Zachary Quinto is SPOCK OF VULCAN
The dilemma faced by Spock is central to the new Star Trek movie, and it was embraced whole-heartedly by Heroes star Zachary Quinto, who not only steps into Leonard Nimoy’s shoes as the U.S.S. Enterprise’s apparently emotionless half-Vulcan, but also acts alongside him…
Zachary Quinto is beaming in a most un-Spock-like way as he considers his experience playing the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the new Star Trek movie. “The whole story for me was a joy to get into,” he says. “I like to look back on it as a lot of fun and excitement.”
If he has to single out one aspect over all others, Quinto unerringly talks about the originator of the role of Spock, Leonard Nimoy, with whom he spent a great deal of time in the months leading up to the shooting of the film. “Getting to know him is what will stick with me the longest,” Quinto says. “Leonard is an incredible guy, and I really am honoured to be able to consider him a friend. I’ve really come to know him, and look forward to continuing our relationship after the movie settles.
“All the relationships and friendships that I forged in making this film would also classify,” he adds. “I feel like getting to work with J.J. And getting to know my fellow cast members are the things that will transcend the project itself.”
It mirrors the fact that for Quinto, the heart of the movie is the relationships forged between the characters. “The world in which the story takes place can at times seem secondary to what’s actually happening to these characters, how they’re dealing with it, and how they’re relating to one another through it,” he notes, but quickly adds, “That said, the story is still very much rooted in the world of Star Trek, and exceptionally so from an aesthetic point of view.”
The actor very publically pursued the role of Spock, knowing there was a risk that he wouldn’t get cast, and even signed up before he’d read the script. “I did have an implicit trust in their creativity, and their imagination, and their ability to execute the vision that they have, so there was no part of me that was hesitant,” he told Star Trek Magazine at the time. But once he’d read the script, he knew he had done the right thing. “The complexity of the story, the deeply rooted internal conflict, the vulnerability that Spock comes up against in this film was really compelling to me as an actor,” he explains.
There wasn’t any single scene that he was specifically looking forward to shooting above the other. “It was cumulative in the screenplay and the story,” he says. “One thing really leads to another in a great way for my character. The scene on the Bridge of the Enterprise, once Kirk has brought Scotty back aboard after they’ve figured how to beam at warp speed, was really challenging for me, and really rewarding as the climax of that journey. For me as the actor playing the character, there was so much that had to be contained throughout Spock’s journey, and that scene on the Bridge was cathartic in a way. I really got to experience and release something.”
He’s equally praising of the scene that follows for Spock, as his father Sarek tries to assist him with learning how to use his emotions. “It was a different sort of scene – equally profound, just in a quieter way, I think.”
Although the producers of the movie tried to keep shooting as chronological within the story as possible, that wasn’t always possible. “That’s the nature of television and movies,” Quinto notes. “You’re always out of order. We did all the stuff on the Enterprise at one time, in one chunk about halfway through the shoot in January and February 2008.”
Quinto’s first scene in the film gives a jolt to the audience, with the character using the words ‘Live long and prosper’ in a very unfamiliar way when he’s addressing the Vulcan Science Council. “That was actually something that J.J. steered me toward,” Quinto recalls. “Using this phrase that everyone has come to know as a greeting and as an extension of goodwill with a little bit of a subversive tone. I played it a number of different ways when we were shooting that scene, and J.J. Settled on the one that was a little bit more biting. That was an interesting choice: it goes against the grain, and it shows a little bit of an edge to the character right off the bat in my first scene in the movie. J.J. is smart!”
KIRK AND SPOCK
Spock’s first proper encounter with James Kirk comes as they debate the ethics of Kirk’s actions in the Kobayashi Maru test, a scene that Quinto reveals “was a lot longer. It really got trimmed down, and there was much more of an antagonistic banter between them in the longer version of the scene. I think J.J. probably felt that there was enough of that sort of tension between the characters later in the film once we get on the ship and we’re actually in high-stakes crisis mode, so we didn’t need to bring it into that exchange. That got parsed to what was really at the core of their debate: was Kirk cheating? Was what he did ethical?”
