don’t know that it’s more fun playing the villain, it keeps the girls, that’s for sure. I don’t know there’s that much of a difference. I just try and do what’s right for the character.

Mr. Nimoy, this Star Trek takes place in an alternate timeline and the younger Spock is very different from your Spock, he’s much more emotional, much more human, and he has the relationship with the girl. How did you feel when you first read the script, were you resistant to that because he’s quite a significant character?
Leonard Nimoy: He does, doesn’t he (have a relationship with the girl). I was bemused by it when I read the script and I was amazed by it when I saw it in the film. I thought it was incredible.
I think there’s more of a human Spock than a Vulcan Spock–
Zachary Quinto: I don’t necessarily agree with you. I think there’s a duality and internal conflict because he’s really split between the two halves of himself but I don’t think he’s gained control over that duality that Leonard had when he played the character. That’s the journey of this character. It’s not that he won’t allow you there and it’s not that he possesses more humanity than Vulcanity.

Have any of you met your counterparts and what was that experience like?
John Cho: I met George Takei. I wrote him a letter after I got the role and we had a meal and talked. He has become a little bit of an icon himself because the character is an icon. I mostly just avoiding doing an imitation of him.
Anton Yelchin: Walter came on set and he was pretty complimentary. I felt like what was essential for Chekov naturally was the accent so I tried to stay as true as possible to that accent and messing around with it a little but still maintaining that general kind of spirit that he created because I really think that’s what made his character special for 40 years.
Chris Pine: I saw Bill last night actually for the first time at a charity show in Burbank and it was a very short meeting because it was a big event and he had a lot of people to see. I sent a letter very early on in the process explaining to him who this punk kid was taking on the role and he was very kind and wished us well. And I know Leonard was the same way. There was a wonderful feeling of handing over the mantle to us. It was more about allowing us the freedom to make this character our very own.

J.J., you took on one of the most beloved franchises in the history of television, why did you feel so compelled to do this and why now?
J.J. Abrams: Because I was not a Star Trek fan my initial reaction in producing was to try to work on a version that did appeal to me. The other producers and I started talking about what Star Trek could be because Brian had never seen an episode but Alex and Bob were big fans so we had a range of relationships with Star Trek. Star Trek was a story about survival, about working together, cross-cultural, political and racial lines, yet we wanted to maintain that and go back to the origins of Kirk and Spock and find a way for people like myself to love these characters. To tell the story was optimistic and with a big heart felt like the movies we loved as kids and that was one of the things that was most exciting to me.

Are any of you big Trekkie’s and what does Star Trek mean to you personally?
Clifton Collins: I wasn’t really a Trekkie, but anyone who lives in America knows who the characters are. Everyone knows how the theme song goes. We all know what the U.S.S. Enterprise is. For me personally, I didn’t know anything about the Romulans and just kind of followed J.J’s lead. Star Trek to me was part of Americana.
Chris Pine: I was not a Trekkie fan, but my grandmother was a huge William Shatner fan so when she babysat me we ended up watching reruns of T.J. Hooker and Star Trek, so I was a casual kind of observer and not a fan. It’s startling that this one story has held such an intense hold on so many people for so long and I can’t think of another thing that has and I think quite possibly the reason for that is that when it came out originally in the late 60’s that the idea that many people can work together as one and achieve great things. The Enterprise was a sort of United Nations of people from disparate backgrounds and hopefully the resonance it had in the late 60’s will have a similar affect in a world similarly torn by economic crisis and wars.
John Cho: That’s probably what struck me the most growing up. I didn’t grow up a Trekkie, but I was very impressed with the multi-ethnic cast and of course with George in particular made a deep impression on me. It was really nice to see him on television at that time in the late 70’s.

Zoe and Zachary, your relationship didn’t at all exist in the series so how did you approach the relationship in the film? What did you see in an older emotionless character since it’s not a normal romance?
Karl Urban: From my Star Trek knowledge, there was an episode where Uhura was singing and caressing Spock’s ear. I think while that relationship wasn’t developed, it certainly was there in subtext in the original series.
Zoe Saldana: I try not to publicly announce that the film or storyline I’m in is my favorite, but in this situation it was. That whole relationship for me gave me the desire to have the newer generation completely fall in love deeply with these characters and after reading it and doing research and going to fan sites, I realized that Spock and Uhura had more in common in terms of their characteristics than any of the other characters in the script. She’s an apt pupil, she loves to work and study and wants to be the best at what she does and all of the sudden here is this mentor that is a couple of years older than she is and he’s witty and has pointy ears and is sexy. He allowed only Uhura and not even his father to see his human side and she only let him call her by her first name I thought was kind of awesome.
Zachary Quinto: For me the relationship provides a great sense of levity in the film between Kirk and Spock and Kirk and Uhura. Between Spock and Uhura it provides a really interesting depth in that Uhura ultimately represents a canvas in which Spock projects emotions that he can’t really ever project. That dynamic to me was really rewarding as an actor and the scene that Zoe and I played in the elevator was definitely one of the most pleasant experiences in shooting and that’s due to Zoe and her emotional availability and openness.

