This past weekend Paramount held their big press days including a multi-part press conference for Star Trek. JJ Abrams and his fellow producers and films stars talked about remaking Trek, shaping their roles, meeting Shatner, and more (including some plot spoilers). See below for excerpts.
At the press day yesterday Paramount split the press conferences into three parts, with different people in each panel. Here are the transcripts for key questions.
Excerpts from Press Conference 1: JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Bob Orci, Bryan Burk
[note Damon Lindelof was at LOST event in Paris]
Question: You are presenting a new face for Star Trek. What was the first thing for you in presenting this new face, what was the challenge and idea?
JJ Abrams: Well from the beginning when these guys and I and Damon Lindelof started working together, we all realized that we wanted to embrace certain tenants of Star Trek and maintain the spirit of the original, but make it relevant for today. So that was the big discussion as to what elements to maintain and which ones to update, and I think what the most exciting thing, and even though this thing was created almost fifty years ago, the ideas were as relevant for today, as if it had been created today. It didn’t take a lot to make it relevant. All the design decisions — there were eighty million small decisions — that was just everything was a choice. But, if you are doing Star Trek, do Star Trek. The silhouette of the Enterprise needs to be the Enterprise. I wanted at a glace for you to think ‘oh look it is the wardrobe, I get it’ but if you actually look at it, it had to work at a higher resolution, not just because of IMAX, but because the audience is very sophisticated now.
Question: How long did you search for someone to play Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock…was it pretty hard figuring out who you wanted?
JJ Abrams: The casting of the movie, and we knew this from the beginning, it was maybe the most important thing. Once we had the idea for the story and when I read the script, it was such an exciting read and I was thrilled to accept the challenge and try and take it on, but I was never worried about the visual effects, never worried about the design, what I was worried about was finding actors who would make this feel real, because the model that we all had, one of them, was the Superman that Richard Donner directed. Up until that point Superman had been a comic book, a campy TV show, it had been a cartoon, but the logline for that film was "you will believe a man can fly." And it was all about treating it with believability, with reality. And in my mind, that just hadn’t been done with Star Trek, I never felt it was real. A lot of that had to do with the resources that they had. I thought Spock would be the hardest to be cast, but then Zachary Quinto
walked in and I just gasped, it was so obvious he was born to play this role. Kirk was the last person to be cast. We kept looking, but it was hard. It had to be cocky, and smart and great looking, and quick and he also needed to be funny, and that was the magic ingredient we lucked out with this cast, every single member of this cast is funny. It not only made the shoot much more fun, but it also allowed the movie to have a sense of humor intrinsically so Star Trek, which has been parodied so many times, would not be laughed at.
Alex Kurtzman: There is another funny thing that happened in that process, which is that we saw actors who were — every adjective that JJ just used. But then you would have them read the dialog that the Captain has to read on the ship, the tech dialog, and it was like doooop [gestures down], it was totally unbelievable. And you realized that somebody who can do all those things and feel like they are the captain of starship is an incredibly tall order and when Pine came in he just nailed it.
Question (asked by TrekMovie): Over the last couple of years there has been a bit of a saga between yourself, JJ, and William Shatner, and last night you and Bill had a chance to get together, so can you talk about what it was like for the meeting of the two Kirks and with you and Bill?
Alex: It was awesome!
JJ: It was fun. Everyone was there to support a really good cause. Every year William Shatner has an equestrian event to raise money for children’s charities, it was a wonderful thing to go and support.
Bob Orci: I bid on and won a guitar signed by Willie Nelson.
JJ: Mr. Shatner obviously has a sharp sense of humor, which is why we needed to find someone like Chris. People said ‘oh so are you making amends?’ There was never a fight. It was all sort of good natured thing. He and I have spoken since the discussions we had online and all that crap, so it is has all been in fun.
Bob: He was a great host and he and Chris were all smiles, patting each other on the back and wishing each other luck and it was nice and warm.
Question: Should we write about this about being a prequel to Star Trek? And then with the space-time thing and Kirk dad being gone, does that preclude all the other films from happening?
Bob: It depends on your audience. If you are talking to fans it is a sequel. It is the continuing adventures of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. If you are a new audience member, it is an introduction to the world. That is part of the fun. We were trying to make a movie that you didn’t need to know anything about it because it was a story that hadn’t been told before, literally the origin story of how the bridge crew comes together for the first time. That is something that is interesting to fans, but it is also the exact right entry point for non fans.
Bryan Burk: It was kind of like when I was a kid and I saw Star Wars for the first time and obviously there were no films before it, but it came up and "Chapter IV" in the open, and I was like "was there something before this" but you were still able to jump into this brand new story.
JJ: Because of the story that we came up with, it avoids the prequel dilemma of the Star Wars example is a good one. I don’t care how excited and thrilling that sequence is, I know that Ewan McGregor lives because I have seen Alec Guinness play that character later. So you have that built in thing. A prequel can be a really tricky thing, if you see the films that follow, or precede in a linear timeline, it sort of undercuts the drama sometimes. What I thought was genius, was that it was it own sort of parallel universe.
