This May, Anton Yelchin is boldly going from indie mainstay to sci-fi savior at warp speed. His vehicles for the journey: Star Trek and Terminator Salvation.
Even though he's nursing a wicked cold that occasionally leaves him sniffling, the 20-year-old Yelchin can't hide his happiness about portraying Chekov in Star Trek and Kyle Reese in Terminator.
From Los Angeles, the Russian-born actor holds forth on Green Lantern casting rumors, his Terminator obsession, and the ways in which his May movies are as different as a Tribble and T-101.
Newsarama: Anton, how does it feel to go from making movies that are shot on shoe-string budgets to doing two of Hollywood's priciest summer films?
Yelchin: It's been wild. I'm used to working on movies that cost 1/50th of the budgets of these films and take about a 1/50th as long to make.
Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov in 'Star Trek'
NRAMA: I'm guessing the catering budgets on Star Trek and T4 alone could have bankrolled a Charlie Bartlett or a House of D.
Yelchin: Probably. It was so great shooting Star Trek on the Paramount lot and being able to order food from any restaurant in town. But, then again, if the crew is going to eat lousy food, then I want to eat lousy food with them.
NRAMA: Now that you're in big blockbusters, did you have to hit the gym before shooting begins?
Yelchin: They actually had a martial arts boot camp for the cast on Star Trek. I did that with all of the guys even though I didn't really need to. I don't have any real action sequences but we had a blast doing that. For Terminator, they wanted me to be in shape but not too bulky. Kyle isn't really eating much in the movie. So I worked out every day but didn't bulk up.
NRAMA: When it comes down to the work, is it all the same?
Yelchin: Pretty much. The thing that ties everything together is that I still approach the characters the same way. The thing with these two characters is that it was a challenge to re-interpret these iconic roles and see how I wanted to portray these characters. There was a history there and - the way I saw it - a set of rules or a packet of information that I needed to use.
NRAMA: Chekov and Kyle Reese are almost diametrically opposed characters?
Yelchin: Both of these films are in the sci-fi genre but the vision of each film and the nature of each character couldn't be any more different. Chekov is positive, joyous, full of optimism and Kyle Reese is a warrior who's disturbed, angry, paranoid and vulnerable.
NRAMA: What attracted you to Star Trek?
Yelchin: Working with J.J. Abrams. If you're going to do this kind of movie, he's the guy to do it with.
NRAMA: Is it true you'd never seen an episode of Star Trek?
Yelchin: I think Star Trek is in the general consciousness. I knew who Spock, Scotty, and Kirk were. But, no, I'd never really watched the show. But when I started researching the series, I became fascinated with it and with the joy that Walter Koenig brought to the role of Chekov. Also, what's so great about the series is that when the Enterprise crew goes on a mission, they don't go off to conquer; they go off to learn about other beings. And most of the time, they wind up welcoming those other beings to their world.
NRAMA: Back in the '60s, in the midst of the Cold War, the series was groundbreaking for its inclusion of a positive Russian character. Was it important to you that the new movie retain some of Gene Roddenberry's sense of unity?
Yelchin: Yes, absolutely. Chekov is, honestly, one of the few positive Russian characters is American film and TV history. Roddenberry's vision of unity - that he saw us coming together in the future rather than falling apart - is a beautiful thing, especially in a world like ours where, more often than not, it seems as if we are coming apart. And that message pervades our film too.
NRAMA: J.J. Abrams has talked about how important it was to him that Star Trek be optimistic.
Yelchin: Right. To me, the micro message of the new film is about a diverse crew coming together but the larger message is about everyone in the world coming together. Our movie has such an incredibly positive vision of the universe in a time when even popcorn pictures project a dystopian vision of the future, and a distinct sense of doom.
NRAMA: And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Terminator.
Yelchin: Yes, it's a movie that's a whole helluva lot darker.
NRAMA: So, what got your juices flowing about that one?
Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese in 'Terminator Salvation'
Yelchin: I've always been a huge fan of the first two Terminators. They had a profound influence on me when I was kid. I just thought they were the coolest movies ever made. I had all of the action figures. I even had a little device that turned out gelatin Terminators. I was obsessed with those films. When the opportunity came up for me to be in this Terminator, I was honored. I never could have imagined me being a part of the Terminatoruniverse. It's like somebody saying to me, `Hey, they're making `Space Jam 2,' do you want to play Michael Jordan?' That was another '90s movie that had a huge influence on me when I was little.
NRAMA: The advance buzz on both Star Trekand Terminator Salvationis positive. Are you up the sequels?Yelchin: Of course, I'd be there for the sequels. But, first, I want to make sure these movies get out there and people appreciate them. But it would be so great to return to these [franchises] because it would mean more time and space to develop two of the most fascinating characters I've played.
NRAMA: I know you haven't decided on your next project yet but there's been a lot of buzz about you playing Green Lantern. Any truth to those rumors?
Yelchin: Honestly, when those reports hit the Internet, that was the first I'd heard of it. I think I'm too young. Maybe if I was 10 years older, I'd be right. It's such a great character and a great comic book. But I'm too young so I don't really think there's a chance of them coming to me with that one.