Karl, I love how you manage to say the classic line “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor not a physicist” which is so part of the doctor in the original series. Was that your choice to do that? How did you decide to incorporate that line?
Karl Urban: No, I had no choice when that line came out. But I must say that as a long-term fan of the series, it was quite surreal to be in that position of delivering that iconic line. I had such a huge admiration and respect about the wonderful contribution Mr. Kelley made to Star Trek and developing the character so well for forty years. It was a real privilege to be given the opportunity to develop a younger version of the character and a challenge because I certainly did not want to make him or develop some sort of caricature that would insult the character or sell Mr. Kelley short. So really the challenge for me was to go by the spirit of that character and then funnel it through my interpretation of what a younger version of that character would be.

Anton, you are actually Russian. What conversation did you have with J.J. about how far to push that accent because it seems like it verges on caricature but not quite?
Anton Yelchin: There really wasn’t too much of a conversation. It was just trying to stay true to that original accent and trying to capture that general spirit.

Zachary, you have a “Heroes” fan base. Some people are pissed that Sylar is Spock and I know some Trekkies are pissed that you’re going to be Spock. There may be some backlash on either one of your fan bases– what do you think about that?
Zachary Quinto: Fan reaction isn’t something I really pride myself on very much. I care about the work that I do and I’m grateful on so many levels for the opportunities I’ve had over the years. But my focus is my work and people’s reactions to my work falls under the category to that I have absolutely no control over. I would certainly love to have my “Heroes” fans join us on this journey.

William Shatner did play Captain Kirk on and off for almost 30 years. Thirty years from now, do you want to play Captain Kirk?
Chris Pine: I think it’s a little presumptuous to start talking about 30 years in the future when this movie has yet to come out. I had a lot of fun playing this character and this current incarnation of this story. I’m signed up for two more like I think everyone else is in the cast. And I’m having a lot of fun right now and I’m not going to count any chickens before they pre-verbally hatch.

Zachary, you probably play one of the most iconic of all the characters in the Trekkie world. How intimidating was it for you to do that and when Mr. Nimoy was present?
Zachary Quinto: Well, I think all of us were faced with a certain level of intimidation stepping into these roles theoretically. Although, J.J. did a phenomenal job of diffusing that from step one in terms of really dictating that we were encouraged to use the original as a point of departure, but from there we were expected to really develop our own points of view. For me Leonard’s involvement was only liberating… I knew it was with his blessing. From there, we developed a relationship. I was the first one cast in the movie—I got cast in June and we didn’t start shooting until November so over those months Leonard and I spent a number of times hanging out and talking about just life and about the character and just getting to know him personally was incredibly freeing and helpful in the process.
And Leonard, what do you think of the new Spock?
Leonard Nimoy: (joking) I think it’s appropriate when the old-timer walks on to the set that everyone finds him intimidating. I use to be the kid on the set and I was intimidated, why shouldn’t they be.

What was it like to be the girl amongst all these male characters?
Zoe Saldana: For me personally, I loved it! And what I loved most was that Uhura was very comfortable in her own environment. She needed to be that way in order to hold court and have authority and still be very very feminine and demanding and deliver her job.

You didn’t necessarily go with actors who looked like the original characters, what were you looking for when casting?
J.J. Abrams: The only one we needed to cast that really had to resemble was Zachary because he was playing the same character in the scene with Leonard and if they looked nothing alike, it would just be too tragic. The actors who played these characters needed to be inspired by what was created years ago and the only way it would work is if they owned it. It was about finding great actors who could make those roles come alive. In finding John Cho, I was a little worried at first because he’s not of Japanese descent but I thought this is ridiculous because he’s right for the part. Uhura didn’t have to be of African descent and she didn’t have to be exactly like Nichelle Nichols. Everything on the set whether it was the characters or props, it was about how to make it work for now but inspired by a half century ago.

For Eric, I think this is one of the first Star Trek films where the villain doesn’t proclaim Shakespeare or give a speech when you introduce yourself. Can you talk about that characterization for that villain between you and J.J?
Eric Bana: The thing that really drove me to the project was the film wasn’t taking itself too seriously. When you read the script you really got the sense of humor that I was very hopeful that it would make its way to the film. In that case, it was really more of the director allowing the actor to mock around so I saw no reason why Nero had to be scary in every single moment and thought he could be a bit of a smart ass. J.J. let all of us do pretty much anything and everything we wanted. He’s an unbelievable collaborative filmmaker and he knows exactly what he wants himself.

Did you have any hesitation going back to this after all this time?
Leonard Nimoy: It was a combination of the script and J.J’s enthusiasm and they gave me a sense of what the Spock character would be about. I hadn’t been asked to be in Star Trek for 17 to 18 years and this felt like somebody said “we value you” and it felt good. Frankly, I appreciated it.

Zachary, did the any of the Vulcanism give you any trouble?
Zachary Quinto: I spent a little time training my hands to be able to do the salute. That didn’t come particularly easy so I would rubber band my ring finger while I was driving around Los Angeles. But that was about it, everything else was fine.

