Seems to me if you’re looking for a young actor to play an iconic character in a remake, Anton Yelchin is your huckleberry. In the summer of 2009 alone Anton was in two blockbuster franchise reboots. But as accustomed as Anton seemingly is in these types of movies, he says he’s more at home in the edgy, independent projects that make up the majority of his already impressive resume. You won’t be able to hide your light under a bushel much longer, Anton. Some Hollywood heavy hitters have seen your work and there are more interesting roles in your bright future.
Anton Viktorovich Yelchin was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1989 to World Class pair figure skaters Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin. In 1972 Irina and Viktor were ranked third in the nation, which did qualify them to participate in the Winter Olympics that year. But the government prevented their competing for what can only be supposed as prejudicial reasons. (The Yelchins are Jewish.) Even in 1989 the Soviet Union was still an intolerant place, so after being stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet for 15 years, the family immigrated to the US for the safety and well-being of their newest member, six-month old Anton. When labeled a “Russian” actor, Anton bristles. Sure he was born there but the rest of his life, minus those first 6 months, was spent in the US. Honestly, how much national identity can you acquire at that age?
You’d think with all that athletic talent in his genes Anton would be a skater as well. But that was not to be the case. Anton’s quick imagination and intelligence made him a natural actor. He acted in his first film at the tender age of nine and hasn’t stopped. He attended regular school intermittently, between jobs, and even enrolled at USC to study film. But the concept of organized education is lost on Yelchin. He prefers self-study and concentrated observation, as in the case of some of his co-stars like Robert Downey Jr. Instead, his classroom was on the set of many popular TV shows like “ER”, “The Practice”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”.
When he wasn’t making guest appearances on TV he was establishing a solid reputation for his work in smaller films. His first big break came when he played the younger version of the character Bobby Garfield opposite heavy-hitter Anthony Hopkins in 2001’s Hearts in Atlantis. Anton won a Young Artist Award for that performance. In 2004 actor David Duchovny wrote and directed a film called House of D, casting Anton in the lead as young Tommy alongside Robin Williams and Téa Leone. Then in 2005 a different actor cum director Griffin Dunne chose Anton for another coming of age story, this time co-starring Kristen Stewart and O2W4 Chris Evans called Fierce People. But it was 2006’s Alpha Dog – the fictionalized story of Jesse James Hollywood, a southern California drug dealer who kidnaps the brother of a rival that owes him money, which put Anton front and center for a lot of people.
With a firm foothold in the acting community Anton scored the lead in yet another coming of age story with slight overtones of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off called Charlie Bartlett. Charlie is a likable misfit – a rich kid who is too smart for his own good, been kicked out of every private school he’s ever attended and ends up in the local public school doling out psychiatric advice and medication to the troubled student body. Robert Downey Jr. played the school principal and father of the girl Charlie is in love with. Now here is when it starts to get weird for Yelchin. No sooner does he finish Charlie Bartlett when he gets hired to play Chekov in J.J. Abrams’s reimagining of the classic Star Trek series. Then add into the mix being cast as young Kyle Reese in Mc G’s prequel for the Terminator series, starring Christian Bale as John Connor. To put it into perspective, you could probably take the combined budgets of most of the films Anton had done up until this point, add them together and they probably wouldn’t have paid the catering bill on Star Trek. So these were big changes for our guy.
Gigantic productions aside, the idea of stepping into the shoes of established characters must have been a daunting prospect. Anton was a huge fan the first two Terminator movies but completely ignorant of Star Trek. That problem was solved with a crash course in all things Trek including watching the entire TV and movie series. What made things a little easier was that the way both stories were constructed, we were meeting Chekov and Kyle before we knew who they were in their respective universes. That gave the actor freedom to create the roles the way it felt right to him. Though he had to keep the whole turning “v’s” to “w’s” the way Walter Koenig Chekov’s did. Anton wasn’t too sure why he spoke like that but maybe the fact that Walter was from Chicago had something to do with it.
Anton’s foray into big-budget movies seemed to be over, at least for the moment. He returned to the familiar world of independent films, making The Beaver, directed by and starring Jodie Foster and the beleaguered Mel Gibson. As in Terminator: Salvation, now more famous for star Christian Bale’s on-camera meltdown than anything else, experts theorize that The Beaver’s poor showing at the box office had to do with its star’s recent personal woes. A brighter star for Anton was the indie film Like Crazy, the story of a British student who falls in love with an American boy, only to be separated when her visa expires. Screened at Sundance in 2011, Like Crazy won The Grand Jury Prize and proved that Anton had romantic leading man chops.
The studios siren’s song called out to Anton again. This time it was director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007) and he had in his hands the remake of the 80’s cult classic Fright Night. Anton won the role of hero Charlie Brewster who does battle with the neighbor from Hell, Jerry, this time played by Colin Farrell, with the help of O2W4 David Tennant (doing his very best Chris Angel) as Peter Vincent. In interviews for the film Anton laughed off concerns that Fright Night’s vampire may not be as well received as the emo, vegetarian vampires so popular with the kids today. Be afraid, be very afraid of Jerry folks. He’s a good, old-fashioned vampire out to with either “f*cking f*ck you or kill you or both.”
(I hesitate mentioning the other summer of 2011 blockbuster that Anton worked on, for fear it may tarnish his indie cred. That movie was The Smurfs. To be fair – Anton only provided a voice and that was for the smurfiest of Smurfs, Clumsy. Don’t judge too harshly.)
As of press time Anton had two projects in various stages of production. The first, Odd Thomas, is based on a novel by Dean Koontz and directed by The Mummy helmer Stephen Sommers. Yelchin is the title character – a fry-cook who is in touch with the spirit world and sees looming danger surrounding a mysterious stranger. The second is a film called Winter Queen co-starring Mila Jovovich. Taken from the international bestseller of the same name, Yelchin will play a young detective on the Moscow police force out to solve a crime in Czarist Russian, just prior to the Revolution. And of course there will eventually be the big sequel to Star Trek – should the elements all come together.
Clearly toggling between big blockbuster movies and passion indies is the way to create and maintain a long career. Our man Anton is a shining example of that. Having come through the child actor into awkward teen stages and out the other side, the world is open to him in terms of what future roles will come his way. And if the whole acting thing doesn’t pan out – there’s always the family business or that now defunct punk band, The Hammerheads to fall back on. Yeah, right. I don’t see that happening. Do you?
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