GQ Germany, June 2009

The Spock ‘n’ Roller
(German to English translation by Dolores Llodra)

On the screen he is the young Mr. Spock, in real life the biggest riddle in Hollywood. Zachary Quinto doesn’t just look like the young Marlon Brando, he acts like him too

Story: Joachim Hentschel – Photos: Chiun Kai Shih – Stylist: Sam Spector

Quinto is an awe-inspiring leading man. Many times he reminds one of a young Marlon Brando.

As a young boy Zachary Quinto liked “Star Wars” more than “Star Trek”. His brother was a fan, infecting him with his own enthusiasm. Zachary played with the action figures for hours. Hot-tempered Luke Skywalker was more appealing to him than the diplomatic Captain Kirk, the fuzzy Ewoks more amusing than the cold-hearted Klingons. Amateur psychologists can read into such predilections: Trek fans are generally considered to be more rational, technologically-fixated types with good heads for numbers, while people who prefer the space-saga with Darth Vader are regarded as more emotional and creative. Perfect description of witty actor Zachary Quinto, or not?

“Well,” he says hesitantly, when we bring the subject up, “my favorite Star Wars action figure was Jabba the Hutt.” The ghastly wormlike creature who kidnaps Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back”? “Exactly. I got such a case of the creeps from him. No clue what that says about me.”

XXXXX – The question is pretty tricky, since Zachary Quinto is on the point of becoming an icon of the polar opposite, a hero of Star Trek fans. The completely new eleventh adventure in the series is just opening now in theaters with a radically rejuvenated crew and noticeably fresher power. To Quinto falls the honor of following the great Leonard Nimoy in the role of Mr. Spock. While also keeping an eye on the film’s box office as always, every actor who has portrayed the pointy-eared space officer has ensured himself a place in the science fiction Hall of Fame. US talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel put it less flatteringly, “Zachary Quinto will be hunted by a horde of nerds for the rest of his life.”

The egghead thing has followed him before. In the immensely successful NBC fantasy series “Heroes” Quinto plays the mysterious villain Sylar since the first season in 2006. His specialty: he can absorb the supernatural abilities of other people and consequently busies himself by aspirating their skulls and stealing their brains. Not a particularly nice practice, but Quinto handles it, making the brutal, power-hungry, otherwise utterly unfeeling Sylar into the most interesting figure of the series, whose appearances on “Heroes” one observes are often impatiently awaited.

Nevertheless you get nightmares from him – dark-eyed gaze beneath bushy brows, calm yet deadly. No other young Hollywood star embodies the forbidding coolness of evil, the gentlemanly qualities of Satan, so perfectly at this time as does Zachary Quinto. An awe-inspiring leading man, occasionally reminding one of the young Marlon Brando, Fifties rock ‘n’ rollers like Elvis and James Dean, a dark, enigmatic note precedes him.

The real Quinto is certainly a disciplined fellow, by necessity. “I jump all over the place, wherever my timetable sends me. And I always do exactly what it tells me,” he says. In the sonorous voice one hears effortlessly the sarcasm pouring out. The persistent stress that the production of a series like “Heroes” entails (whose third season is about to end in the US, the fourth about to start filming) goes poorly with the worldwide publicity requirements for the new “Star Trek” film. “Luckily, ‘Heroes’ is an ensemble-piece, not a one-man show”, Quinto says. The world doesn’t revolve around the appearances of a shadow-skulking scoundrel like Sylar.

He started out on another track altogether. Son of an Italian father and Irish mother growing up in Pennsylvania, he graduated in 1999 from drama school in Pittsburgh. He then went to New York, to Broadway and smaller Manhattan theaters and became a noted stage performer. It was a starry-eyed start. “I soon moved into that,” says Quinto. “From Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and all the others who planned their careers after graduating it was absolutely clear that they went first to New York. One has to prove oneself at the theater to be taken seriously by people in film and television. Now it’s the exact opposite, oddly enough.”