Even so, watching it you get the feeling that Spock is consciously holding himself back. “You may be picking up on a bit of the energy of the longer version,” Quinto says. “That containment and that holding back was definitely a part of it, and I’m sure it’s a part that carried over into the edit of it.”
That wasn’t the only scene that was substantially different from what Quinto has expected when reading the script. “There was meant to be a really intense fight sequence with Spock and Kirk against the Romulans on the Narada,” he explains. “That was originally meant to be us beaming into a circle of six guys. Kirk takes one of them, and Spock wipes out five dudes, kicking their asses.”
Quinto spent three months training, from the start of October 2007 through January 2008, with stunt coordinators Joey Box and Rob Alonzo in preparation for that fight as well as the tussle with Kirk on the Bridge, and was understandably disappointed when, two days before they were suppose to shoot the Narada sequence at the start of February, “J.J. was like, ‘You know what? We don’t need another fight. We can forget that. It’s gonna be a gun battle. No fights.’
“We had been working extensively, toward creating a specific kind of fighting style for Spock, which was pretty martial arts based. The idea was that there was a fluidity to it. He was always three steps ahead of both himself and his opponent. There was anticipation but also a very centered stillness. It was very rooted into the earth – or to the space where he was – and it moved from a deep center and then overpowered people from that perspective. It was great fun to work on, and I felt like I learned to move in a way that suits me personally but also challenged me a little bit too.”
Although the style might feel more natural to him, Quinto doesn’t foresee using it when he’s playing the brain stealing Sylar on Heroes. “I like to keep the characters separate – I don’t like them to interact,” he comments.
He didn’t find much problem switching from one role to the other. “They’re so easily distinguishable, and I had so much time to prepare for the Star Trek experience that it was not difficult to leave one behind and put on the other,” he explains. “The producers had worked it out that I was going to leave Heroes for 11 episodes anyway to go do Star Trek, but then the writers strike prevented that from having to happen. I went to do the movie, and I was away from the show when it wasn’t even happening. As soon as Star Trek was over, I had a couple of weeks off and then the show picked up again. It was crazy!”
For research, Quinto and Nimoy “spent a fair amount of time getting to know each other and talking before I started shooting,” the actor says, “and in all that time, I was also doing my own stuff. Leonard and I watched two Spock-centric episodes together – “Amok Time” was one of them – and we talked about the character and the experience of shooting them. Most of my work was done on my own – a lot of research and reading – or with Leonard before we started shooting.
“While we were shooting the movie, I would watch old episodes of the show in my trailer when I was hanging out in there, just to keep me rooted in the specificity and uniqueness of the world.”
Quinto admits that the scene between the two Spocks at the close of the film is a bit of a lollipop for the fans, seeing the two iterations of the franchise embodied together. “When I saw the movie, it felt like a nice button on Spock’s journey,” he says. “It was good. That was one of those examples of really shooting out of sequence – we shot that really early in the schedule. It would have been interesting to see what it would have been like if it had actually come to the end of the shoot rather than at the beginning. There was a lot going on in the scene, and a lot to really connect to, with Leonard in the same proximity.”
The actor never felt constrained having Nimoy appear in the movie. “No, I only felt supported really,” he maintains.”Leonard was very clear about that the whole time. I never felt constrained or scrutinized – I just felt encouraged and supported. It’s interesting when you watch the movie: I really feel that Leonard brings such a history to this character, and it’s so almost inexorably tied with who he is. It’s really nice to see, because I don’t bring that with my relationship to the character. But when I saw it, it made so much sense that my version of Spock would evolve into his.
“I hope that’s the case in my life. I hope when I’m Leonard’s age, I have the same kind of life experience, and I have half a rich a life as he does. It was really hopeful for me as a person: maybe I can be that cool some day. That was the feeling that having him in the movie engendered in me, both while we were shooting it and then subsequently – and that’s a really nice feeling.”