By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It’s been a bumpy ride for the cast and crew of “Star Trek Beyond.” First there was the loss in early 2015 of Leonard Nimoy, who played the original Spock, during production. Then, just weeks before the film was set to debut, 27-year-old Anton Yelchin, who portrays Ensign Pavel Chekov in the rebooted series, died in a tragic accident. Most recently, original cast member George Takei threw shade on the third installment of the rebooted franchise, publicly expressing his dismay over the filmmakers’ decision to make Sulu (portrayed in the new movies by John Cho) gay. What was meant by the film’s writers to honor Takei, who is openly gay, turned into a kerfuffle when Takei insisted that the character he played on the TV series and subsequent feature films was straight as “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry intended. And yet, like the intrepid U.S.S. Enterprise, which has weathered ferocious aliens, asteroid storms, alternate universes and more over its 50-year journey, the franchise remains aloft.
During a recent press conference, key members of the cast—Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the screenplay—spoke about returning for their third “Star Trek” adventure. Directed by Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise), “Star Trek Beyond” finds the intrepid explorers traveling to the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
Q: What was the challenge of making a movie that honors the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek,” and be the next level in this trilogy of films while also making it a great action movie for non-fans or newcomers to the franchise?
Pegg: That was very important to us—Doug Jung and I and (director Justin Lin)— going in. We wanted to sort of try and create a hybrid of an episode of the original series with a spectacular cinematic event. The “Star Trek” movies have always been “event” films. With the TV series you get time to spend with the series, you have time to spend with the characters. It’s a longer game. With a film, you have to try and hit it. It has to be self-contained. It has to memorable. That was the thing to make sure that everybody’s that’s been here for 50 years gets what they deserve, in terms of a good “Star Trek” film, and for the people who’ve never seen it before, who perhaps aren’t as familiar with “Star Trek,” they don’t know about Kirk fighting (villains), they’re welcome too. This is an inclusive universe in every way, not just fictionally but factually, too.
Q: Spock and McCoy spend a lot of time together a lot in this film. How was it for Zach and Karl to spend so much time together and getting to explore that dynamic of these characters?
Urban: For me, I feel like this is probably the most fun that I’ve had making a “Star Trek” film. What Simon and Doug (Jung, the co-writer) were able to do was present probably the most well-defined, well-rounded version of the character, and it certainly gave me a lot of material to work with. I had an amazing time working with Zach (Quinto, who plays Spock). I have a huge amount of respect for him and his approach. It was great to have those two characters that are so diametrically opposed to each other be forced into a situation where they have to depend on each other to survive, and through the process, come to a deeper understanding of who they both are. It was obviously a great opportunity to explore a lot of comedy but then to also really deepen the relationship between the two. By the end of it, they were able to go back to their respective corners with a bit of insight and knowledge. For long-term fans, it’s a rewarding interaction.
Quinto: I couldn’t agree more. Karl and I had a great time working together. In a movie franchise where we’re used to spending so much time together, all of us on the bridge of the Enterprise, and in many of our adventures, it was actually really nice to have so many days where it was only Karl and me together. We got to know each other and appreciate each other more than we already did, which already is a significant amount. From a character standpoint, I really echo the idea that these two characters, historically in this franchise, come at things from entirely different perspectives and points-of-view. There’s nothing more fun for fans of the original show than to see that dynamic unmitigated by Kirk, who usually manages to get between them. I think in the same way, Bones (Urban) really saves Spock’s life in this film. There’s a deep appreciation for that, obviously, and they end this film in a much better place as a duo than I would say they begin it.
Q: The film has such a lovely tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy. Was there initial expectation earlier on in the process that he would be part of the film before he died, and how did you figure out how you wanted to pay homage to him?
Quinto: If Leonard had been well enough to be a part of this film, I’m sure he would’ve been. I know that there were early conversations with him about that possibility, which, true to his incredible self, he knew well enough to know that that wouldn’t be possible at a certain point. It became important to all of us to figure a way to honor his legacy, and I thought Simon and Doug did a beautiful job of incorporating it into the narrative of the film. We all carried him with us through this production. It was definitely a different kind of feeling to make this movie without him, for me in particular. But I think he was very much a part of it in spirit, and certainly in the film now, and will be a part of anything we do moving forward.
Pegg: We wanted to make it part of Zach’s Spock arc as well, not just a reference to Spock Prime (as Nimoy was called in 2013’s “Star Trek in Darkness”), or what we did eventually, which was to dedicate the film to him. We wanted to have his passing be something that inspired our Spock to move on as well. So it became an integral part of the story, not to just kind of nod in Leonard’s direction. That felt more right to do it that way.
Q: Justin Lin said that the main reason why he wanted to tackle this project was because his childhood dream was to (SPOILER ALERT) blow up the Enterprise and then bring it back together. Simon, was that a collaborative effort, or was that all his idea that he presented to you and Doug Jung, and then you guys incorporated it into the script?
Pegg: I hated the idea at first. I swear, we had, like, rows about it. I was shouting down the phone, going, “You can’t do that! You can’t destroy the Enterprise!” My problem was that, if you think it’s something new, but then we’ve seen it before. It happened in “Search for Spock,” and it happened in “Generations.” But Justin was very very determined, and as we spoke about it, I realized what he was doing brilliantly was not only sort of taking out a main character, but he was removing the physical connective tissue between the crew. To see what happens when you take away the thing that physically bonds them together. If you take away that thing that necessitates their being a unit, do they dissipate or do they come back together? That was the genius of that thing. You take it away very very violently and dramatically, and then you wait and see if they all come back together to be this family, which is essentially what they are. And, of course they do. So I backed down immediately and said, “Yeah, you’re right,” which I do occasionally, not always. In this instance, I realized it was a brilliant idea. But, yeah, initially I was opposed to it.
