Ashley Hillard at the “Star Trek” Press Conference in Los Angeles
Moviehole was lucky enough to score a seat at Paramount’s “Star Trek” Press Conference in Los Angeles over the weekend. It was an audience with the one and only Leonard Nimoy, as well as Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Bruce Greenwood, and Karl Urban.
Q: Mr. Nimoy, you had a chance to appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that didn’t work out. Why was this the ideal chance to bridge the old Star Trek with the new Star Trek?
Leonard: The makers of this film re-awakened the passion in me that I had when we made the original film and series. I was put back in touch with what I cared about and liked about Star Trek, and why I enjoyed being involved with Star Trek. So, it was an easy way to come on home.
Q: So, other opportunities did not spark that passion?
Leonard: It went off in a direction that I didn’t relate to very well. That’s the simplest way to put it. With this, they said things and showed me things, and demonstrated the sensibility that I felt very comfortable with, and I think that shows in the movie. I like it.
Q: Zach, when you were young, did people tell you that you looked like Spock?
Zachary: No, I never really heard it, although I certainly was sporting a Spock bowl cut when I was 12. I have pictures to prove it. I might dig them out, at some point.
Q: What was it like working with Mr. Nimoy?
Zachary: Working with Leonard was an incredible honor, and the whole experience, for me, was so fulfilling, beyond my wildest expectations, in terms of just getting to know him and understanding how this character has informed his creative processes and his life. It was great fun. I’ve been asked a lot if there was pressure because of Leonard’s involvement, and my response has always been, “To the contrary, actually.” Having him as a resource and such a generous available support system, actually made it so much easier for me to step into the experience.
Q: Did you study him to see how to move and everything?
Zachary: I didn’t, really. In preparation for production, I didn’t go back and watch the original series or films. Leonard and I watched a couple episodes together and talked about his experience shooting those episodes, but aside from that, I felt that it was incumbent upon me to determine my own relationship with this character. That was the mandate that J.J. set forth, very early on in the process. We were expected to use the foundation as a point of entry into our own experiences with the characters.
Q: Leonard, did you give any input on the development of the Spock character?
Leonard: I had no input on the writing of the character or the writing of the script. None. My first meeting with Mr. Abrams, and Orci and Kurtzman, was all about whether I would be interested, based on their feelings about Star Trek and the Spock character, and I was interested enough that I said I would read the script, when it was ready. And, I read the script and I agreed to do the film.
Q: Having played Spock for years, did you give Zach any tips about playing Spock?
Leonard: Zach made some choices that I thought were wonderful surprises to me, in playing the Spock that he played in this film. We did not talk about specifics, like “Do this. Don’t do that.” We had very general conversations about the philosophy and psychology of the character, the philosophy of Star Trek and the fans’ reactions to various aspects of Star Trek, but there was no specific instruction. It didn’t need that, and it didn’t call for that. But, watching him in the film, I’m very proud of what he did. I loved the idea that he is doing the character, and that he did it so well. And, I think we have book-ended the character. He has created a Spock that comes before the Spock that I portrayed in the series, and I’m playing a Spock that comes much, much later and us much more resolved, and is much closer to who I actually am today. So, I think it works extremely well, and I admire his talent.
Q: What was your favorite discovery, in watching young Spock? What did you think about the relationship between Spock and Uhura?
Leonard: Zachary’s choices in his performance often surprised me, in a very positive way. I often thought, “I would never have thought to do that, and I think that’s a wonderful idea!” Frankly, I was extremely jealous of his scenes with Zoe Saldana and I think it’s totally unfair that I never got to do that. I will never forgive the writers and the director, for having put me in this position, to have to be watching that, rather than participating. Let me take the opportunity to say thatÂ everybody in this cast are very, very talented and intelligent people. They found their own way to bring that talent and intelligence to this movie, and I think it shows. When Karl Urban introduced himself as Leonard McCoy and shook hands with Chris Pine, I burst into tears. That performance of his, as Doctor McCoy, is so moving, so touching and so powerful that I think DeForest Kelley would be smiling, and maybe in tears as well. And, Zachary and Zoe are wonderful together. It’s such a passionate and compassionate performance by Zoe that I was just so pleased to be a part of this movie, with all of these good people.
Q: Did you miss working with William Shatner, and did you want him to be in the film with you?
