Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin on Remaking Trek
In my final installment of interviews with the cast behind the J.J. Abrams-directed reboot of Star Trek, I've collected some of the highlights from conversations I had with the actors who play Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin). As if such a lineup wouldn't be fun enough to sit down with, I somehow missed the publicist's announcement earlier in the week that I'd also be meeting none other than Leonard Nimoy -- the man who originally played Spock and, this time around, returns as a much older version of Quinto's incarnation. It was pretty hard for me not to bounce up and down like a tween at a Jonas Brothers' concert, but I managed to control myself. Mostly. Here's what came of it all ...
Cole Haddon: Zachary, let's start with you. It's easy to see now, but when you were young, did people ever tell you you looked like Spock? And, of course, what was it like working with Mr. Nimoy?
Zachary Quinto: No, I never really heard it, although I certainly was sporting a Spock bowl cut when I was 12. I have pictures to prove it. I might dig them out at some point. And obviously working with Leonard was an incredible honor and the whole experience for me was so fulfilling beyond my wildest expectations, in terms of just getting to know him and understanding how this character has formed his creative processes and life. It was great fun. I got asked a lot if there was pressure because of Leonard's involvement, and my response is always to the contrary, actually. Having him as a resource and such a generous available support system made it much easier for me to step into the experience.
CH: Did you study his performances at all? Maybe how he moved?
ZQ: I didn't, really. I mean, in preparation for production I did not go back and watch the original series or films. Leonard and I watched a couple episodes together, and talked about his experience shooting those episodes, but aside from that, I felt that it was incumbent upon me to determine my own relationship with this character. That was the mandate that J.J. set forth very early on in the process. We were expected to use the foundation as a point of entry into our own experiences with the characters.
CH: Karl, were you a fan of the original series? And did you go back to them at all to find DeForest Kelley's rhythm? [Kelly played Dr. "Bones" McCoy way back when, but passed away almost a decade ago.]
Karl Urban: Yes, I would define myself as a longtime fan of the original series. I watched it as a boy, religiously, every Saturday morning. About two years before I found out that they were making this new Star Trek, I bought the entire DVD box set and watched it with my son. So, you know, sort of about the time that they started casting, I didn't necessarily need to go back and study up. I felt that I knew the characters, and the archetype, and the relationships really, really well. And so, for me, I feel a little bit like one of the lunatics that gets to drive the bus in the asylum. So, it was a wonderful experience.
ZQ: If I may just follow up on that. Karl actually stole his son's model Enterprise, and carried it with him on tour.
KU: I did. And it broke, so I need to get a new one. But it was mine. It was my Star Trek toy when I was a kid, and I took it around to all these locations around the world that we went to, and we put it in photographs with all the cast members.
John Cho: Although I wasn't a Trekkie, my primary connection to the show was just being excited about George Takei [the actor who originally played Sulu] being on television, and just yelling across the house, "There's an Asian guy on TV! There's an Asian guy on TV! Come quick! Come quick! He may disappear! He may disappear! Hurry up! Come now!" But, yeah, it was just a dream come true for me. What I did in this movie, flying a spaceship and having a sword fight, is exactly what my younger brother and I would do for hours and hours as children, so it's weird to get paid to do that. We received no payment, oddly enough, as children, to do that.
CH: For John, Anton, and Zoe, did you guys get the chance to meet the actors who originally played your roles?
JC: I wrote George a letter after I got the role, and asked if we could sit down and have a meal, and he was very, very sweet. I was a little nervous and I told him so, just because he casts a pretty large shadow. He said, "Hey, John, relax. They're going to be calling me 'the old guy who played John Cho' in a few years, so go forward and be cool." It put me in the right frame of mind.
Anton Yelchin: I was just really worried about meeting [Walter Koenig, who originally played Chekhov] during the actual shooting of the scenes. He [thankfully] came on set once I was done with the majority of them, and he was just very kind and wonderful and, actually, complimentary. It meant a lot to me to meet him and hear what he had to say and what he thought. I was really kind of honored by his presence there.
