8 May
Spock vs Siler, and the cold heart of JJ Abrams


UPDATE: This was originally posted on Thursday night, but since Star Trek is red hot ($76 mill!) we’re gonna keep it up top for a bit…

Star Trek opens tonight at midnight, and promises to elevate Zachary Quinto from geekdom hero to…well…geekdom superhero, I suppose. I’m sure playing the über-evil Siler on Heroes probably had him pretty well known, but it’s one thing to be worshiped by a couple of phaser-holding, Dr. Strange-reading nerds, it’s another to be recognized by that weird lady with the cat calender at work. And once Star Trek pops silverscreens across the globe, you can bet Quinto will have very little rest scooping up a peanut butter Blizzard at the local Dairy Queen. Seeing as he’s on the cover of everything from Esquire to Entertainment Weekly to Nerds Illustrated this month, LIAS is pretty stoked to pick his Vulcan mind. We met up with him a couple weeks back at his office in the eastern hills of Los Angeles to discuss all things Star Trek, Heroes, and Shatner-related. Set your phasers on stun, geekers…

LIAS: What did you think the first time you saw the finished film?
QUINTO: It was actually just a screening for me and my brother, because I had to travel up to WonderCon the next day to do promotion for the movie. I was joining up with Zoe [Saldana — Uhuru] and Chris [Pine — Captain Kirk] and JJ [Abrams — director] who had been in Asia the week before, and I wasn’t able to make that trip because I had to work on Heroes. They’d seen it on that trip, and JJ wanted me to see it before I went up to WonderCon so they arranged a screening for me at Paramount. And my first impressions were that I think it’s incredible. I was really impressed, and it so far exceeded my expectations in terms of scale and scope and execution. I don’t often feel proud, but I was proud to be a part of it; I was proud because it was such a culmination of so many people’s contributions. And I think it’s gonna be really well received. I hope.

I know it’s difficult for people working on a movie, even after you’re done filming, to ever know how the final product is going to look until you see it.
Especially with something like this, because it’s really my first film for all intents and purposes. And so much of it happened after we were done shooting it; so much of the movie came to life in the hands of the amazing special effects crew, after we finished. So you can begin to see how your contribution is one tiny little piece of a really impressive puzzle. It’s nice that way; it’s gratifying.

There’s more — read about kicking hand-to-hand alien ass, JJ Abrams’ cold-blooded heart and the torch of Leonard Nimoy after the Warp Drive! (That’s Jump for all you non Trekkies…)

I suppose with Star Trek there’s gonna be a lot of green screen.
I have a little bit of experience with green screen now, and the difference between Heroes and Star Trek is that on Heroes there’ll be scenes where I’m acting with nothing — and then something will be there later. In Star Trek, everything that could be was practical and functional, props and stuff, and the green screen tends to be more environmental. So it doesn’t really affect us as much as actors because it just takes what we’re working on and makes it bigger, so what you don’t have a sense of is exactly how big it will be, and that’s funny to see.

But it’s not like it’s King Kong, where you’re interacting with an imaginary creature the whole time.
No, the movie’s so much about connection and character that there’s really no time for that. I think Chris has some sequences with some giant space monster type thing, and had to pretend we were there, but for the most part no.

Can you put into context the pressure of stepping into something like Star Trek? Because it’s not like you’re starting a new franchise; you’re stepping into this huge world that is feverishly worshiped by a lot of people.
Absolutely. A world that has an intensely loyal following of people that have been fans for 40 years. So there’s a certain gravity that comes with that, to a degree, but ultimately we were really encouraged to come to this process with a fresh perspective. So each of us did that in our own ways. I don’t really feel aside from the origin of these characters that there are that many similarities, just enough. But it was much more of a springboard or a foundation than an attempt at recapturing something that was created by those people.

So there’s less pressure; you don’t want to over think it.
Yeah. My whole take of all that stuff is that there’s only so much that is in my control, personally — all that other stuff is producers, studio people, marketers, etc. It’s their purview, and mine is much more immediate and visceral. So I really try to always remain aware of what those boundaries are, and not really get out of them, because then it becomes something else.

And working with someone like JJ Abrams must be…
He’s awesome, and such a great director, and great guy. I marvel at him; he maintains a completely detailed awareness of what’s going on in a film, and storytelling in general. And there’s nothing that’s too precious for him, which is an incredible trait as a director, and one that I’m sure not all of them have. Which is the idea that as a director you might really love something — you might really love a moment, you might really love a scene, you might really love an angle — but if it doesn’t move the story forward, there’s no place for it. And he really adopts that perspective, and the movie is paced accordingly. And that’s part of what’s so exciting about it.

