Actor Zachary Quinto nearly gave up his dreams of an acting career until fate and opportunity intervened to give him the role of Sylar, a serial killer on “Heroes.” The NBC science-fiction drama helped raise his profile as did playing Spock in the 2009 movie “Star Trek” and the 2013 sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Now 36, he recently appeared on Broadway in “The Glass Menagerie,” which ran for 173 performances. Mr. Quinto grew up in Green Tree and graduated from Central Catholic High School and Carnegie Mellon University, studying drama.
He started a production company, Before The Door, with two friends from CMU, Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa. His company and Hollywood producer Chris Moore are working on “The Chair,” a reality film project being shot in Pittsburgh.
You seem to be everywhere lately. How do you measure your own success?
I am interested in pursuing projects that fulfill me creatively, that fulfill me personally and my professional ambitions and that I can feel good about the people I’m working with and the work that I’m doing. I have been really lucky to have that be the case. So I just try to make decisions that will allow that to continue.
Was there a point when you thought, “I’ve made it!”
“Heroes” really changed my trajectory in a significant way. [The year] 2007 was a big year because I was made a series regular on “Heroes” at the same time I was cast in “Star Trek” and I turned 30. That was a big culmination for me. But I don’t think I ever have or necessarily will get to a place where I say, “I’ve made it.” You know, I’ve achieved a lot of goals that I set out to achieve and I am most grateful for that, but I feel like everything is in service of momentum and moving forward.
Were you always so fearless about getting attention and being in the spotlight?[Laughing.] I was a pretty precocious kid. I feel like I was comfortable. I didn’t shy away from attention. I would say as I got older I understood more about the balance of it, you know? How to use it, how to employ it rather than basking in it. I don’t really bask in attention as much as I see it as a point of leverage. When you have people’s attention you can say more and accomplish more and that’s what I’m interested in.
You have reached a level of fame now that is hard to avoid, so how has that impacted your personal life?
I really do what I can to maintain a relatively normal personal life. It’s mitigated at times by people’s awareness of me, but I try not to let it stop me. I still take the subway everywhere I go and walk. I try to maintain a relative level of normalcy and keep my boundaries clear. My goal is to live a life that I can be comfortable with and happy with.
I’m a lot more fortunate in that regard compared to some people who can’t even walk out of their home. I see all that stuff as a part of my job, you know, people that recognize me or stop me or want pictures or want to say hello to me. It’s like I’m very clear about whether or not I am giving people what they want at any given moment. I am also very comfortable expressing that or articulating that to them.
Right, not something you didn’t expect.
Exactly. I think any actor that’s striving for success or accomplishment, especially in the film and television industry, is aware of that. With success comes that kind of recognition. If you’re not aware of that then I think you are a little out of touch. So, yeah, it’s not something I was completely surprised by and it came in waves. It builds and continues to build, and I am grateful for that, actually.
Any regrets about being so open about so many aspects of your life, including your father’s death when you were a boy, being gay and [use of the hallucinogenic drug] ayahuasca?
Part of the advantage of being in the position that I’m in is being able to share my experiences so that other people can potentially benefit from them or learn from them or be inspired by them. It’s just a matter of being open and being honest and sharing what I’ve learned and how I’ve learned it. There are certainly many, many aspects of my life that I don’t share, that I do keep private. That is part of the balance that I am talking about. But I think that those are all things that people can relate to and be interested in and can have some impact in a larger way. I think that is part of what being a celebrity can mean if you are responsible about it. So I have no regrets about talking about any of the things you mentioned because they fall under that category.
You had a rough road to becoming a working actor and nearly threw in the towel. What stopped you?
I didn’t know what else to do. Honestly, if I had been able to figure out another path or another vocation or career I probably would have explored it. But there was nothing that I could consider that would have been nearly as fulfilling or that appealed to me or that I knew how to pursue. So I knew I had to keep trying, I guess. What stopped me really was that I got “Heroes.” Honestly, it was in that period of time I was seriously contemplating figuring something else out, and then that job came along and changed everything.
I’m curious — what was something you would have done other than acting?
I think I would have been interested in going back to school to become a psychologist. As you mentioned and know, I am really interested in therapy and the therapeutic process. It’s an invaluable path toward self-realization and self-actualization. I would have probably been interested in trying to figure that out and help other people. As it stands, I was able to channel that into my work as an actor and do it that way because it is still possible to have that same goal.
I imagine it is really helpful as an actor getting into different mind-sets.
Yeah, for sure, and also for people. People can relate to the different characters I play, and audiences can sort of really plug into aspects of these characters as a result of the work that I’ve done on my own.
Your work on Broadway in “The Glass Menagerie” has been lauded and applauded. When a show closes and you put that character to bed, is there a grieving period or is it a relief?
There is definitely a grieving period. I mean, to inhabit a character and to experience a play like “The Glass Menagerie” every night, eight times a week for six months … it’s inevitable. It becomes a part of your daily life and so letting go of it is a process. I happen to be starting a job the day I close the play, so I don’t have much time to let that happen and I will be really interested to see how it unfolds and what the experience is like for me this time because that is uncommon. I’ve had an incredible time doing this play and I don’t know what it’s going to be like to not have it every night.
Does managing your time become more of a challenge as you become more successful, especially with the production company and those projects?
It does sometimes. I’m very, very lucky because I started my company with two very good friends of mine. I trust them implicitly. We built the company together and in such a way that allows things to get done when I am not around. We have “The Chair” in production right now so one of my business partners is in Pittsburgh overseeing production on both of those films. We are really looking forward to bringing more projects back to Pittsburgh. We also have our third movie in production here in New York right now so my other business partner is on set on that movie every day. I try to stay as involved and active with my production company as I can even when I’m doing other stuff.
Is vanity an asset to an actor, and when you look in the mirror do you see a good-looking guy?
Certainly not, no, I didn’t always see that. You know, I will be 37 in June, and I feel like the idea of aging is now just framing itself in a completely different way for me. It’s incomprehensible to me the number of people, celebrities, actors who have storied and varied and rich careers, who will manipulate their faces and undergo painful and extreme surgeries to maintain this connection to youth. I don’t understand it — especially men, but anybody.
But yet, now as I see my face changing, I guess I can understand it or have a little bit of a different relationship to it. I feel like my goal — even when I was younger but especially now — is to embrace age and to embrace the experience that comes with it and to trust that even though it may not be as polished or shiny or familiar even to see yourself as you age, it’s all earned. I don’t want to erase the lines on my face — I earned them.