Leonard: Bill and I are very, very close friends, and we have been for a very, very long time. Did I miss him? I can’t honestly say that that’s the right word to describe my feelings about this process and him not being in the movie. I was aware that he wanted to be in the movie. I was aware that J.J. Abrams and the writers spent time with him, to try to find a process where he could be involved, but it just didn’t work out. I don’t know exactly why. I wasn’t involved in those discussions and meetings. I didn’t see the material they presented to him, if they did. I pointed out to him that we’re even now because he acted in one of the Star Trek movies that I was not in, and he had to admit that that was true. And, we’re over it. I think it’s history. I think he genuinely wants the movie to be a success. I admire him a lot. I think he’s done a great job with his career. He was a handsome leading man, and became a very good, very successful character actor. We have a great friendship, and it continues to be a great friendship.
Q: You all managed to get the essence of the characters without making caricatures. Zoe, did you talk to Nichelle Nichols?
Zoe: I did speak with Nichelle, a couple of times, and the response was completely overwhelming. We felt completely supported, and the pressure was just removed, the moment Mr. Nimoy stepped on set. I was able to meet Nichelle, and there was this overall happiness and excitement that Star Trek was coming back and that we were stepping into the family. It made it much easier for us to approach these characters, not only remembering the fundamental essences of all of them, but also not being afraid to add any innovation. That’s where J.J. comes in. I thought it was incredibly witty, on his behalf, to make it the beginning and show them as young people that are not comfortable in their own skin. They’re meeting for the first time and they’re starting off with a clean palette. You know that they need to end up the way that they are in the series, but it’s completely different. They could be lost, they could be found, they could have all these relationships, and battles within themselves and each other, and they’re still going to complete these missions on the Enterprise. So, sometimes knowing the end can give you a better perspective on where to start.
Q: What did you think of Uhura’s relationship with Spock?
Zoe: They locked us in the office at Bad Robot, so that we could read the script, and I dropped it and grabbed my Blackberry and kept saying, “This man’s crazy! J.J.’s out of his mind. I’m not that aware about Star Trek, but I do know that they never mingled. It’s crazy!” And then, once I finished the script, it just made so much sense. They have the most similar characteristics. I almost feel like she had this admiration for Spock because he was older and sort of like a teacher, and there was this crush or platonic infatuation with someone that’s wiser, wittier, handsome and had pointy ears. Why not?
Q: Karl, your performance as Bones is so impressive. Were you a fan of the original series?
Karl: Yes, I would define myself as a long-time fan of the original series. I watched it as a boy, religiously, every Saturday morning. About two years before I found out that they were making this new Star Trek, I bought the entire DVD box set and watched it with my son. So, when they started casting, I didn’t necessarily need to go back and study up. I felt that I knew the characters and the archetypes and the relationships really, really well. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: Bruce, can you talk about playing Captain Pike and what preparation you did for the role?
Bruce: Yeah, the first thing I did was go back and watch “The Cage” and “The Menagerie,” of course, and then, I went back and watched the whole series, all three years, soup to nuts. But, I realized pretty quickly that the dilemma that Jeffrey Hunter’s Pike faces is very different from what my Pike faces. He’s conflicted over whether or not he will remain with Starfleet, and the Pike that I play has no such dilemma. My Pike’s dilemma is more about whether or not to trust the young Kirk. So, there was some latitude there for me.
Q: Are you drawn to playing these commanding officer roles?
Bruce: I suppose I am. I don’t know that I’m inordinately drawn to playing people with authority. If I am, it’s probably because I have so little of my own. But, I’m just generally just drawn to story. I’m of an age where, if the story is good, often there is a strong character that’s my age.
Q: What was the best part about your Pike? What attracted you to this?
Bruce: What attracted me to the whole process was J.J.’s enthusiasm and the strength of his spirit. Once we got on the set, there was so much positive energy. It was really a terrific experience, from beginning to end.
Q: Zach, did J.J. give you any tips or words of wisdom, about playing this role, that really stuck out to you?
Zachary: I remember when I first sat down with J.J. to talk to him about playing the role, I was in there for 45 minutes, and I think he spoke for about 43 of them. There was such an overwhelming vision and enthusiasm and clarity about what he wanted this to be and, more importantly, what he didn’t want it to be. And that, for me, set a really solid framework, in which we were all allowed to play and explore and discover, on our own. It was a very collaborative spirit, and a very optimistic spirit, in terms of the kind of story he wanted to tell. And, the people that fell in line with that, really gave 100% to make sure that that happened — actors, designers, musicians, all the people that were involved. Almost 1,000 people worked on this film. And that, for me, is a testament to him and his vision.
