J.J. Abrams, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana—Star Trek—2/28/09

/content/interviews/278/6.jpgAfter developing the story of Taking Care of Business, writing the screenplays for Regarding Henry, Forever Young, Gone Fishin' (with Jill Mazursky), and Joy Ride (with Clay Tarver), and contributing to the screenplay for Armageddon, J.J. Abrams found unexpected success on television. Abrams co-created the WB college soap Felicity, created the ABC spy thriller Alias, and co-created Lost (taking home an Emmy for directing the show's pilot)—before landing the plum job of directing and co-writing Mission: Impossible III. Now Abrams is at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the franchise-re-launching Star Trek. The film introduces a new Captain Kirk in Chris Pine (Bottle Shock, Just My Luck, Smokin' Aces), a new Spock in Zachary Quinto (24, Heroes) and a new Uhura in Zoe Saldana (Vantage Point, the upcoming Avatar). The Star Trek "crew" spoke to me on the occasion of the 2009 WonderCon, at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center.

Groucho: Especially for those of you who are new to the Star Trek phenomenon, what has it come to mean to you over the process of making the film and now promoting it and being in the middle of all of this? And Gene Roddenberry's vision...did the actors impart anything to you, those of you who are playing original characters?

/content/interviews/278/3.jpgZachary Quinto: You know, for me, I think one of the most rewarding experiences throughout was getting to know Leonard [Nimoy], and aside from obviously working with the people on this specific project, having his involvement so integral to the process was so illuminating. And not only to see--the appreciation I garnered from that was not only to see the impact it had on his career but on his life and the kind of man he is. And I think that's an extension of what Gene Roddenberry set out to create forty years ago. And I think the times that we live in necessitate that kind of point of view. And I think J.J. is such a great person to take it and move it forward. And there is an optimism that lives in the heart of this film and in the heart of the franchise that I think is a really great thing for us to be able to share with the world right now. And that was something that had a great impact on me for sure.

/content/interviews/278/10.jpgChris Pine: I think for me it was just a great opportunity to meet people that I now call my friends. J.J. created such an unbelievable ability to create absolute equanimity on the sets. No one feels like there's a dictator shouting orders from behind "Video Village" or something. "Go here, there," that kind of stuff. It was a family on the set. I was so lucky to be involved with people I had fun with every day. So that kind of family that we built on set hopefully will be translated into this bigger family out here that will accept this new version. Because I think what we've done is--and this is all credit due to Bob and J.J. and Alex [Kurtzman]--but created a good blend of great action sequences...and wonderful relationships between the characters. So it was a great experience for me, and I'm privileged and blessed to be a part of it.

ZQ: We all just saw the movie for the first time this week, the three of us. I just saw it last night and literally...I couldn’t speak for like twenty minutes after, and I'm not like that. I'm like [in a low key mumble:] "It's good, it's nice, it's alright." It is such a ride. It is so exciting. I am really excited to share it with everybody, and I think we all are, but it was such a thrill, and I feel really proud to be a part of it, because--for my money anyway--it succeeds on a lot of levels. So I hope you...feel that way as well.


CP: Ms. Saldana?

/content/interviews/278/11.jpgZoe Saldana: Oh, you were talking, and it's Spock and Kirk, and I'm really excited. For me, I would definitely have to agree with Zach: the most exciting thing of this experience was meeting the original cast members--working with Leonard Nimoy and meeting Nichelle Nichols. That is one elegant and sexy Uhura, I will tell you that. It was great to know how excited they were and how much they blessed this entire project. From J.J. being the creator behind it and the writers and the way--the direction in which the story is going, and revamping and bringing it back...for the fans and to make believers out of generations that were born in the '80s and '90s that go "What's that?" and have no idea...now it's an opportunity for them to be introduced into this world that has lived for over forty years. And I'm a believer now.