XXXXX – An L.A. residency was enough to win over Quinto. His first and only visit to Hollywood the Moloch was to stay, he swore to himself, as shortly after exams he traveled with fellow students to the West Coast. By the end of the week it was clear to him this was the place to be.

The first television role came in 2000 in the series “The Others”, then came smaller guest-starring roles in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”, “Six Feet Under”, “Charmed” and larger continuing series, and a somewhat bigger part as computer expert Adam Kaufmann in the third season of “24”. Next came the coup of “Heroes”. And then the Starship Enterprise flew into the picture.

It’s hard to believe, but before his grand entrance in “Star Trek” Zachary Quinto had no films in his resume. The romantic comedies and horror films that other prospective leading men use to work their way up the ladder nowadays he avoided, recommending himself instead through his television work. And through a few self-confident public statements, that some critics found pushy, his aim was fulfilled.

“It all started with an interview I gave my hometown paper at the start of ‘Heroes’,” Quinto recalls. “At the end the reporter asked me what role I saw myself in next. I had heard a new ‘Star Trek’ movie was in the works, so I answered, ‘I’d happily play Spock.'” Other newspapers later published that text, quoting from there. Journalists seized upon the Spock remark and dug deeper. “I didn’t do anything more than answer the question!” Quinto declares, with a tongue-in-cheek grumble. “That a kind of campaign would come of it wasn’t clear to me.”

Suddenly everyone knew: Quinto wants to be Spock. The “Star Trek” casting director solicited his professional resume, sending the audition request soon after. The decisive thing was the blessing of the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who (thanks to a time machine) is in ST XI. “I understood immediately that Zach had a strong, expressive inner life,” he related in “Entertainment Weekly”. “The role requires it. Spock barely moves.”

When Zachary Quinto speaks of his work on “Star Trek”, he sounds like a little boy who has had a weekend at an amusement park. “I recognize this whole universe first, but I still have to insert myself in the film’s subject,” he declares – after a childhood without Spock and Kirk he has some catching up to do and this time he is even being compensated for it. He bound his fingers with clear tape two by two to train for the famous Vulcan greeting. He shaved part of his eyebrows off. He worked for a half-year wearing the archetypal bowl haircut. And to every question from friends, about what to anticipate from the sensational huge project, he answered like a Russian secret agent, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”, something he already knew from his television work. In a time of plot twists and Twitter-reporting, filmstars quickly become secretkeepers.

“What Spock shares with Sylar from ‘Heroes’: both are deeply divided personalities,” Quinto analyses. “They have two souls that are battling one another inside them. And that is how I can best identify with them. I often act introverted, since I’m torn between my head and heart. I’m probably not alone in this.”

XXXXX – Will he ever play the pleasant Romeo who marries Jennifer Aniston by mistake? Will it diminish him to have no corpses laying around the cellar of his other half’s house? “I hope that a film without laser beams or time machines will turn up soon,” he says, laughing and announcing that he possibly had a type of love scene at least one time in the third season of “Heroes”.

It’s as hard to see Quinto as a likeable son-in-law as it is to imagine him a magnanimous superhero. Even during the interview, in which he makes the greatest possible effort at friendliness, one imagines one hears a vibration of something dark in his voice, not absolutely something a bit evil. Ever a riddle, that can’t be explained with an older definite show business term. Perhaps now in this crisis-plagued time there is more of a place in Hollywood for a twilight character like Quinto than earlier.

Does he sometimes use the evil Sylar’s despondent voice on workdays to scare people? “Sometimes,” answers Quinto, “but only for fun.” That’s what Sylar would say too, before he devours your brain.

Small text after end of article – GQ.COM Click for more info: The “Star Trek” film trailer and larger pictures can be found at the GQ website

Upper right photo caption – Zachary “Spock” Quinto isn’t the only “Star Trek” film novice in the crew: Chris Pine was recommended by Quinto to be Captain Kirk, who knew him from the gym

Inset text at lower left – The types I play are all deeply-divided personalities. That is how I can best identify with them.