Question: A couple of things came to mind when you were speaking of being true to the canon. I noticed in the crowd last night that the biggest response were to the tips of the hat, like when Bones said "dammit Jim, I am a doctor and not a physicist." Lines like that got a great response. So how precious could you afford to be with those? You could have sprinkled them throughout.
Bob: Yeah we want them to be precious. You expect those moments, but they have to be organic to the story. If they not coming out purposely in a scene where it really matters, then it would feel like they are just being shoehorned in. So we made sure that that was the right place for that line we know we wanted to have somewhere. And some didn’t make the cut.
Excerpts from Press Conference 2: Eric Bana, Clifton Collins, John Cho, Chris Pine, Anton Yelchin
Question (asked by TrekMovie): Chris, last night you had the chance to meet William Shatner for the first time. Can you talk about what that was like and would you have liked to work with him like Zach did with Leonard?
Chris Pine: I met him last night and he is a wonderful man and he does wonderful work with these charities that he is involved with. So with my time last night I really wanted to make it less about the kind of diplomatic meeting of Kirk and more about showing support for the work that he does, so our meeting was very brief, but he was very kind, sort like the letter that he wrote me wishing me the best of luck. I kind of hope some time soon to have a chance to sit down with him a bit longer and just kind of shoot the breeze with him. I know how I work and I know that if I had the kind of indomitable presence on set with Mr. Shatner, it would have been difficult for me to carve my own niche, and I felt that was the most important part of my job was to be free enough to do my own work. What Mr. Shatner did will never be copied ever again. It is that specific and that unique and culturally iconic. So the best I can do — really watching the series a lot of help me, just to
pick up little nuances here and there. But having now finished the process, I can’t wait to pick his brain about his experiences. I know that I won’t lie, I am definitely jealous of Zachary’s relationship with Mr. Nimoy. Mr. Nimoy is a fantastic, complicated, interesting kind of sage-like man, and I hope to foster a similar relationship with Mr. Shatner.
Question: Were you nervous meeting him, and what were his Shatnerisms?
Chris: Sure I was little nervous meeting him. It is one thing to write a letter and a whole other thing entire to just kind of "hey man, nice to meet you, I am that young kid who is playing your part." But again he is a warm wonderful guy, so there was no kind of sizing each other up or more dramatic than shaking hands and saying hello. And Shatnerisms? Well you watch the show, you know what Kirk does. What resonated for me was certain physical things. There is a way he holds his body and moves about the deck of the ship that is very — it is almost theatrical. You can see his theatrical training in his gait and the way he carries his body and sits in the chair. I can sit here and talk to you about little things and probably end up sounding to you like a moron. I picked up on certain things and talked to JJ about them and he agreed with me and we said ‘how can we kind of chart the growth of my character into what Mr. Shatner had done throughout the course of our movie, and
that led to certain inclusions.
Question (for Cho and Yelchin): How much did you take from George Takei and Walter Koenig.
John Cho: For me it was probably taking less from George and avoiding an imitation, just because he has that voice and he has become an icon as a person and an actor. I flirted with the idea a little bit, but it seemed like a really bad idea to an imitation.
Anton Yelchin: I watched the original series quite a bit and I really thought there is something so special about everything that Walter did and the decisions he made and the natural joy with everything that he did. It came out in the accent and in the physicality. And I tried to adapt that with this interpretation of his character as much as possible. But like John said, I didn’t want it to be an imitation, but I did want it to be that character and have that general sprit. And of course the accent.
Question: In the sixties the series talks about racism and the cold war…what is the thing now with Star Trek in the modern era? What talks Star Trek to us now?
John Cho: On one level it is a group of people who are of different nationalities and ethnicities and even species that are working towards a common peaceful mission. And I think that is a sentiment that is always cool decade after decade. And it seems particularly pertinent today.
Chris Pine: I think, and not to disparage any of these movies, but Dark Knight and Watchmen, they explore the darker side of human psychology and have way more of a nihilistic viewpoint than our story. I think our story has a certain niche in storytelling. I think at the end of this film you will end up smiling. The crew is together and working together. They have overcome the obstacle an they are looking for the future. It can sound cheesy and people can laugh, but I can’t think of a movie that has ended like that in a long time. And why not? Why not have a story that is positive and have people leaving the theater smiling? Especially in today’s age where people are wracked with economic crisis and people are losing their homes and there is war.
Eric Bana: Chris makes a good point. A lot of these movies have got darker and darker and darker over the years and it is hard as an adult to turn around to a ten year old kid and say "you can’t watch Batman and you can’t watch The Hulk and you can’t watch Star Trek." So when I read the script, it was very obvious that wow, this is a movie that those gates can be re-opened again to a portion of the audience…We all felt pretty good that this film was going back in that direction of being a little happier and young person friendly as well as being sophisticated enough and plenty there for adults clearly.
Question: Do you think the Trekkies around the world will take to the new movie?
Chris Pine: I think we certainly hope so. If you look at the team JJ assembled. JJ is the self-professed non-fan or started out that way. Then you people like Damon Lindelof and Bob Orci who are huge Trekkies, so I think that kind of balance behind the scenes hopefully showed up on screen. I think there are plenty of details and minutiae of the Trek canon to keep the hardcore fans connected to the material. I think there is new stuff that will hopefully invite a new generation of fans into the fold.
