ANTON YELCHIN IS A MAN OF MANY FACES: MUSICIAN, ACTOR, IN-N-OUT IMITATOR. HERE, HE SHOWS VMAN.COM HIS D.I.Y. SIDE WITH AN EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT HIS NEWEST COLLABORATION: A 'ZINE, TOOTH FAIRY, IN WHICH HE MODELS LUXE LOOKS AROUND A SEEDY RESEDA. NATASHA STAGG SPEAKS WITH HIM ABOUT THIS AND HIS OTHER PROJECTS—AN UPCOMING STAR TREK FILM, FOR EXAMPLE—TO FIND THAT THE ONLY THING SEPARATING THEM IS A MATTER OF SCALE
“It’s just that I’m trying to do too many things at once.”
Anton Yelchin is in his kitchen in Los Angeles, he tells me, grilling a burger. He’s also trying to forward me a photo he has saved on his desktop computer, which is downstairs. This task proves to be a pain mostly because his software is outdated. “Mobile Outlook is shitty. That’s the only word—next to the words ‘Mobile Outlook,’ in the thesaurus, it says ‘shitty, piece of shit.’” In the end, he photographs the screen with his iPhone, an effect he appreciates anyway, and emails me the shot. It’s one of himself and a man who approached him during the photo shoot you’re looking at now: a collaboration between himself, stylist Gena Tuso and photographer Dan Monick, put together for VMAN.com. The man, he said, seemed very high—or maybe it was the guy’s cousin, who showed up later, who was. Anyway, these guys were convinced that Yelchin was a porn star.
“Of course I’m a porn star,” said Yelchin to the strangers, who then insisted they get their photo taken with him. Although the picture was successfully sent to me, the burger made, and the bases covered by the end of this interview, Yelchin sounds dissatisfied. “It’s too many things: the burger, the email, the instant brown rice.” He hadn’t mentioned the rice before. “I’m sneaky like that,” he jokes.
So far, multitasking has worked out okay for Yelchin, of Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation (both 2009), and Fright Night (2011) fame. He’s been acting in blockbusters and TV series since he was nine years old, pretty much one after the other, and he’s always made time for quieter romances—the Japanese Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2010) and the understated Like Crazy (2011), for example. Plus, he would never limit himself to one craft. “I like art. I hate the word art, but, I like making stuff. Painting, photography, poetry… I like movies most. I love movies.” Yelchin fell for film early on. His parents, champion pair figure skaters in St. Petersburg, moved the family to L.A. when Anton was a kid. When I ask for examples of the films his parents introduced him to, the twenty-four-year-old casually sighs, “You know, sixties European stuff, the American New Wave, the German New Wave, Soviet cinema.”
We’re looking at the photos from this shoot that Yelchin took himself. “I love those latex gloves,” he says of a pair he wore in a bathroom mirror selfie. He’s interested in texture, in the way a Xeroxed page feels, and in the propaganda-pamphlet-like effect a physical object, like a cheaply made ‘zine, can produce. He’s even made his own, called Lurker, and distributed it at the L.A. ‘Zine Fest in person.
Yelchin’s penchant for an old-fashioned way of art-making should come as no surprise, given his track record. The two huge films in which he costars coming out this summer, Star Trek Into Darkness and Smurfs 2, are each very much already a part of the world’s cultural database, as was Terminator and Fright Night (a remake of the 1985 classic). But when I ask about his preference for all things analog (these photos were taken with a disposable camera), it seems his motives are more of a visceral than a nostalgic leaning. "I like the noir, Raymond Chandler-esque part of L.A,” he says. “Walking around Reseda, where they have all these sex shops and weed dispensaries… there’s this porn shop with the most busty-ass mannequins I’ve ever seen. I like that: there’s the Macy’s Mannequin and the porn shop mannequin, and their different intentions.” It’s about something polished stuck in something gritty: Hollywood’s stars in dusty Southern California, posh SoHo stores above his favorite New York neighborhood, Chinatown, and the remaining landmarks in the cities where he shot Jim Jarmusch’s upcoming Only Lovers Left Alive: Cologne and Detroit. And it’s also about the histories connecting each of these places. He quickly gives me a lesson on Detroit’s White Flight and Europe’s involvement. “Going from Detroit to Germany, two places that are so intimately connected by the Cold War, it was something to think about.”
Only Lovers Left Alive, out this December, stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. And it’s a vampire movie. Is Yelchin a vampire? “I won’t tell you that. Tom and Tilda are. That much, I’ll say.” And working with Mr. Jarmusch? “He’s a beautiful, magical human being. I’ve been a fan for a long, long, time, and would never have thought I’d get to have the honor of being in one of his movies.”