Chris, you said you weren’t a fan growing up? Are you now?
Chris Pine: I am. I gained a lot more of an appreciation now. As a kid I found it to be campy and kind of absurd. Growing up in the “Star Wars” generation, there was just something kind of visceral and fun about the “Star Wars” world because it had more to do with the special effects. The world Gene Rodenberry created was much more of an allegory of these social things. As a kid, I had no concept of what was going on. Watching the original series now, you get a great sense of how really radical what Gene Rodenberry was doing back then and now I have a great appreciation of that. His vision is what we are capable of is quite a wonderful thing.

Mr. McCoy is the character that gets the most laughs, how do you define him?
Karl Urban: What worked for me was to come up with a simple mantra that I could develop—McCoy is this cantankerous grumpy character, but you also have the most compassionate altruistic loyal dedicated friend. He is a complete traitor of his character because he often gets to do the complete opposite of what he says like when he goes on the Enterprise, he’s grumpy but what he’s actually doing is helping his friend and that to me is actually a wonderful trait.

What are your memories of Gene Rodenberry and what can you recall?
Leonard Nimoy: He was a brilliant complicated man and we had a complicated relationship. It was like a father son relationship. Sometimes it was great and sometimes it was really bad and sometimes we felt really strongly about certain issues but obviously he had a very special mind.

Did you get Greg Grunberg into this movie?
J.J. Abrams: Yes, you know when young Kirk is driving and his step dad calls him, that’s his voice.

Zoe, your character is very studios, apt and smart. For the sequel where would you like to see your character go?
Zoe Saldana: I’d like to kick some butt, be more physical and be more part of the action. How the story unfolds with Spock I really leave that up to J.J. and the writers.

What did you have to do to prepare for the role in which Spock’s Vulcan side is emotionless?
Zachary Quinto: I didn’t really see it that way actually. I think Spock experiences deep emotions especially in the relationship with his mother and I think there’s a real depth of feeling. The only thing I had to strip myself of is having the ability to express it in the conventional way. If he doesn’t feel emotion, then there’s no conflict within him. The conflict of the deeply rooted emotion without having the opportunity to do much with it other than hold it is really challenging and painful.

Chris, Captain Kirk and Spock are kind of fighting over the girl, do you think that will develop further in the next movie?
Chris Pine: I certainly hope I might be able to get a girl in the second one. I’m not sure, but there was a lot of humor we were able to explore in my relationship. But one thing that would be interesting to explore is that Kirk is a work-a-holic and there’s a reason he doesn’t have any sustained relationships.

Is there something you wanted this movie to touch on that the series didn’t?
Leonard Nimoy: When we were making the series, I was always curious about what issues the writers wanted to tackle. In this film, I think it’s a question of vengeance, the defeatism and emptiness of vengeance. That makes it meaningful to me. We’ve had various issues over the years, race issues, economic issues, psychological issues, all kinds of issues.

Zoe, did you talk to Nichelle Nichols at all or watch some of the key episodes?
Zoe Saldana: I did not see the series. As actors, we’re prone to imitation and I was very afraid of falling into that pattern because Nichelle did not deserve that and primarily Uhura deserves better. I definitely did want to have a clean slate with her because she’s young, she can’t be this confident woman who has it all together all the time and she’s infatuated. When I met Nichelle there was this complete and utter support and pride. She was happy that I was playing Uhura and she told me to follow my own instincts and whatever my gut was telling me to do about Uhura to do it but do it right.

You incorporated a lot of iconic things about the characters in the show, but you did it in a way that seemed natural to the audience. How did you manage to do that?
J.J. Abrams: There are certain lines that if I saw the Star Trek movie and didn’t see those then I would feel like I was cheated somehow, but the brilliance of Bob and Alex’s script is that it did have those lines for situations that were real and urgent and specific and necessary. And those lines organically came out of those moments, you had those kind of little peaks of recognition but they were justified and intrinsically connected to the scene. The byproduct of including those lines would be the appreciation and nod to what people loved about Star Trek.

How did you come to cast Tyler Perry in this role?
J.J. Abrams: Tyler is someone I’ve admired for years. He’s just amazing. Quite frankly I’ve been jealous of him for a long time. We had some people in common and I just used those connections to send him an email to ask him if he would be interested in playing a role in this movie and he was intrigued but he had never seen Star Trek. I sent him the script and he said yes, but again he never saw Star Trek before and he never acted in anyone else’s movie. The way that he’s created his business is unbelievable and I’m just a fan, so working with him was an honor as it was with Leonard Nimoy and Eric Bana.

Star Trek is produced by Paramount and based on the original series created by Gene Roddenberry. It opens nationwide on Friday, May 8, 2009 and should only be seen on IMAX to appreciate the action and special effects.

Don’t forget to watch video interviews with the cast here.

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11 years ago

Jace Hall is kinda weird. I mean is it normal for someone to be that tall, bald, and into video games. Oh well I only mention him because his show on this week is featuring footage from Duke Nukem Forever so it’s worth a look if you can put up with him and the Star Trek segment at the beginning.