Zachary Quinto: From Green Tree to Vulcan
By Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You could say that Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto is the face of the new “Star Trek.” Or, at least, the distinctive ears, eyebrows and haircut, which have been everywhere of late.
As Spock or as himself, Quinto joined the “Today” show gang in the morning, charmed David Letterman in late night, appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and inside the pages of Playboy, and rocked the red or black carpet outside theaters from Sydney to London to Hollywood.
When he gets on the phone from Los Angeles for a 10-minute interview (the bigger the movie, the smaller the slice of the publicity pie), he effortlessly switches on a flawless Pittsburgh accent. “What’s going on in the ‘Burgh?”
After some pitch-perfect patter, he returns to his regular accent, not that there’s anything wrong with speech flavored with hints of his hometown. He grew up in Green Tree and graduated from Central Catholic High School and Carnegie Mellon University.
Until news broke that he was the new Spock, Quinto primarily had been known as the villainous Sylar on NBC’s “Heroes.” Now he’s added another signature role and set of action figures and toys to his resume.
He spent two hours a day in makeup during the production of “Star Trek.” Asked if he wore a wig on screen, he says no, which produced an “Oh” and gulp from the questioner.
“Yeah, that was my feeling, too. I was out on the streets of L.A. sanseyebrows and with a pretty unfortunate haircut for six months,” he said, although that didn’t make Quinto more recognizable.
“I don’t really think people were that in tune with what was going on at that point,” he said. “Also, I would have some pretty thick-framed eyeglasses that I would wear a lot, and I would always wear a hat. I sort of took measures to hide myself.”
At the same time, he was carrying the character of Spock around with him, he said, “and I felt some need to protect him in a way and keep him separate from myself, if that is possible.”
Quinto, 31, spent time with Leonard Nimoy, 78, who indelibly created the role on television, but he found many of his questions about Spock answered in the “phenomenal” screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.
“I also immersed myself in a significant amount of reading. There’s no shortage of material about the mythology and the history of ‘Star Trek’ and the character and the Vulcan heritage and the culture. …
“I didn’t watch the original series again in preparation for production. Rather, I leaned more on these other resources, Leonard chief among them.”
To woo younger moviegoers, Paramount has emphasized this is not your father’s “Star Trek,” which debuted on NBC in 1966. The action scenes and special effects are light years apart, and a romantic pairing differs from a much-touted TV twist.
“It’s a bold departure from the characters as we know them and the dynamics they shared in the original series. … But I do think it adds a significant amount of value to our film,” providing levity and adding depth and complexity to the characters in question.
Lest we turn into spoilers, we’ll leave it at that for today.
For a performer whose early fame has come courtesy of sci-fi, Quinto was not someone who gravitated toward the genre.
“It’s so strange. I never would have imagined science fiction to factor so prominently in my career but I’m glad that it has. … I think science fiction tends to be very theatrical. I come from a theatrical background.
“There’s something about the canon of ‘Star Trek,’ which is almost evocative of a Shakespearean dynamic, in terms of the epic storytelling, characters that come in and out of sweeping narratives, and stakes that are really high.”
Quinto, who earned a Gene Kelly Award in high school for “Pirates of Penzance,” says his training on stage provided a stepping stone into this world, just as it did for his predecessors. “You look at Patrick Stewart, who’s a really accomplished Shakespearean actor. You look at William Shatner, who had a history on stage. Leonard Nimoy.”
Co-star Chris Pine, who plays James T. Kirk, also has substantial theater credits, including in Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” along with “Our Town,” “American Buffalo” and “Waiting for Godot.”
The premiere of “Star Trek” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, a few doors down from the Kodak Theatre, was a family and friend affair.
“It’s going to be really nice to share this experience not only with my mom but my aunts and my brother, who lives in L.A. and has been traveling with me on the world tour, and also many of my friends from college and people who have known me for years,” Quinto said a few days ahead of the splashy event where guests eagerly flashed the split-fingered Vulcan salute.
“For me to experience this level of success means all the more when I’m able to share it with people who have known me since well before all of this hoopla.”
He’s trying not to pay too much attention to the hype — “The hunks of ‘Star Trek’ on ‘Entertainment Tonight!’ ” — and to hold onto his sense of self and keep his feet on the ground. “I think I have a great support structure to help that happen, and I feel really grateful for that.”
In the Q&A with Playboy, Quinto proved he knew his “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when asked how the late children’s TV host might react to the fictional Sylar from “Heroes.” Fred Rogers told children, “I like you just the way you are,” after all.
“I don’t think Mister Rogers’ far-reaching assertion reaches so far as to include maniacally bloodthirsty superpowered psychopaths,” Quinto told the magazine.
“He was talking to and about children who were struggling with what it means to be fat, dyslexic or myopic. If Sylar were Rogers’ neighbor, the Neighborhood of Make-Believe would have a whole different element.
“I can just imagine Trolley being impeded on the tracks by the severed heads of Daniel Striped Tiger or Lady Elaine Fairchilde as he tries to pass by the castle of King Friday and Queen Sara — not a pleasant image.”
Very impressive, though, as were his references to 0Carl Jung, anusara yoga and the time he had to wear a chicken costume for a TV gig.
And because all interviews circle back to Pittsburgh, he says he misses the city’s authenticity. “It’s such a great city and every time I get to come back, I’m happy. I miss the familiarity of it.
“You know, I grew up there and went to college there, so I have a strong affinity for the city and the people have been incredibly supportive of me personally and of my career, so it’s always nice — even though you can never really go home again — it’s always nice to come back to Pittsburgh.”