There’s a theme here: Yelchin has successfully inserted himself into that world of timeless cinema he studied, being cast in some of the most anticipated movies of our time. Remakes of classics, sequels to hits, and follow-ups from directors with cult followings.
“I wouldn’t call him a cult icon,” Yelchin says of Jarmusch. “Giving something that title is just a way to sell it, and it negates the reality of a person’s input. I’d call Jim a master of world cinema. His input is so important. Putting Rza on the soundtrack to Ghostdog? And his own music that he makes? He’s bigger than cinema.” And what of the cult-status of other films in which he’s starred? “Coincidence,” he says. “We’re at an age where ideas are being recycled, reconfigured, rethought… but it’s always been that way, since the fucking thirties. The Maltese Falcon, the fucking famous Maltese Falcon is a remake. It’s a condition of Hollywood.” I want to continue this part of the conversation, but he interrupts each tangent we take by cracking me up.
“Fuck!” he yells. “Sorry.” Is he alright? I ask, although I can hear a smile in his voice. “The thing about making hamburgers is, when you press them down, you have to do it correctly, or else they, after they get so bloated with their own juices… they just ejaculate all over you. Ejaculate really is the only correct verb for what happens.”
I note his attention to vocabulary. He has no talent on the ice, he’s told me, but he obviously inherited that inclination for precision seen in competitive figure skating. “One thing my parents distilled in me is a desire to do something, and to do it well. And to do that, you gotta know what it means to make good work.”
Apparently, one of his many talents is making a burger as good as In-n-Out’s—animal style, even. “I’m pretty fucking good at it. I’m a frequent In-n-Outer. Oh!” he howls, as if he doesn’t know what he’s saying, and that it’s being recorded. We’re beyond all that, though. After fifteen minutes with Yelchin, I know I’m speaking to an abnormally self-aware man. He’s an artist, but he would never call himself that, fearful of the loaded term’s associations. He’s a musician, but he’ll readily discuss the typified plight of actors-turned-musicians before I can even try to bring it up myself.
“It’s never a musician who also acts, no. It’s always the actor’s band. And an actor who plays music usually sucks. It makes sense: the only thing actors wanna do, other than, you know, that thing, is to be a rock star. Who doesn’t wanna be a fucking rock star? That’s why, when you see an actor say, ‘Fuck! I wanna be Mick Jagger,’ you gotta just close your eyes.”
Leaving no stone unturned, he next lists a few exceptions to the rule: Michael Pitt, Juliette Lewis, and his Fright Night costar Christopher Mintz-Plasse have each done well by deciding to cross industries without embarrassing themselves. And he hastens to say he won’t let that fateful decision’s bad reputation keep him from making it for himself. He’d still put out tracks from a punk band for which he used to play guitar, if he could figure out how to upload them onto Mediafire from his five-year-old desktop. “Mediafire? Is there a better file-sharing site? Didn’t they get sued? No, that was Megaupload. I don’t give a fuck, I’ll put ‘em on Mediafire.” And even if that doesn’t work out, he always has his plan to play solo, making “heavy, industrial soundscapes. Dark electro meets psychobilly. And I’m down to produce. Watch, I never do it. You’ll see, in the Spring of 2015…”
For someone so busy shooting movies, he’s pretty hard on himself for not finishing projects when he says he will. His ‘zine, Lurker, took a year to finish, but it could have taken two month, he notes. Is it ironic that we’re talking about a stereotypical anarchist’s approach to magazine-making, and that this interview is for a glossy, I ask? No way. There’s a connection between what he and his friends do, selling what they’ve made for a dollar each and not breaking even, and what a larger (independent) magazines like V/VMAN do. He believes in the self-publishing revolution, but in involving the higher ends, like the fashion industry, too, where possible.
“V Magazine isn’t the enemy. That’s like when people say that big Hollywood movies are the enemy of little independent ones. What is ironic is what I’m about to say, and that is that—this is for online, isn’t it?” It is. “Well, I think things you can hold are beautiful. But I would never talk shit about the Internet. It’s the most liberal, free thing. Even though it’s made up of predominantly stupid shit, it’s a huge step for freedom.”
I have to point out: Anton Yelchin has a Hotmail account. Seriously? I list the other clues we’ve discussed while he swears at his computer some more, and come to the conclusion that he’s holding on to the past, that maybe he was born in the wrong era. “Or maybe I was born in the right time," he answers back. "I just need to update my Safari.”