J.J. Abrams: I just want to say that while they are very kind to call me and the writers here "creators" of the movie, you should know that we were all so aware of Gene Roddenberry when we making this movie. We were so indebted to him, and having Majel, who so sadly passed away recently, not only on the set, but actually getting her to be part of this movie. And having people who were there who had worked with Gene, not the least of which obviously is Mr. Nimoy, who--a more elegant, thoughtful, considerate and caring man does not exist. He is remarkable. I wanted to make sure you...know how much we appreciate and bow to everything that's come before, because obviously this would not remotely have a chance to exist at all had it not been for all that work...

CP: "I'm Captain Kirk!" That would be up there: the split Captain Kirk, the evil Captain Kirk ["The Enemy Within"]...I love it when he fights Finnegan. That was just hysterical. When he wrestled the young boy ["Charlie X"], I think--I don't know if I would do that. No, I love--I love--I think what I found watching the old series is that Mr. Shatner's incredibly funny. And I think it's the same humor that he brings to Boston Legal in a whole different way. But it's that twinkle in his eye that kind of, you know, anything can happen. It's the twinkle in his eye; it's something you can't--it's something that I couldn't try to recreate for the life of me, but I tried to bring my own thing...

ZQ: I did not watch the original series. I had the advantage of working really closely with Leonard leading up to production, so I took advantage of that. He and I met a number of times. He was such a valuable resource for me, and he made himself so incredibly open and available to my questions. So I really used that initially. I started watching The Original Series actually when we were shooting. I would watch them in my trailer a lot. There was basically always an episode playing when I was hanging out in my room. And that was really great because I didn't really--none of us really...I can speak for myself--and J.J. was very clear about this from the beginning: this wasn't an endeavor to try to recreate what was created before us. That was certainly a template--it was certainly a baseline, a foundation for us--but we were all encouraged and all of us did our own work and did our best to bring our own interpretations in a world that is not the same world that we live in now in which that show really took place. So for me it was a combination of those things, of utilizing Leonard, doing my own research. I read a lot about the world. I read a lot about the character. I felt like that the words that Bob and Alex gave us and the situations that the characters found themselves in were really the most important things, so that's where it started...

/content/interviews/278/8.jpgCP: It was pretty daunting. Not pretty daunting; it was extremely daunting.

ZQ: I was not daunted. (Pause.) That's what we call a joke...

CP: Yeah, I was definitely wary of taking the role in the beginning because I knew it was a world with fans...so I didn't want to disappoint anyone, you know? But...at least our relationship--we had known one another before we started working so that I immediately felt a rapport with Zach that went above and beyond the relationship in Trek. And then the atmosphere that J.J. created on set, again, like Zach touched on earlier, while respecting what had been done in the past, our job was really to bring to life the characters that this story told, and this particular journey in the journeys of these characters is a part of their journeys that had not been told or brought to life before, so instead of feeling kind of encumbered by the responsibility of doing justice to what had been done in the past, I kind of felt a certain amount of freedom to bring my own take on the character.

ZQ: I remember when I did sit down with J.J. about maybe playing the role, we sat about forty-five minutes, I think, and then you [Abrams] talked for like forty-three of them..."Can I just--I actually feel like maybe..." His vision was so clear that I obviously felt like, stepping into it, he had already made--people always ask, "What's J.J. like?" The two words that I always use are "magician" and "wizard," but I really, really believe that there's some force of nature that does not exist in other humans...I couldn't have been in better hands in terms of being guided through this...This was a $100-and-whatever-million-dollar movie, but every day that we showed up to work it really was about what was going on between J.J. and the people in the scene. And all of the forces fell in behind that. And so for me, it's like I couldn't have been in better hands with the words that we were speaking and...the rapport between all of us. We all really did get along quite well, so it was cool.

JJA: If I could just say one thing real quick, which is: in addition to the actors being unbelievable, one of the things that was so cool about doing this movie was working with ILM...and I tell you, we've all seen what they can do...and really outdoing themselves every time. I gotta tell you, they did some stuff this time that just blew my mind, and I'm so honored to have gotten a chance to work with them...