Even though he just turned twenty, Anton Yelchin has already built over two dozen acting credits in less than a decade, including two big movies this month, Terminator Salvation and a certain Star Trek movie. In our exclusive interview we talk about how this Russian-born actor shaped the role (and accent) for the new Chekov and much more. We also have a new image of Yelchin as Chekov.
[interview contains SPOILERS]
TrekMovie interview with Anton Yelchin
TrekMovie.com: I hate to do this but I am going to start off with the accent.
Yelchin: Well the accent is what makes it.
TrekMovie: In my review, it is one of the areas I had some difficulty with. I am one of those who would be OK with things being different. How much of a discussion with J.J. was there on the level of genuine ‘Russian-ness’ to put into it?
Yelchin: I wanted it to be close to the Chekov accent, I guess that is where our opinions differ. I have no problem doing a real Russian accent, but that wouldn’t be Chekov to me. The interesting thing about it is that his accent is a cold-war stereotype of a Russian person. And when I watched the series and the films, that is what I found interesting about it. And I adjusted it, it is not entirely the same, but Walter [Koenig] came on set and was like “that sounds like me.” And that is what was fun for me. As a person familiar with a Russian accent, and someone with Russian roots who can speak Russian and knows what Russian people sound like, it was fun to purposefully mess around with the Russian accent — to purposefully change what I thought a Russian accent was to suit that stereotype they had in the sixties.
TrekMovie: What does your family think of your version of Chekov’s Russian accent?
Yelchin: They think it’s great. We’re Russian, but not very Russian at the same time. There is no nationalism, there is no pride. It is a very difficult country to come from. I think they find it just as amusing as I did.
TrekMovie: I noticed that for the world tour you only did one stop, Moscow.
Yelchin: [laughs] Yeah, that was a no-brainer.
TrekMovie: What was the reaction from the Russian press to your portrayal?
Yelchin: They love it. There are certain things in the movie that are very Russian that is difficult for an American audience to pick up on. Like when [Kirk and Sulu] free fall and I capture them and I say something in Russian… [says Russian phrase]…it means “Oh man!” basically, which is something I ad-libbed. Which goes back to what I was saying. Chekov never speaks Russian in the series, and that was Russian slang. And that that is something I decided to add just for the hell of it because JJ [Abrams] said ‘throw in some Russian, let’s do it for fun.’ It was just a moment that needed some kind of reaction, and they loved it out there. It is one of those things that Russian people get. I think Russian people are very happy with Chekov because he is one of the few Russian characters in American pop culture history that is not the Red Dawn kind of Russians.
Yelchin as Chekov at his station on the bridge – a positive view of a Russian (with a 60s stereotype accent)
TrekMovie: Right, there is nothing villainous about him. In fact, there is something new about this Chekov that I liked, which is that he is this kind of genius. He is seventeen, but already out of the Academy, so he must have gone in when he was pretty young. And Chekov figures out how to save them from the free fall and how to get onto the Narada. So this Chekov knows his physics and science, did you do any research to help you understand that angle?
Yelchin: No, most of my research involved reading the Star Trek Encyclopedia and watching the series and doing Trek research.
TrekMovie: You did a lot of that, Chris [Pine] said that after watching the first half of the first season he stopped.
Yelchin: I kept going. I loved it. I even watched the episodes that Chekov wasn’t in. The ones that he was in I found interesting, like when they go to a bar in “The Troubles With Tribbles” and they have a drink, I liked that. And that one with Apollo and the hand [“Who Mourns for Adonais”], I thought that was hilarious. I really got into the show.
TrekMovie: Which one was your favorite?
Yelchin: Probably the one with Apollo. I think is such an intelligent episode. It is an episode where the basic point is that humanity — looking at it in terms of the 60s when men are their own gods and look at where they brought their universe to. It was such a fascinating, touching, weird thing to have an episode where men come to a planet where a god wants to be a god again. I also love the episode where Spock is PMSing and where Kirk has to fight Spock [“Amok Time”].
