Anton Yelchin was born in Leningrad, Russia (now Saint Petersberg) to figure skater parents Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin) who were the stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet for 15 years before they emmigrated to the US as refugees from political oppression when Anton was just a baby. In their new homebase of Los Angeles, the elder Yelchins became figure skating coaches (with Sasha Cohen as a notable client) and Anton began acting both in films and on television at the tender age of nine.
After well-received teenage appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Taken and Criminal Minds, Anton received great attention for playing kidnap victim Zack Mazursky opposite Justin Timberlake in last year's Alpha Dog. Now here in 2008, Yelchin sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to talk about taking on the title role in Charlie Bartlett (with Robert Downey, Jr. Kat Dennings and Hope Davids) and also being announced as a member of JJ Abrams new Enterprise crew for the upcoming Star Trek reboot...
Anton Yelchin: It really was the optimism and the honesty of him because, though I am honest, I’m not very optimistic most of the time. So I thought he was pretty great. He reminded me of Michael Corleone. I just thought it was a really great way to approach life. Whether I could approach life similarly was a different question, but I thought it would be really interesting to look into that and explore that. He really is an incredible person, to be able to get into his head.
EI: You have been acting since you were very young: Did you actually go to a 'regular' high school?
AY: I went to a public high school. There were years where I would miss, half a year or something, but I got enough of high school to realize that I severely disliked it. Most of my friends that are my friends from high school, we became friends because we all had a common interest in music, so we would play in bands together and really just appreciate music, and get together and jam together. So that’s really what unified my circle of friends. To me, school in general is such an unhealthy place because every teenager–there is just this incredible hormonal explosion, and they put 1,000 of them in one place! It’s like putting hot air in the balloon.
Whoever came up with the idea wasn’t thinking very straight. You are supposed to come out normal, healthy people, but you are putting all of these unbalanced people together and expecting them to learn. It makes no sense to me, so that’s sort of the attitude I came to school with every day, and I would just try to get out as fast as I could. So I chose classes that ended early. I don’t even remember my last year because I would get to school, I’d sit through English, I’d sit through whatever my next class was, and I’d get out. That was my goal.
EI: How was working with Robert Downey, Jr. as your Principal?
AY: It was really just incredible to work with him. It was really one of the first experiences that I had that I would consciously sit and learn from someone. When I was younger, I’d work with people and I’d obviously be learning from them, but it would be sort of an afterthought. Once I’d finished, I’d realize what I’d gotten. But with Robert, I’d sit and watch him in such utter amazement because his range and his understanding of the freedom that he has as an actor is so eye-opening. Just the amount of things you can do and the freedom that you have—obviously, within the confines of the story and the scene–but watching him experiment with what he wanted to do and finding the right thing was so incredible.
It really was an amazing experience. I loved being off camera and watching him work. I think he is like no other actor out there. Robert is in his own category of actors, with the way he approaches the characters that he does and the way he uses his body. It’s really just incredible to watch and to learn from.
EI: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
AY: Like I’ve said, I’m not always an optimist. I’m prone to complaining about so many things. This is recently, actually. My dad had said this to me over the past couple of years, but I was complaining about something and I ended the sentence with, “and that’s not fair!” And my dad, in his infinite wisdom, was just kind of like, “Who said anything was fair?” And you hear that a lot. I know it’s a cliché to hear that, but when you really realize that you shouldn’t look at life at whether it’s fair or not fair, it just is what it is–there is something so great and simple, and intelligent and wise in that statement.
I think the world you find yourself in, like the filmmaking world or whatever, is even less fair, so to speak, than a lot of worlds. And if you look at it, it is what it is, that advice is so right on. Yeah, man, it sucks! But there is no getting around it. Yeah, it’s not always going to work out, and you just have to make what you can make of it. And that’s really some of the greatest advice I’ve ever gotten.
EI: Is being not optimistic part of your national heritage?
AY: Yes, most likely. I don’t know. I’m sure there are a ton of us that may be brooding. I feel like brooding has its origins in Russia, somehow–just the nature of the word, to brood. It’s weird, actually. It’s instilled in about two or three percent of the population. Russia is very complicated. I think it’s one of the most complicated histories. I could go on forever about this. It’s a very complicated world. It’s like a world that produces people. Working in Russia is difficult, but it produces Dostoevskys and Rachmaninovs, and then it produces Stalins and Lenins. It’s such a strange combination. I don’t know why that rant was necessary about Russia.
EI: How was working with Hope Davis again?
AY: It was great! It really was great. I was a little worried because what if she comes on set and says, “You were really great when you were little.” I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t live up to her expectations or something like that, but it really was wonderful to see her again and to work with her. There is an odd sort of comfort, I guess because, I had worked with her before and we had gone through the process of playing a mother and a son. We knew each other, and it was not someone I had to get used to or feel comfortable with. It was just someone I remembered and really fondly remembered, and it was great.
EI: It's an abrupt transition, I know - but I have to ask...How awesome is the new Enterprise set?
AY: It’s pretty great. We were shooting a scene yesterday, and you really just realize how epic it is. That word is so overused, but I really…it’s pretty epic. You just sit there and go, “Goddamn, I’m on the Enterprise! Would I have ever thought I would be on the Enterprise? No!” It’s pretty great, but it’s a pretty different experience, though.
EI: How is your accent?
AY: I think it’s pretty good. It’s great! [Laughs] My accent is incredible! It’s good. The thing about Walter Koenig is his accent was interesting. I think I’m just going to leave it at interesting. And we all had to make the choice of what we wanted to take from the original and what we wanted to bring to it.
There are certain things I took from the fact that he replaced every V with a W, which is weird. I don’t really know where that decision came from, but regardless, that’s a decision that he made and I thought it was important to bring that to the character. I talked to JJ a lot about what he wanted, and his thing was we are not making something that’s supposed to be the old Star Trek.
He is making his own movie, but there is a little, like, I think people want to see what they love, so we are all trying to find things that will remind people of the old characters. So it’s been interesting picking up on little things. Chekov was the weirdest guy. Watching the old show makes you realize just how strange it was and how incredible it was they brought a Russian character on right smack in the middle of the Cold War. There is one scene where they are talking to Apollo or the god that used to be Apollo in the old show, and Apollo is like, “I am Apollo!” And Chekov is like, “And I am the tsar of all the Russias!” And that’s not how I choose to do the accent, but they gave him these lines that, like…he really is the weirdest character. But it’s a lot of fun.
EI: Were you as much of a Trekkie as a kid as you are now?
AY: No, and I loved the old show. I really think the old show, for what it was, was really a great show. I watch it and really enjoy it. It’s so perfectly cheesy and B-, and absolutely unapologetic for it, and I think that’s what works. They shot this thing where they walk up to a cave and it looks like it’s made of Styrofoam and Spock says, “Oh, this is definitely advanced technology.” And you are like, “Yes! That is advanced technology.” But it’s fun. It’s a really fun show to watch.
'Charlie Bartlett' is in theaters now from MGM.
JJ Abrams 'Star Trek' reboot is scheduled to be released next year by Paramount Pictures.