This month is a big one for Anton Yelchin — maybe the biggest in his life. With roles in a pair of high-profile summer releases — Star Trek and Terminator Salvation — Yelchin’s life has lately become a blur of flashy premieres around the world and press junkets at five-star hotels.
But he’s trying to keep his wits about him. “These are all kind of the superficial elements of these kinds of features,” he says, shrugging at the plush Beverly Hills hotel suite he’s camped out in. “It’s beyond the reason I do what I do.”
Yelchin is already enjoying the top spot at the box office with Star Trek, in which he takes over the role of Russian navigator Pavel Chekov — not much of a stretch for the Leningrad-born Russian-American, who came to the U.S. as a toddler with his figure-skating parents after the fall of the Soviet Union.
For Yelchin, who is mostly known for smaller films like Charlie Bartlett and the TV series Huff, working on summer blockbusters is less a job than a chance to fulfill some childhood fantasies. “Suddenly felt like I was five again,” he says. “I used to be on this set in my mind in my backyard. It was a weird kind of nostalgia.”
But unlike the franchise reboot of Star Trek, his next big summer film has the daunting task of picking up where a less-than-stellar previous installment left off. “I went into this thinking this isn’t going to be T3” he says, referring to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. “We’re going to try and take this more seriously,” Yelchin says.
And part of taking it more seriously meant the cast being more involved with the screenplay (by the same writers as T3). “I came to Albuquerque with a set of guidelines and a breakdown of (my character) Kyle Reese, and I wasn’t going to change those guidelines to change the script,” Yelchin explains. “Every scene needed to be adjusted.”
It’s no coincidence that Yelchin, just two months past his 20th birthday, has aspirations beyond acting. “I love filmmaking. I really am a movie geek. I’m obsessed with them,” he says. He’s even working on a screenplay — “a movie about teenagers, but kind of a self-conscious look at teenagers.”
And he shouldn’t have much trouble moving behind the camera, since he practically grew up in film school. “It’s the best free education you could get, just to work on a movie set and work with guys that know so much about what you’re doing. You don’t need to go to film school when you’ve had the opportunities that I have.”
But with box office returns like he’s been seeing, it might be a while before Yelchin gets a spare moment to get behind the camera.