He’s willing to cut scenes cold-heartedly?
He doesn’t hold onto anything for the sake of holding onto it.

Actually, didn’t he change your huge fight scene? Like switch it from a fistfight to a gunfight or something?
Yeah! Well we were gonna do this big fight sequence, but that switch was based on that he didn’t think the movie needed that then; it needed something else. And so he made that moment what it needed to be. And I think it works infinitely better, actually. So it’s funny, because that’s an example of how it directly affected me — because I’d been prepping for that fight for months! Training with the stunt guys, going over the fight sequences, and we’d gotten to the point where we were just a few days out from it. But you gotta trust him.

So does Spock get to kick some hand-to-hand alien ass?
Ummmmm… well, he gets a little. I think Spock as a character only does what he has to do, so I think it’s actually — if he’s gonna pull out a gun it’s because the situation is only more dire.

There’s an obvious duality in Spock, in him being half human and half Vulcan. I mean, this internal struggle between Vulcan logic and Human passion is really the most interesting aspect of him as a character. And Siler [from Heroes] also has a striking duality in a way — like he started off as being pure evil, but now you’re learning that there’s some reasoning behind his madness. Some humanity; some self-awareness. Do you think that’s why they chose you for the part? Or did you get it just because you said you looked like him?

For me it was never about looking like him, I never said that. The very first interview I made for Heroes when it just started airing was for my hometown paper. And the journalist asked me if there was any other project I was working on, or anything else I’d like to work on. And I started talking about Star Trek because I was really intrigued by the character, and I just said I would be interested in playing the role. And then the interview got syndicated, and so all these other journalists starting asking me, ‘Oh, I hear you want to play Spock?’, and so it sort of built this momentum. It wasn’t necessarily about the aesthetic of it, for me it was about that — the duality, the complexity, the energy that was at odds within a self. That was appealing to me. And also the creative team behind the project was, needless to say, appealing to me.

[Separated at birth? You decide…]


I definitely do feel, though, that my exposure and experience on Heroes made it a much more natural progression for me to be in the movie. Who’s to say whether the studio would’ve been willing to put someone in that role who hadn’t been able to prove something on a show as big as Heroes was at the time. So I think that segueway made some sense, and the sort of crossover fanbase. Those characters are so different, but they are similar in the way that both of them is dealing with a deeply rooted internal conflict. And dealing with it in totally different ways.

Is that something you see in yourself? Is there some sort of deeply rooted conflict, or duality, that you see in yourself and draw from?
Absolutely, yeah. I’m a Gemini, so I’ve definitely got sort of distinct aspects of my personality. One of them is generally really outgoing, easy and laidback, and the other is certainly more withdrawn and analytical and introspective. So yeah, I understand that duality from myself. And certainly I draw on aspects of that to play Spock. And I also understand the mind versus the heart element of the Spock journey, of his makeup.

Can you elaborate on that?
Ummm, I think I operate from that place; I look at things from many different perspectives and angles. I’m sort of very psychological; I’m really interested in psychology and psychological points of view. But at the same time I’m visceral and emotionally rooted, so anytime I have to make a decision — for instance, business decisions are really hard for me to make. It’s hard for me to extricate the personal connections that go along with business relationships in order to make a clear-cut decision. So that kind of stuff gets cloudy sometimes. But yeah, I have a lot of different sort of energies that sometimes come together, and I think there’s similarities between that and some of the characters that I play.

I guess that’s reflected in your education too — like studying at a hyper-engineering school like Carnegie Mellon, but majoring in something as arty as drama.
Yeah, that’s a good example.

What’s next for you in the near future? Are you prepared for what really will be sort of a quantum leap in fame, and notoriety?
We’re leaving to travel around the world for seven weeks to promote the movie. So we’re gonna be in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, all of Europe, Mexico City — it’s gonna be a pretty remarkable trip, an experience. But it really helps I like the people that I’m going through it with: my fellow actors, and all the creative team that’ll be on the trip with us. They’re incredible people that I love hanging out with, so that’ll make it easier. It’s not a bunch of dicks!