Eric Bana: The one thing I have experienced seeing the film with a massive audience is — there is something very unique about this film that the audience is collectively involved in the spirit of this film that is special. I think it is one of those films that people go out in the first couple of weeks and watch it in a jam packed are just going to have a unique cinema experience. There is this weird kind of positive energy towards the watching of this film and the experience people are getting. The first time I saw it was in Sydney at the world premiere, and there were sixteen hundred people, and I can tell you as an Australian, Australians don’t do standing ovations. And to see sixteen hundred people jump out of their seats at the end of that film and turn around face was seriously one of the most exciting moments in my film career to witness that.
Excerpts from Press Conference 3: Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban
Question (asked by TrekMovie): Karl, more than any of the other actors, you appear to be channeling the original actor, DeForest Kelley. Was that a conscious decision and something you and JJ worked on?
Karl Urban: As a long-term fan of the show, and I watched as a boy, I felt that if I were going to see this film, which I would, I would appreciate seeing some semblance of continuity with the character. So the task for me was to try and identify the spirit and essence of the wonderful work that the late Mr. Kelley gave, which I have such a deep sense of respect for, and really funnel that through my interpretation of what a younger version of that character would be. It was really very challenging and there were many times where I wasn’t sure where the line was, so I was very thankful in that I had a fantastic director in JJ to guide the performance. For me at times it was quite surreal to be on the bridge of the Enterprise and saying some of those truly iconic lines and a dream come true. I am truly thankful.
Question (asked by TrekMovie): As a follow-up for Leonard, what did you think of Karl’s performance and its similarity to that of DeForest?
Leonard Nimoy: Anthony in answer to your question, I think that the dialog for Spock and McCoy in this movie is the most idiosyncratic, because those characters do speak idiosyncratically. There is a certain kind of language they use and certain kind of sentence structure that apply to those two characters more than the others. So I think you would recognize them more in these performances which I think are excellent.
Question: Mr. Nimoy, talking about the Spock character has a resonance in this movie, but like a new way to see this character. Which things that you find out about Spock resonate today?
Leonard Nimoy: I think that Zachary’s performance and my performance bookend the character that was created in the original series and movies. What he is doing in this movie is shows us the origins of the Spock character, the struggle of the Spock character to find his own personal psychological design – the philosophy he is going to live by. And at the end this movie – coming to a point where there is a rather seamless connection to what he is doing and what I was doing in The Original Series. In my case, I am much closer in this movie to my own personal life right now, so it is not that much of a stretch to playing that Spock character in this movie.
As far as the outlook of the film, I think it is very timely. It is a film about hope, about the future, about a group of people who come together to solve problems. I happen to think it coincides wonderfully and excitingly with the current sense of optimism and hope we need in this country as a result of a new administration frankly. I don’t know what your political interests are but I don’t think it makes much difference. I think there is a new energy and hope for a new kind of thinking, a kind of interplanetary [laughs] — international thinking of coming together to solve problems. This movie for me deals with revenge and how empty and desolate the cycle of revenge can be, that will hopefully be applied to international relations. So I think it is a very timely film.
Question: And Zachary, any thoughts on the resonance of the Spock character?
Zachary Quinto: I think that the whole movie represents what Leonard is saying — diversity. When we meet this Spock and this Kirk, they are at exist at diametrically opposed ends of a spectrum of thinking. And through the course of this film they begin to soften the edges of resistance to any other way of thinking and in so doing understand that in unity exists advantage. And that is something that entire crew of the Enterprise represents coming from such diverse and disparate backgrounds to unify.
EXTRA SPOILERS IN SECTION BELOW
EXTRA SPOILERS IN SECTION BELOW
Question: I wanted to ask Zachary and Zoe about the quietly sexy romance that is happening between the characters. I didn’t know that Spock got that much action.
Zoe: I had so many reactions and they go in different stages. At first I really felt that JJ was out of his mind to do something like that. It was so bold. But after reading the script and having these characters sink in, Spock and Uhura really made sense. Whether you call it a misinterpretation of emotions or a deeper friendship or a simply love, it made sense to me given their personality types. She’s very driven, he’s very logical, he’s excellent at what he does, she strives for perfection, she absolutely hates Kirk so anything that resembles of the opposite of who he is something that she is going to be drawn to. I was very overwhelmed also with how dear it was for Spock to break in such a way and for her to be loved and her to allow this man to be the only one to call her by her first time let you know there is a bond there that is much bigger and deeper than we can imagine.
Zachary: I think it was one of the bolder reimaginings of the characters as we have known them in the past and for that I think it was a risk. And I think the risk pays off because I think it infuses the story with a certain amount of levity and humor between Kirk and Uhura and Kirk and Spock. But between Spock and Uhura I think it provides a kind of depth and Uhura provides a kind of canvas in a way to which express emotions he cannot otherwise express. And for me through the journey was really valuable.
Zoe: What’s better than a xenolinguist with a talented tongue, right?
Question: And what is your reaction Leonard?
Leonard: [shouts] Jealousy!