Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto revels in Spock role
May 17, 2013 12:00 PM
Industrial Light & Magic
Zachary Quinto is Spock in 'Star Trek Into Darkness.'
Zoe Saldana is Uhura and Zachary Quinto is Spock in 'Star Trek Into Darkness.'
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At one point during "Star Trek Into Darkness," Kirk fumes, "Sometimes, I just want to rip the bangs off his head."
But Kirk doesn't do that, which is a good thing considering the amount of time consumed by the workday ritual of transforming Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto into Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human with a high-maintenance look.
By the time the movie finished shooting, the makeup artists had shaved a whopping 30 minutes from their application of the signature swooping ears, angled eyebrows and other facial flourishes.
Not a big deal? It started as 3 hours and 15 minutes -- plus another 30 minutes in hair -- so even an extra half-hour can be a luxury when you have to report to the set 2 1/2 to three hours ahead of everyone else who may be arriving at 6 a.m.
Some days, Mr. Quinto would sleep. Others, he would go over the day's work, read scripts, do crossword puzzles or attend to business with his acting career or Before the Door Pictures, a media production company formed with Carnegie Mellon University pals who returned to campus in April.
"There's an internal stillness that I need to work toward in order to get where I need to be to shoot for the day. So sometimes it's a time for reflection or meditation or just silence," the onetime Green Tree resident and 1999 graduate of CMU said by phone.
As for a magazine mention about a memento awarded to him, he said with a smile in his voice, "It wasn't so much about them giving me a souvenir pair of ears. Let's just say that for all of my trouble in the early mornings, I have a collection of ephemera to remember my experience by."
When Mr. Quinto is back in Pittsburgh, he often ends up meeting friends at Brillobox in Bloomfield or some place in Shadyside, but on this day it was London calling. It was one of many overseas stops before returning to the States and more red carpets, photo calls, talk shows and raucous or repetitive rides on the publicity roller coaster.
In the first movie, released in May 2009, director J.J. Abrams had the daunting task of rebooting a beloved franchise with a cast that also included Chris Pine as James T. Kirk; Zoe Saldana as Uhura; Simon Pegg as Scotty; Karl Urban as Bones; John Cho as Sulu; and Anton Yelchin as Chekov.
"It's a much bigger film," Mr. Quinto said (accurately) of the sequel now in theaters in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX. "I think there were more demands on me personally, physically for sure.
"The biggest challenge that I faced in making this movie was definitely just the training and the conditioning and the preparations for all the action sequences, which ultimately were as rewarding as they were challenging."
Mr. Quinto started training more than two months before production and normally works out five times a week and runs for exercise in Los Angeles (he just moved to New York in advance of his Broadway debut).
"The hardest part was the actual sprinting and creating a physical vocabulary for the character," he said. When he says "sprinting," he is not exaggerating, as Spock runs full out in a pivotal chase scene.
"To play a role that is so historically associated with economy of movement and stillness, it was a great gift as well as a challenge for me to create that physicality. To build that, to imagine how this Spock -- who is always logical and always would utilize the path of least resistance -- is going to be able to exert himself to that degree and have it feel authentic.
"So adopting a specific kind of posture and executing that was something that took a lot of time. Because, as much as I might run for exercise, I don't sprint at my absolute top speed for a sustained amount of time. So I had to really build up a lot of endurance to be able to do that."
Early in the film, Spock also dons a special volcano suit that allows him to navigate a raging core of fire and rock on the Nibiru planet. The suit, which makes him look like Iron Man meets fireman meets snazzy SWAT leader, was custom-made based on laser computer designs of his body.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" takes some franchise scenarios and dialogue and treats them as if we're in a bizarro world. He knew the origins of those elements and appreciated their modern makeover.
"I think that one of J.J.'s many gifts as a director and a storyteller is to be able to create worlds that are this big and spectacular and action packed but anchor them in real character relationships and dynamics.
"And I think also there's enough of those kinds of echoes of the original series that fans who have been diehard, longtime aficionados will be satisfied, but then there's also all of these other elements of the movie that I think are more broadly appealing. ... It's really an action thriller-relationship drama that happens to be called 'Star Trek.' "
It is also a movie that, like so many others, has scenes that may seem frighteningly familiar in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing or the long shadow of 9/11. It weighs the hunger for revenge versus the need for justice.
"Part of the history of 'Star Trek' is to reflect to its audience the world in which it exists. So obviously none of us could have foreseen the horrible, horrific tragedy that unfolded in Boston," he said.
"But I do think it's part of what people seek in entertainment, it's part of what entertainment does is reflect that world and reflect back at the people who live in it exactly what's happening around us. So, as unfortunate as it is, I think it does allow the story to resonate for people in a way and give them a point of entry and a way to relate to it."
The movie, he says, is aptly titled. "It's darker and it reflects the fact that I think our world is turning darker.
"And yet at the core of 'Star Trek' is an inherent optimism and a faith in humanity if we can come together and put our differences aside and assemble in a diverse way, there's more likelihood that we're going to advance toward the light. And that's something that I feel honored to be a part of."
Mr. Quinto, a winner of a Gene Kelly Award for Excellence in High School Musical Theater during his Central Catholic days and later a regular on TV's "Heroes" and "American Horror Story," is having quite the renaissance year.
This week, he was scheduled to host a screening of "Star Trek" for members of Congress and then head to the Cannes Film Festival for the Robert Redford film "All Is Lost," produced in part by Before the Door.
The company, by the way, takes its name from an acting exercise all first-year CMU drama students must complete.
In September, Mr. Quinto will make his Broadway debut with the American Repertory Theater's "The Glass Menagerie," which launched in Cambridge, Mass. He will reprise his role of Tom Wingfield in the Tennessee Williams classic.
In February, Ben Brantley of The New York Times called Mr. Quinto "the finest Tom I've ever seen, a defensive romantic, sardonically in love with his own lush powers of description. You truly feel that he is shaping this play as we watch, and we wince and marvel in those moments when he no longer seems in control, when reality rears its reproachful head."
Good gracious, as a character might exclaim. So, does Mr. Quinto pay attention to reviews?
"Well, that one was hard to ignore, but my general position on reviews tends to be that I have to adopt the same attitude toward a review as glowing as the one in the Times as I do to any kind of disparaging review.
"It cannot be something that, as an artist, I allow myself to plug into, so even if I'm aware of it, I have to be aware of it with an ability to release it immediately. Obviously I want to do good work and I strive to do good work, but the barometer for what good work is has to be internal for me.
"It has to come from my collaborators, it has to come from the people I'm making the work with. The minute I feel like I open up my own idea of what is good to other people's opinions, I feel like I compromise my integrity, and I can't allow that to happen."