SANTA MONICA, California — Oh, to be the eyes of Anton Yelchin.
The 18-year-old actor has hung with Justin Timberlake ("Alpha Dog"), had his own Ferris Bueller-like starring role (this week's "Charlie Bartlett"), and has spent the past few months getting a top-secret peek at one of the world's most-anticipated blockbusters. This week, Yelchin beamed himself into the MTV studios to take us where no one has gone before — and the new Pavel Andreievich Chekov did not disappoint.
"It's going to be very cool," the young actor said of "Star Trek," the May 8, 2009, reboot of the classic sci-fi series, being overseen by "Lost" mastermind J.J. Abrams. "J.J. is awesome to work with, and it's fun to find yourself on the spaceship with aliens and have sh-- blow up."
Wait a minute. Did he just say there are aliens on the bridge of the new U.S.S. Enterprise? "I'm hanging out with aliens; there are aliens on the ship," he clarified, comparing the starship's interplanetary vibe to the "Star Wars" creature cantina. "[There are] all sorts — it's a multi-ethnic film. There are lots of alien ethnicities."
In the years since the original "Trek" depicted Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) working alongside a human crew, various incarnations have occasionally shown nonhuman crew members, like android Data or half-Borg Seven of Nine. But according to Yelchin, Abrams' depiction of the "Trek" crew's early days will reveal dozens of distinctive-looking aliens helping to run the ship.
"The aliens are people that sit through, like, three hours of makeup to become that oh-so-special alien in the shot," Yelchin grinned, adding that they're much more than generic creatures with green skin and big eyes. "They're good; they're Enterprise aliens."
Speaking of aliens, Yelchin said one of the biggest thrills of the "Trek" shoot was working alongside the new Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the original version as well. "It's great that Nimoy is in it," he said of the 76-year-old actor. "We did a [publicity] photo shoot with him, and that was really great. I got to literally stand next to him. Obviously, Spock is a great character, and it's great to have two Spocks in the movie. Two Spocks are better than one."
But contrary to rampant rumors, the time-warping prequel won't be bringing back other original stars to give us multiple Captain Kirks, Uhuras or Sulus. "No," he revealed. "That's the only one."
But even though 71-year-old Walter Koenig won't be reprising his role as Russian Starfleet officer Pavel Chekov, he did give Yelchin the thrill of meeting up to compare notes. "He was on set, and I talked to him for a while, and I was really nervous," Yelchin admitted sheepishly. "I was like, 'Oh my God, he's gonna come on set and say I suck!' But, he was really gracious and happy about what we were doing. I talked to him about a couple of things."
Their discussions included Koenig's accented line deliveries over the last few decades, which — depending on whom you ask — are either beloved, all wrong or a combination of the two. "That's a trademark Chekov thing, the V's [being pronounced as W's], so there's a lot of that in the film," revealed the Russian-born Yelchin. "I did take the V/W thing, because I thought that was really [iconic]. We are doing our own thing, we aren't remaking the old show, but the whole goal is to do your own thing and be original, while being respectful."
But don't expect to hear the character's most classic "Trek" phrase. "I actually don't say nuclear 'wessels,' " Yelchin admitted.
As the die-hards know, another Chekov trademark is his unfortunate tendency to get captured, tortured and/or injured on a semi-regular basis. In Abrams' flick, the character won't suffer such indignities. "Not in this one," Yelchin sighed in relief. "He's at the right place at the right time in this one. ... I don't know if it has anything to do with being cooler, but he doesn't get his; he's safe."
Recently, the flick was pushed back from late '08, disappointing many fans eager to return to outer space. Yelchin, however, is glad that Abrams will have more time to hone his vision. "I'm fine with that. ... [May] is the start of a bigger season for these types of large-scale films," he said. "Now that the writers' strike is finished, there's a little less pressure, and we can take our time with it."
Asked which scene he is most eager to watch on the big screen, Yelchin wasted no time. "The end, when you see us all together," he said of a pivotal moment that unites Chekov, Spock, Kirk (Chris Pine), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the iconic "Trek" crew members. "I can't explain how you get to see us all together, but it's pretty epic. ... You're on the Enterprise, and you just know it feels so epic. We shot the last scene in the film, and you see everyone in the gold, and the blue, and the red.
"It's great even if you're not a Trekkie," Yelchin promised. "It's an exciting thing, because it's such a big pop-culture element."
Check out everything we've got on "Star Trek."
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