Q: Zoe, your character has gone through changes that reflect the societal changes for women in the past half-century. Can you talk about how you think she’s evolved to what you’re doing now?
Saldana: There’s a beautiful, I hate to use the word “sprouting,” but it’s true. Women are becoming very independent. Not just in the workforce but also in their personal lives. There’s just something about realizing that you should want to be a part of something. You don’t necessarily have to be a part of something in order for you to be validated or respected or appreciated or considered strong enough. So, I feel that this (SPOILER ALERT) break-up that Uhura and Spock have is amazing because she fell in love with her teacher. He came as this figure that represented responsibility and safety and maturity and wisdom, and now I think she feels strong enough to, if I choose to see it that way. There is a parallel universe situation that’s going in here with Uhura and women these days. There’s no longer this animosity or this resentment to sort of prove who you are. You just want to be left alone to sort of find out who you are because you’re interested and you’re curious. I like this autonomy that’s happening with women right now.
Q: John, when did the idea come up on how to give more background into Sulu’s character?
Cho: I believe Simon pitched it and then I was told of it through Justin pretty early on, and we went in to have a chat and get reacquainted. I thought it was a beautiful idea. I had concerns about how it would be received by George. I had some other concerns, but it was really the handling of it that was most important to me, And, having seen the film, I think it’s nonchalant posture towards it is the best thing about it. The fact that it’s normalized, and it’s kind of news now but if you re-watch the movie in 10 years, you won’t think anything of it. It’ll just go right by you, and that’s the best thing about it. There’s no music cue. There’s no close up.
Urban: (interjects) Dun-dun-duuun! He’s gay! He’s gay, everybody! He’s with a man!
Saldana: The one thing that I guess has taken a secondary position is that, it wasn’t just that we revealed that (Sulu’s) gay. We revealed that he’s a father. None of our characters have families that we’ve ever talked about. So I actually feel quite puzzled that in 2016 we’re having a bit of a fit over who he fathered a baby with. I’m happy he’s a dad.
Q: This film is bittersweet with the loss of Anton (Yelchin, who plays Chekov). What do recall of working with him?
Urban: First off all, it’s terrible to lose a family member. We’re at a point where we should be celebrating this film, but also this beautiful man, this talented man. For all of us, it is almost incomprehensible where we have to talk about him in the past. The pain of his loss is still very raw. We spent time with Anton’s family and we know that they will be very proud of his contribution to film and this film will forever be probably the most special experience for all of us. It represents a golden period where our family was fully together for the last time and it really was as Simon said, “The best summer of our adult lives.” We love him so much and we miss him terribly.
Pine: He was just a good guy. He was very sweet. He was very beautifully and authentically Anton. There was not much of a censor on the boy. I remember one of the first times I met him, nine years ago or whatever, he was 17, and I invited him back to my trailer to play guitar because I knew he played guitar and he played it really well. And he said, “I can’t, man. I have to go back my trailer.” And I was like, “Okay. Why?” And he was translating an esoteric Russian novel into English because that’s what he wanted to do. Eight or nine years, later I talked to him and he was still translating it. He was still reading this book on physics that this French philosopher had written. He’d be in Vancouver and he’d want to see this German neo-expressionist film and he would talk about it as if everyone has or should have seen it. He was a great guy. He was just totally fearless. You try to grasp onto something positive out of losing such a good guy and I think it’s just to be fearlessly creative. He was always working on stuff. He has music projects, photography project, and he was going to direct his first film this summer. He was just spectacularly interested in life in a really great way.
Q: Since you guys were working with Justin Lin, who takes over the helm from J.J. Abrams this time around, what was the dynamic working with him compared to J.J. (who directed the previous two rebooted “Star Trek” movies)?
Quinto: Justin has a very different energy about him. I’d say he’s a little more internalized as a person. He’s a little quieter, but no less confident. He’s incredibly gifted as a visual storyteller. He’s really sensitive to character dynamics as well. He brings a balance of those extremes. He came in on an already moving train in a lot of ways. He didn’t have a lot of time to prep for this film and we were incredibly impressed by his sense of leadership and vision. It was really great to have Simon in a position of creative influence on this film because he was a tremendous conduit for us early on before we kind of forged our own relationships with Justin. All in all, he was really a welcome addition. He’s very different from J.J., but also really exciting and really unique in his own way. We all had a great time working together and seeing what he was able to create and to see the final product is really exciting for us.
Q: How far do you see the franchise going with these characters and are there any thoughts of a spinoff with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and what was the greatest takeaway from this film?
Pegg: I hope it goes on for another 50 years. Whether we’ll keep going as long as we can until we’re old and inappropriate. Some of us already are I’d say. Me? The thing about the new timeline is Picard (“TNG’s” captain) doesn’t exist. I’m kidding. Man, would I be in trouble. I hope it goes on. There’s a new CBS series that’s starting that’s all about the galaxy and there’s so many adventures to be had. So, as long as we have this idea that we might not just kill ourselves and die in a big fire, we might actually become slightly more enlightened and tolerant beings and go off into space. That is an idea that, secretly, a vast majority of us want to achieve. “Star Trek” could live forever.