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Interview: Anton Yelchin on playing music and being excitable in 'Rudderless'

Anton Yelchin, star of the musical-themed drama "Rudderless," talks about his own history with bands and playing a guy who talks a lot.

Anton Yelchin attends the premiere of "Cymbeline" at the Venice Film Festival. Credit: Getty Images Anton Yelchin attends the premiere of "Cymbeline" at the Venice Film Festival.
Credit: Getty Images

Anton Yelchin has been onscreen since he was a kid, but he’s also always been into music. The star of “Star Trek,” “Fright Night” and “Like Crazy” got to fuse them together for “Rudderless,” in which he plays an earnest, aspiring musician who gloms onto a drifter (Billy Crudup), who keeps showing up at open-mike nights with incredible songs. (Unbeknownst to him, Crudup’s character is grieving for his son, who died in a school shooting.)

How much of a musician have you been?

I feel like people call themselves musicians when they’re really not. It’s always been a hobby for me. I always enjoyed playing guitar and making music, or whatever my version of that is. I had a punk band with my buddies. It was just a crusty punk band. I howled my way through some fast, sloppy songs.

Did your band ever have the success the one you’re in in “Rudderless”?

My band mostly played packed garages. We were pretty lazy and we didn’t take it seriously. We would take any gigs we could get. We played some Sunset Strip bars — last act at midnight, playing to 10 people. Minute-and-a-half hardcore is not what people want to hear at midnight on a Sunday. Playing to the crowds in this film — it sounds silly, but it felt like being a rock star. You had a packed bar, a couple hundred extras freaking out over the songs. It gave me this incredible rush. It made me want to be in a band. Not that I’ve done anything about that, but I’d still like to.

It sounds like you actually went into a studio to record these songs.

This was my first experience doing that. We ended up laying down all the vocal tracks. Thankfully there’s Autotune. People hate on Autotune, and I understand why, because you should be able to sing to sound good. But we were making a film, and we could only get to a certain place. We worked pretty hard to learn the songs. We’re not professional musicians. Going into the studio and learning to harmonize is challenging.

Anton Yelchin plays an aspiring musician in "Rudderless." Credit: J.R. Cooke, Samuel Goldwyn Films Anton Yelchin plays an aspiring musician in "Rudderless."
Credit: J.R. Cooke, Samuel Goldwyn Films

Your character is incredibly, almost cartoonishly excitable.

Bill and I talked about the dissonance in his life. He plays music, but he doesn’t lead a happy life. He’s a lonely, alienated person. The speed at which he speaks is not equivalent to the amount of actual, valid, honest feelings that he’s relating about himself. He talks a lot, but you don’t really get to know him till much later in the film. All you know is he’s incredibly enthusiastic about music.

This is a drama, but it gets a lot of comic mileage out of your and Crudup’s character’s relationship, which features you talking a lot and him not wanting to ever talk.

Quentin just has this exploding verbal diarrhea every time he sees Sam, and then there’s the comedic elements of Sam not wanting to respond. What’s beautiful about it is they communicate through music. They’re able to say the things they want and need to say through the music they play. They’re hoenst with each other through songs. I thought that was true to life. The people you play music with, you share something with them about yourself, about feelings you have. You just share it in a different way. It’s important to treat musical language like a valid language of interaction.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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