“Who Mourns for Adonais,” Yelchin’s favorite TOS episode
TrekMovie: Now in this film you never get off the ship…
Yelchin: I barely get off the bridge!
TrekMovie: So what would you like to see for Chekov’s arc going forward?
Yelchin: I don’t know, I haven’t given it much thought and I agree with Chris [Pine] that it is kind of presumptuous to sit around and think about sequels before this comes out. It would be great to play this character again and I just got started with it. I got to do what I got to do, but it would be fun to see where I could take it.
TrekMovie: You are in two big May movies. How would you describe the differences between working on Terminator Salvation and Star Trek, and the differences between McG and J.J.?
Yelchin: Well first of all the visions between the two movies is so different. The universe of Star Trek is a very positive, optimistic universe. And in Terminator it is just the most f–ked up universe, to put it bluntly. So it was two totally different characters and two totally different looks. The closest this Trek movie comes to Terminator is Nero’s ship, but even that is not as disgusting as the filth-ridden universe of Terminator. The sets, costumes, and the philosophy behind it is totally different. The philosophy of Terminator is: what makes us human in the face of us losing all humanity and being destroyed — how can we preserve our humanity? With the characters, Chekov is like the Star Trek universe, joyous, fun. Kyle Reese is anxiety-ridden, paranoid, angry, unhappy, the list goes on — vulnerable, not to say Chekov isn’t vulnerable, but just in a different way. And that is just the difference between the films.
The sets were different, but I had a great time working on both. There is a great cast and crew here with Trek. J.J. is a wonderful filmmaker to work with. I really think he makes these kinds of films so well. I am so happy with this movie. And it is a cast of similar kind of young men and women. It’s funny though, on Terminator for the first time, I wasn’t the youngest member of the cast. There was girl that was seven, and I was like “yes, finally!” McG and J.J. are very different people. J.J. is very funny and very intelligent and witty, but not does not nearly put as much of himself out there as a human being. When he walks into a room, you may not know it. But when McG walks into a room, you hear McG right away. That was really different, but they are both really collaborative. If you offer an idea to J.J., that idea will get on film, and the same with McG. They are both really enthusiastic about what they are doing. They both love the franchises they are working with and want to honor them and do the best possible job with them.
Yelchin as Kyle Reese in the very different future of Terminator Salvation
TrekMovie: You mentioned bringing ideas. Can you talk about some examples of things that you brought that ended up on film?
Yelchin: Well that one Russian line and idea. And [in the scene running towards the transporter room] the freedom to run how I wanted to or to yell what I want to yell as I am pushing people out of the way. A lot of their jump sequence was ad-libbed. J.J. was like ‘just throw stuff out’. He just fully embraces your understanding of the character and works with you to achieve his vision, but factors in your vision as well.
TrekMovie: You spent a lot of time at your console on the bridge and the console in the transporter room. Did any of the set designers ever tell you ‘this button does this, and that button does that’? So when Pike issues an order, you know what button to push?
Yelchin: Me and John Cho kind of sat down the first day and talked to J.J. said that because this is going to become the way for us to do things, we need to figure out what is what. We really kind of stuck to doing the same things over and over again. We also got these neat little space pens, like when I come up with the solution. No one sat us down so it was up to us and John and I really coordinated what we were doing to make sure it looks legitimate.
Up Next – Romulans (Bana and Collins)
This week’s series of Star Trek interviews will conclude a couple of Romulans, Eric Bana, and Clifton Collins, Jr. Look for that by Saturday.
Other final pre-movie exclusive interviews at TrekMovie:
- Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
- Leonard Nimoy
- Zachary Quinto
- Zoe Saldana
- John Cho
- Karl Urban
- Bruce Greenwood
- JJ Abrams
Also check out:
- Premiere red carpet interviews (including Simon Pegg)
- Los Angeles Press Conference (including Chris Pine)