Well, you must already be accustomed to a fair share of recognition — you’re probably the best-known, or most recognizable person out of all of them.
I mean, no, I don’t really qualify it like that. But I will say that like, this is the biggest thing that a lot of us have done so far. So it’s nice because we’re all going through it together, and we’re all there for each other as we’re going through it. When you look at relationships in this town, they’re forged by people who are likeminded and work well together. Like Judd Apatow has this stable of actors who he’s worked with since Freaks & Geeks, that are all incredible and that serve his sensibility and his point of view. And sort of the Brad Pitt/George Clooney/Soderbergh connection, so I look at this experience in a lot of ways like you can’t rush it; something has to be built. And it is built through experience, and it is built through understanding, and through relating to people. Because you can’t relate to everyone about this stuff, and that’s another fascinating challenge about it. I can talk to people about it, but my cast — really, in my life right now — are the people that understand it the most, because it’s happening to them as well, and it’s a pretty unique set of circumstances.

It’s a good sign that you guys get along well like that, because it was that sort of intra-cast squabbling that tore apart the original Star Trek, no? Like, didn’t everyone hate William Shatner?
I didn’t know everyone hated him. Fans, you’re talking about?

No no — cast. Like George Takei has written whole books about his hatred of Shatner, and I don’t think Nimoy likes him much either. Because apparently they all blew up at the same time, but Shatner became a raging primadonna. Again, this is just what I’ve read.
Well, I’ve certainly gotten to know Leonard [Nimoy] very well through this process, actually spent a lot of time with him one-on-one and personally, and I’ve never really gotten in those kinds of conversations with him. So I don’t really know. But we’ve all made the commitment to one another, and certainly Chris Pine and I. I support everything he does, and really value his creative contribution to this movie and to my experience of it. And we hang out. He lives in the neighborhood as well so I run into him all the time, and he’s a really good guy, and I’m really looking forward to going through this with him. I can’t imagine ever finding a point where either one of us would behave in a way that would make anyone else feel alienated. That’s all I know — I can bring that to the table.

How was getting to know Leonard? Did he support the idea that this was a fresh start of the franchise?
Leonard really supported that notion, too. He made himself as available as I needed him to be the whole time I was prepping to start the movie. And then he’s in it, so he’s sort of integrally involved throughout. But yeah, he was only ever supportive, and only ever gave me information that I wanted or I needed. I really felt like for him — and I guess you’d have to talk to him about this specifically — but I got the sense that there was a gratitude that he was involved as much as he was, because I think it allowed him to pass the torch. I think he’s really excited to see the possibilities of a new iteration of this franchise, and it meant the world to have him so involved.

And I guess, needless to say, he liked you playing the role?
I hope! He contractually had a voice in casting this role, so I know he had to sign off on me playing the role. So from the very beginning I felt like I had that support. And just the hands we were in; I felt like we all gave over to JJ a lot of trust, and it was certainly warranted and well placed. But I really didn’t feel this pressure that everybody’s trying to assign to the situation, because when we made the announcement that I was playing the role literally sitting to my left was Leonard Nimoy, and to my right was JJ Abrams, and I felt like I’m in this line of people for a reason. And as much as I know that hard work brought me here, and hard work will keep me here, it’s also these people are an extension of the experience on either side of me, so I felt like I can’t really go wrong. I got the guy that started it and the guy that’s carrying it from here, so I’m just sort of in that process…


No Responses to “Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto Q&A”

  1. chesty larue says:

    wow – cool interview! zachary seems pretty down to earth, and hes great in the movie. it was siiiiick, and im not even a trekkie! how the hell did u guys get an interview with him???

  2. […] “How do you feel? … How do you feel? … How do you feel?” — Computer, “I do not understand the question.” — Spock, TVH (Photo credits) […]

  3. Nothing Like Spock says:

    This guy is nothing like what I envision as Spock. He doesn’t have the original Spock’s sense of humor (yes, he had one) nor the real Spock “look.” They tried to make him look like the real Spock, but they didn’t capture the essence of Spock. Plus, the guy can’t act. Zachary Quinto’s interpretation is a really lame version of the real Spock. I totally don’t get what the big deal is. Horrible casting in my opinion.

  4. SpockLover says:

    Well to begin with, I feel that I must announce my eternal love for Spock!! I feel that Zachary Quinto is an amazingly talented actor and his amazing portal of Spock totally honors and pays tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock!! There could not have been better casting for Spock than Quinto…any other choice would just have been an utter insult to Trek as a whole!! Obviously Quinto’s Spock hasn’t quite achieved the “original Spock sense of humor” because the Character in the new film has not quite reached the scale of the Spock that we all know and adore (from the original series and films)!! So I totally disagree with the bad judgment of anyone who doesn’t think that Quinto’s portal of Spock is nothing but incredible!!

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