Anton Yelchin's films include Charlie Bartlett, Alpha Dog, House of D, and Hearts in Atlantis (opposite Anthony Hopkins), along with memorable roles on TV's Huff and Curb Your Enthusiasm. His career is now in overdrive as he takes over the iconic roles of Ensign Pavel Chekov in Star Trek and Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation. Bryce Dallas Howard takes over the role of Kate Connor in the latter, following starring turns in The Village, Manderlay, Lady in the Water, As You Like It, and Spider-Man 3. I spoke briefly with the two young stars at San Francisco's Moscone Center on the occasion of WonderCon 2009.
Groucho: Let me start by asking you about bringing something fresh to roles established by other actors. In this film and in Star Trek, can you talk a little bit about what specifically you wanted to glean from the earlier performances and what you wanted to add?
Anton Yelchin: Well, with Kyle Reese, because I—being a huge fan of The Terminator, there was no way I was going in to this movie and not having that Kyle Reese be in this film. You know? I think there’s a tendency in stories about heroes when they’re younger to see them start off weak and get stronger. I just thought that was bullshit. I was "You can’t do that with this character—you can’t have a weak Kyle Reese that then becomes this hero." So he’s gotta be the hero from the start; he’s got to be that same character. And so I thought, "What, then, can I change, you know? How can I bring some anger and fragility too?" You see a lot of fragility in him with that scene with the picture of Sarah Connor. And just that general complexity, too—this kid—well, how can I sort of stretch certain parts of it? And what I thought was: maybe being part of the resistance has given him this foundation, you know, to consolidate his emotions and know exactly what he’s fighting for. Because in our film, he’s just surviving. Really, his whole goal is survival: survival and fighting the machines as sort of this independent entity with this girl Star. So I thought it would be interesting to see—maybe he’s even more emotional and vulnerable, you know? You know, maybe he gets angrier a little easier, a little more defensive, because he doesn’t have that target or that goal that he’s working with. You know, when you’re young—(catches himself) (With mock self-importance:) “When you’re young…” Uh, I was thinking about myself, you know? I don’t think in 20 years I’m going to be getting angry the same way that I do now. I'll have hopefully been able to control myself. Who knows, I could just go insane, you know? The point is, there’s a change that occurs in terms of your ability to deal with your emotions, and the way that you deal with them. So that was my goal, was to sort of push those and have him be just as heroic, just as angry, just as powerful, just as passionate, but maybe see—maybe there’s—he does spend his life watching people die and trying to survive...And with Chekov, I just kind of fully embraced Chekov. I just think it’s a wonderful character. I think there’s no point to losing the potential within Chekov just by making him a Russian kid. Chekov is—it’s a Cold War stereotype meets Davy Jones, you know? It’s that thing, and you have to take as much from it as you can, and that sort of energy he has and perhaps the comic relief that he has. It was something I think you fully embrace. I mean, both of these performances, I think it's very lucky to have them.
Groucho: Did either Michael Biehn or Walter Koenig ever contact you?
Anton Yelchin: I didn’t speak to Michael Biehn, but I did speak to Walter. Walter came on set, actually, in a Mickey Mouse jacket (laughs), and we talked. Thankfully, it was after I’d shot everything, because I was paranoid as all hell that he was gonna come and hate it. But he came on set, and he really enjoyed it. He was pleased with the character, he said it sounded like him, and said it embodied what he wanted-- you know, it was very complimentary, I was really touched that he even came to set, that he was interested. Also, I bugged him for all these little things about the cast, the work…he told me some interesting things. He spoke very highly of Leonard Nimoy. He told me some fascinating things about William Shatner. And he just told me how well, basically, this crew got along. But he spoke very, very highly of Leonard Nimoy. We did a photo shoot, and I had the pleasure of being there just for, what, a couple hours with Leonard Nimoy, and you could tell what a gentle and intelligent soul he is...
Groucho: Can you talk about what you added to Kate’s backstory...you did your own work, I guess, in building the backstory, right?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Well, I mean, as it was written, I kind of—this job, for me, was a wonderful surprise where McG invited me into this, and then a few days later I was on the set. (Laughs.) But, so everything that was written was fantastic. And then, in addition to that, obviously Claire Danes’ wonderful performance in Terminator 3, and there was a lot to glean from that performance that could be used kinda like the backstory…Um, but also McG and Christian always just were just mining the scenes trying to find more. And so there were some really incredible discoveries, just about the fact that she’s now a doctor, that the character is seven months pregnant. So they literally and metaphorically are trying to create a future for humanity. She's with the commander of the resistance—what does that actually mean?