Q: Was it difficult to find the fine line of playing a character that is supposed to be emotionless, but that does has some emotions?
Zachary: Well, I think it’s a common misconception that Spock doesn’t feel emotion. I think he feels emotion very deeply, but he’s just restricted in the way that he’s able to express it. To speak on the earlier question about the relationship between Spock and Uhura, that dynamic provides a lot of levity and humor between Kirk and Spock and between Kirk and Uhura, but between Spock and Uhura, I think it actually represents a depth, whereby Uhura is almost a canvas onto whom Spock can project the emotion that he is not able to express himself. For me, it was about cultivating a deeply rooted inner life, and not being able to do much, other than to hold on to it, which can be frustrating as an actor, especially when, around me, my fellow actors are emoting and running about, and having a good time. Obviously, it’s a formidable challenge, and one that I was really excited to be faced with.
Q: What kind of actor and man did you discover Leonard Nimoy to be?
Zachary: What I came to discover about Leonard is that there is more to him than being just an actor or an artist, really. Getting to know him personally, I got to understand the totality of this process, and not just the experience of playing Spock, but what that then presented him with, in terms of opportunities and restrictions or challenges, and how he met those. The most impressive thing, to me, about Leonard is how he faced the potential obstacles that playing Spock presented to him. Science fiction was a different thing 40 years ago than it is today, and watching him re-define his creative journey, and becoming a director, a writer, an amazing photographer and a genius art collector. These are things that define someone’s life as more than just being an actor. And, that was the most inspiring thing, for me, about getting to know him and getting to spend time with him and seeing his life, a little bit. He’s a phenomenal actor, as is evidenced by his work in this film, which is so moving and so exciting to me. But, he’s so much more than that. That’s what drew me in, and that was the hook, line and sinker, for me.
Q: Because you filmed a lot CG and green screen moments, was that difficult? What were you most surprised with, in the final version of the film?
Zoe: There are perks and there are things that are technical and kind of a drag, sometimes. The perk about working with green screen and CGI is that you get to go back to remembering what it was like to play with your dolls when you were 5 years old, and your imagination was completely and utterly infinite. The bad thing about it, sometimes, is the technicality of failures that you’ll have. We would be shooting a scene, and there was seven of us, who were supposed to be looking out on a green screen, and it’s Nero’s ship, and J.J. is on the sidelines, shouting “Look! It’s Nero’s ship! Gory! Gory!” And, we’re all looking, but then, all of a sudden, he’ll stop us because we’re all looking in different directions. Sometimes, J.J. would have to get up from his chair and grab a big orange piece of tape and make a big X, and say, “That’s Nero’s ship!” Those are the things that make you laugh when you’re asked questions like that. That day, we just couldn’t find Nero’s ship on the board. It was hard.
Q: You all got an instant legion of fans before you shot a frame of film. Have you already had some memorable or outrageous fan encounters because of your Trek association?
Karl: About the second day after I found out that I was given the opportunity to be in this film, I was driving down the road in Santa Monica and just stopped at a random set of lights, and a gentleman in a Star Trek outfit crossed the road, on a random day. It really struck me, at that point, the effect that this wonderful series has had in our popular culture. I, personally, feel very, very grateful that there is an entity of fans out there that have such a deep admiration, respect and love for Star Trek. We’re very blessed to have them. And, indeed, if it wasn’t for them, the original show would have been canceled at the end of the second season. So, we hope this movie that we have made, that we are proud of, that we love and that we had such fun making, is received and appreciated and loved by those fans because there’s a lot in there for them. At the same point, though, it doesn’t matter if you have never seen a Star Trek movie or television series before. You can go along to this movie and enjoy the phenomenal ride and the wonderful characters, and really get in on the ground level. So, kudos to J.J.
Q: Leonard, you also just did some work on J.J. Abrams’ television series Fringe. Can fans expect to see more of you on TV and in movies, from now on?
Leonard: I have done one scene, in what will be the final episode of Fringe, for this season. I’m introduced as a character named William Bell, who was talked about in some of the earlier episodes. I have agreed to do two more episodes in the next season, and then we’ll see where it goes from there. It’s a wonderful opportunity because it’s a blank canvas. The characters are still being developed and discovered, so I’m looking forward to that. But, I don’t plan to work on a series, except for maybe an occasional episode of Fringe.
Q: Did you get involved with Fringe because of J.J.?
Leonard: When they tell me J.J. Abrams is on the phone, I have to take the call.