**Mild Spoilers Below**
CH: Zoe, what did you think of Uhura's relationship with Spock? It might shock a lot of old-school fans.
ZS: If there was a camera showing you guys when I was in that office [reading the script for the first time]. They locked us in the office at [J.J.'s company] Bad Robot, and we had to read the script, and I dropped it and I grabbed my Blackberry, and I kept saying, "This man's crazy! J.J.'s out of his mind. I'm not that aware about Star Trek, but I do know that they never mingled. It's crazy!" And then once I finished the script, it made so much sense. They have the most similar characteristics. I almost feel that she had this sort of admiration for Spock because he was older and sort of this teacher, that it was this crush or a platonic infatuation with someone that's wiser, wittier, handsome, pointy ears ... It's just, "Why not?"
CH: Mr. Nimoy, why was this new Star Trek the ideal chance to bridge the old Star Trek with the new?
Leonard Nimoy: These people, the makers of this film, have, I think, re-awakened in me the passion I had when we made the original film and series. I was put back in touch with what I cared about, what I like about Star Trek, and why I enjoyed being involved in Star Trek. So it was an easy way to come on home.
CH: Did you miss William Shatner during the production?
LN: Bill and I are very, very close friends and we have been for a very, very long time. Did I miss him? I can't honestly say that that's the right word to describe my feelings about this process and having him not being in the movie. I was aware that he wanted to be in the movie. I was aware, I think, that the filmmakers and the writers spent time with him to try to find a process where he could be involved. But it didn't work out. I don't know exactly why. I wasn't involved in those discussions and meetings. I didn't see the material presented to him, if they did. I pointed out to him that we're even now, because he acted in one of the Star Trek movies that I was not in, and he had to admit that that was true. And we're over it. I think it's history.
CH: And did you give any tips to Zachary about how to play Spock?
LN: I think that [Zachary] made some choices that I thought were wonderful surprises to me, in playing the Spock that he played in this film. We did not talk about specifics, like, "Do this," or "Don't do that." We had very general conversations about the philosophy of the character, the psychology of the character, the philosophy of Star Trek, the fans' reactions to various aspects of Star Trek. But there were no specific instructions. There was no need for that, there was no call for that. But watching him in the film, I'm very proud of what he did. And I think we have book-ended the character. He has created a Spock that comes before the Spock that I portrayed in the series, and I'm playing a Spock that comes much, much later and much more resolved, and is, I think, much closer to who I actually am today. So I think it works extremely well. And I admire his talent.
CH: Zachary, can you talk about that fine line of playing a character that is supposed to be emotionless, but does have some emotion, and not overdoing a lack of emotion?
ZQ: Well, I think it's a common misconception that Spock doesn't feel emotion. I think he feels emotion very deeply, but he's just restricted in the ways that he can express it. I think actually, to speak on the earlier question about the relationship between Spock and Uhura, that dynamic provides a lot of levity and humor between Kirk and Spock, between Kirk and Uhura. But between Spock and Uhura, I think it actually represents a depth, whereby Uhura is a canvas on to which Spock can project the emotion that he is not able to express himself. For me, it was about cultivating a deeply rooted inner life and not being able to do much other than to hold on to it. Which can be frustrating as an actor, especially when around me, my fellow actors are emoting and running about having a good time. Obviously, it's a formidable challenge, and one that I was really excited to be faced with.
CH: And finally, Mr. Nimoy, was there any scene in the final movie that left you especially nostalgic or choked up?
LN: When Karl Urban introduced himself as Leonard McCoy and shook hands with Chris Pine [as Captain Kirk], I burst into tears. I thought that performance of his would be so moving, so touching, so powerful, as Dr. McCoy that I think [DeForest Kelley] would be smiling, and maybe in tears as well. And [Zachary and Zoe], I think, were wonderful together, and this is such a passionate performance by Zoe that I was so pleased to be a part of this movie, with all these good people.