In revitalizing the more than 40-year-old Star Trek franchise — which hits theatres Thursday — J.J. Abrams knew that no aspect was more important than casting the crew of the USS Enterprise.

And while the challenge of finding actors to take on some of the most recognizable characters in film and television history was daunting, it was nothing compared to what the actors tasked with those roles faced.

In getting into the character of Spock, Zachary Quinto was lucky enough to have one of the best resources available right on set: Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, who also appears in the film. “He was so available and supportive and open to my questions, many of which had to do more with the impact playing this character had on his life,” Quinto says.

What came as a surprise to Quinto was how much time he ended up spending on one small but iconic aspect of Spock. “I did a lot of hand exercises to make sure I could do the Vulcan salute,” he remembers. “I would rubber-band my pinky and my ring finger together and drive around L.A. because I couldn’t do it at first.”

While Quinto had the luxury of interacting with his predecessor, Chris Pine only had the long shadow of William Shatner to contend with. (The two actors didn’t meet in person until a charity event in L.A. two weeks ago.) But Pine says he preferred not having the original Capt. Kirk hanging around. “I won’t lie, I am jealous of Zachary’s relationship with Mr. Nimoy,” Pine says. “But I know that if I had the kind of indomitable presence of Mr. Shatner on set, it would’ve been hard for me to carve my own niche.”

John Cho, who inherits the role of Sulu from George Takei, also had to tread carefully when developing his character. “He’s got that voice, and he’s become quite the icon as a person and as an actor,” Cho explains. “I flirted with the idea a little bit, but it seemed like a very bad idea to do an imitation.”

Karl Urban felt doubly responsible, being an actor as well as a longtime fan of Star Trek. As the acerbic Dr. (Bones) McCoy, DeForest Kelly was a major scene-stealer, and Urban doesn’t disappoint. “It was quite surreal to be on the bridge of the Enterprise and to be saying some of those truly iconic lines,” he says.

“The task for me was to try and identify the spirit and essence of the wonderful work that DeForest Kelly did and funnel that through my interpretation of what that character would be. There were many times where I wasn’t quite sure where the line was.”

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