SUNDANCE Q&A: Anton Yelchin Calls Improvisation 'Magical'
Twenty-one-year-old actor Anton Yelchin has deftly navigated the independent and studio worlds, though he says it’s been more of a happy accident than a strategic decision to move back and forth between films such as 2009’s Star Trek and Terminator Salvation and this year’s Like Crazy.
That film, from Douchebag director Drake Doremus, is the story of a long-distance romance and stars Yelchin and Felicity Jones as young lovers whose relationship is put to the test. Like Crazy premiered today, Saturday, at Sundance and is showing in the festival’s U.S. dramatic competition section. It also features Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone — the critical darling of last year’s festival. Yelchin said he jumped at the chance to take on the role of Jacob after learning from Doremus — whose Douchebag was in Sundance’s dramatic competition last year — that the film would be shot on an improvisational basis. It was an opportunity the actor considered “magical.” Yelchin spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his choice of roles, his Sundance plans and the power of silence in cinema.
The Hollywood Reporter: How conscious of a choice has it been to take on both mainstream and indie roles?
Yelchin: I think it just sort of happens that way. I think my job is such that you can find joy and explore different universes. I loved playing Chekov (in Star Trek). I loved working on Terminator. And then I had an amazing experience on Like Crazy, too. Both types of films afford you the opportunity to experience these different lives — completely different lives in completely different places. And for me, the characters are important and what you can find in them, what you can bring to them, and what you can do with them. That’s usually what guides how I assess projects, aside from obviously the filmmakers, the other actors and the script. I think that’s why I don’t think, “Oh, this is a little indie. I’ll do that.” I feel lucky to be in whatever I’m in. I feel lucky to be working.
THR: How did Like Crazy come to your attention?
Yelchin: I’ve known (Like Crazy producer) Jonathan Schwartz for a couple of years, and I remember when he was doing Douchebag. I feel really lucky, because he was talking to me about Drake’s next movie (Like Crazy), and I sat down with Drake, and he gave me the breakdown. It’s all improvised, so there’s a 50-page breakdown. And I read that the same day, and the same day, I called him and said, “I really want to do this.” It’s really beautiful and touching. You just had a breakdown, but it was so heartfelt and so moving that I immediately wanted to do it. And the prospect of doing an improvised film is just kind of magical.
THR: Had you done something like that before?
Yelchin: The closest thing I’d done before was when I was 13, I did an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but that’s pretty much it. And this is totally different because it’s a drama, and it’s a very, very intense relationship drama, so I jumped at the chance to do that.
THR: How did the process of improvisation work?
Yelchin: Drake and Felicity and I sat down, and we had a couple weeks of rehearsals where we just went over the scenes, and in those rehearsals you start to realize these amazing things about the way conversations really happen. At first, your instinct is to talk so much because it’s an improvised movie. Generally in movies, unless it’s an (Andrei) Tartovsky movie or a Michael Haneke movie, we’re uncomfortable with silence. I think there are filmmakers who were always keenly aware that silence is a fundamental part of the human experience. Somehow, when you get used to reading scripts, people are always, always, always talking, and they pick one moment not to speak. But the truth is, in a relationship especially, the silences can be huge sometimes, and they can be silences of joy, when you just don’t need to say anything, or they can be silences of sadness where you don’t know what to say. In that rehearsal process, I think we were really discovering that, and it was so enlightening. It was like, wow, I don’t have to speak. Of course, the rehearsal scenes went on much longer because they were just exercises. Drake didn’t want to get the scene done in rehearsal. He didn’t want to burn it out. So we kind of got to a place where we all understood it and all felt it and waited to get on set with all that homework we’d done.
THR: That sounds pretty organic.
Yelchin: Yeah, exactly. So from that rehearsal process into shooting, I had such a good time. It was such an interesting experience. Drake is a very, very sensitive guy, and he’s really sensitive especially to this story because it’s very personal to him. He’s so aware of all those silences, and all those moments, and all the little things that are going on. It really felt organic. I really had a good time. And besides that, the fact that we could just move around and go wherever, where no one would say to me, “Hit this mark. Hit that mark. Say this. Say that” — it was mind-blowing.
THR: Many actors are in-and-out at Sundance — coming to promote their film and leaving soon thereafter — but I understand you’ll be sticking around for a bit?
Yelchin: For me, I specifically made room in the schedule so I could see movies. A lot of it is you’re going there to promote your movie, and you’re working. (Last time) I had so little time to check out what the festival was really about, which is seeing those movies. I’m just excited about being able to check that out. It’s also such a positive environment. I’m there for five days. I have press the first couple of days, and then I’m completely free. I’m just going to check out all the movies I want to see.