Anton Yelchin: From "Charlie" to "Chekov"
Jump into the WayBack machine and remember when cute, 18-year-old Anton Yelchin was a mere tyke co-starring with Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis. The Russian-born actor recently co-starred with Justin Timberlake in the dark drama Alpha Dog and will co-star with Mischa Barton in Finding t.A.T.u. This week, catch Anton as a sort of modern Ferris Bueller combined with Tom Cruise in the classic Risky Business in the darkly funny and totally teen-relatable film Charlie Bartlett. The young actor plays an optimistic high school underdog winning popularity as a bathroom stall shrink to his classmates; solving their problems and dispensing prescription drugs.
The biggest news for Anton at present is that he's playing Chekov, the Russian-born navigator of the USS Enterprise in the upcoming new Star Trek film! We wanted to know all about Charlie, Chekov and Anton's own high school experiences so we cornered him briefly at a beach hotel in California recently to get the scoop!
TeenHollywood: Anton, what was it about the Charlie character that you really liked?
Anton: It really was the optimism. It was the honesty of him. Although I am honest but I am not optimistic all the time. I just thought it was a great way to explore life. Whether I could approach life [like that] was a different question. I thought it would be really interesting to look into that. He really is sort of an incredible person.
TeenHollywood: You started acting at a young age. Did you have a normal high school experience?
Anton: Yeah, I went to a public high school. There were years when I would miss like half a year. But I got enough high school to know I seriously disliked it.
TeenHollywood: Why was that?
Anton: To me high school, or school in general, is such an unhealthy place. Every teenager is this incredible hormonal explosion. Then they put a thousand of them in one place. It is like putting hot air in a balloon, you know what I mean? Who ever came up with the idea wasn't thinking very straight. You are supposed to come up with healthy, normal people. But you are putting all these imbalanced people together and expecting them to learn. It makes no sense to me. That's sort of the attitude that I came to school with every day. I would just try to get out as fast as I could. I chose classes that ended early. I don't even remember my last year. I would sit through English. I would sit through whatever my next class was and then I would get out. That was my goal.
TeenHollywood: Were you in a clique in school?
Anton: Most of my friends from high school became friends because we all had a common interest in music. We sort of played in bands together or really appreciated music and got together to jam. That's what unified my circle of friends.
TeenHollywood: Sounds like you weren't much like your character Charlie. He's kind of a young entrepreneur.
Anton: No, no not at all. Maybe that would have made my days a bit more exciting, [he laughs] but no.
TeenHollywood: What was it like working with Robert Downey Junior? A few years ago, he could have played Charlie. Now, he plays a kind of messed-up school principal.
Anton: It was really just incredible to work with him. It was really one of the first experiences that I have had where I would consciously sit and learn from someone. I would sit and watch him in such utter amazement because of his range and his understanding of the freedom he has as an actor. It's so eye-opening as to the amount of things you can do within the confines of the story and the scene. Watching him just experiment with what he wanted to do and then finding the right thing to do was so incredible. I loved being off camera and just watching him work. I think he is like no other actor out there. Robert is in his own sort of category.
TeenHollywood: What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?
Anton: Like I said, I am not always an optimist and so I am prone to complaining about so many things. My dad has said this to me over the past couple of years. I ended a sentence with 'and that's not fair.' And my dad, in his infinite wisdom, said 'who said anything was fair?' I know it is a cliche to hear that but when you really realize that you shouldn't look at life as to whether it is fair or not fair, there is something so great, so simple, intelligent and wise in that statement. I think the filmmaking world is even less fair, so to speak, than a lot of the worlds. If you look at it as 'it is what it is' that advice is so right on. It sucks. There is no getting around it. It is not always going to work out. You just have to make what you can make of it. And that is some of the greatest advice I have ever gotten.
TeenHollywood: Is not being overly optimistic part of your Russian heritage?
Anton: Yes. Yes. Most likely.
TeenHollywood: Are there other things?
Anton: I am sure there are a ton. Maybe brooding. I feel like it has its origins in Russia. Just the nature of the word. To brood. Like it is some how instilled. It is instilled in about 2 or 3 % of the population. And it is weird. Russia is very complicated. It has one of the most complicated histories. It produces Dostoyevsky and Rachmaninoffs. and then it produces Stalins and Lenins. It is such a strange combination. I don't know why that rant about Russia was necessary [he laughs].
TeenHollywood: You are working on the "Star Trek" film now. How awesome is that set of the Enterprise?
Anton: Oh it is pretty great. We were shooting this scene yesterday and you really just realize how epic it is. That word is so overused but it really is kind of epic. It's pretty Epic! You just sit there and you're like 'God D**n, I'm on the Enterprise'. Would I ever have thought that I would be on the Enterprise? No. It is just pretty great. It's a pretty different experience though.
TeenHollywood: Sounds exciting. How is your Chekov Russian accent?
Anton: I think it is pretty good. IT IS GREAT! My accent is incredible. No, The thing is about Walter Koenig [the original Chekov] is that his accent was interesting. It was sort of like all of us had to make the choice of what we wanted to take from the original and what we wanted to bring into it. There are certain things that I took from like the fact that he would replace every 'v' with a 'w', which is weird. I don't really know where that decision came from. But, regardless, I thought it was important to bring that to the character.
TeenHollywood: Are you trying to stick a lot to the original characterizations?
Anton: I talked to J.J. [Abrams, director] a lot about what he wanted. His thing was 'we're not making something that is supposed to be the old Star Trek'. He's making his own movie but I think people want to see what they love so we're all trying to find things that will remind people of the old characters so it's been interesting just picking up on little things. Chekov is like the weirdest guy. Watching the old show makes you realize just how strange...like how incredible was it that they brought a Russian character on right smack in the middle of the Cold War? There's one scene [from an old TV episode] where they're talking to Apollo or the God that used to be Apollo, and he's like 'I am Apollo!' and Chekov is like 'And I am the Czar of all the Russias!' That's not how I'd choose to do the accent but they gave him these lines...it really is the weirdest, weirdest character. It's a lot of fun.
TeenHollywood: Were you a Trekkie beforehand?
Anton: No. I love the old show. I really think the old show, for what it was, was really a great, 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 that looks like it was made out of styrofoam and Spock says like 'Oh, this is definitely advanced technology' and you're like 'yes. Yes. That is advanced technology'. [laughs] But it's fun. It's really a fun show to watch.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.