‘I didn’t watch Star Trek on TV’
Zachary Quinto became a household name by playing the charismatic sociopath Sylar on NBC’s Heroes. Since then he went on to be the first actor since Leonard Nimoy to play the iconic character Spock in a Star Trek TV series or film. Zachary Quinto shares his experiences in a tell-all interview.
If someone has never seen the show before, how would you describe your character of Mr. Spock?
Spock is half human and half Vulcan, which is the most important distinction about him because those two cultures are in certain ways totally opposed in how they deal with the world. The Vulcan culture at a certain point in its history chose to abandon their connection to deeply felt emotion to employing a system of logic that allowed them to interrelate in a less volatile way. Humans as we know are generally ruled by our emotions. The mixture of the two things is what really defines this character. In this story, he is not as in control of that duality and he is struggling to define who he really is. I am sure many people can relate to that struggle.
How much research did you have to do to really get to know the back-story of this character?
A lot of that was in the script. My big resource was Leonard Nimoy, who made himself available to me. As an actor, I am serving the script and there was a lot of information there. One of the great things about Star Trek is that there is no shortage of material on the mythology of the story.
It is amazing that these characters have lasted for over forty years and audiences still hunger for more.
I think what Gene Roddenberry set out to create when he made the original series was almost subversive. He dealt with themes that people had trepidation about openly discussing in the late sixties – like racial, social and political issues. It was ahead of its time in many ways and it sparked an intellectual interest that cultivated the fan base. It is also, at its core, an optimistic piece. It offers hope and brings people together and encourages them to celebrate a unified spirit.
How aggressive were you in seeking out this part or did they come to you?
To a degree I proactively sought it out. Right at the time I found out that they were making this movie my character was debuting on Heroes and so I was doing a lot of interviews. In the very first interview I did for my hometown paper, the journalist asked if there were any other roles in which I was interested. I said, ‘I did hear they are making a new Star Trek movie. I would love to play Spock.’ Then that interview got syndicated, and so subsequent interviews started to include journalists inquiring about my interest in the project and eventually saying things like, ‘So we hear your dream role is Spock in the new Star Trek movie.’ When casting got up and running, they had read some of those interviews and when they called for material we were able to send them my reel and we were also able to send the press packet where I talked about it.
Did you watch a lot of the episodes from the old series?
No, I did not watch any of the episodes before we started shooting… well, that’s not true actually. I watched two episodes with Leonard early on – but other than that I really focused on my relationship with him in preparation and my own research and reading.
Are you prepared at all for the tremendous attention this part will bring?
I’ve been greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and support by the fans and for me this experience is all about declaring my boundaries both within myself and to other people. I think if you can communicate in a respectful way, people understand and people are respectful in turn. Certainly the fans that have been so ardently supportive of this franchise for 40 years that they deserve respect and so I feel like it is our job to give it to them.
As much as the film does have action, many might be surprised that it is really about friendship and family.
To me that is the heart of the story. Obviously it is my character’s journey – but in this film, those themes and that struggle is prime. This film is many things. It is a comedy; a drama, an action adventure. It is a very moving and touching film. To me this film is a collaboration of a number of people who are at the top of their game and they brought the best work to the table. It is enormously impressive.
Did you guys ever worry of looking ridiculous? Looking around the room and seeing a bunch of grown ups in costumes shouting all of that outer space jargon, didn’t it ever cause a few laughs to arise?
It is just about commitment. Acting is truthful behavior in imaginary circumstances, so all this was in a way was not questioning the circumstances. Everyone did a fantastic job in that regard. You do let off steam between takes. You hope that it all translates but that is the nature of film and TV. You hope the camera captures what you are doing. Our story is pretty far fetched but we all plugged into it with a grain of truth.
Are you worried that you will be too identified with the sci-fi genre with both Heroes and Star Trek on your resume?
I don’t worry about that really. I’m more of a sc-fi fan now then I ever was before, I wasn’t a particular sc-fi fanatic growing up or before I started working on these projects that gave me a new access to that world. I think there are a lot of really valuable, interesting themes that are explored in science fiction. I certainly think Star Trek is an example of a science-fiction franchise that at its heart really possesses a sense of optimism and faith in humanity and I think those are things that are never more relevant then they are today.