Separated by just two weeks on the summer movie schedule but worlds apart in their sensibilities, “Terminator Salvation” and “Star Trek” might just represent the polar extremes of science fiction’s future vision. In one, humanity harnesses technology to create a gleaming, electronically perfect platform for exploring the universe. The other involves technology taking over the planet and destroying everything with a pulse.
Anton Yelchin is that connecting tissue between the utopia and the dystopia, which puts the 20-year-old actor in an enviable position. By taking on the roles of Kyle Reece in next week’s “Terminator Salvation” and Chekov in last week’s “Star Trek,” Yelchin is an essential element in re-launching two successful franchises, and due to scheduling, the star of “Charlie Bartlett” and the Showtime series “Huff” could end up being this summer’s king of the box office.
“They’re both really incredible to be a part of and to experience, and to be on the set is just insane — they’re both iconic franchises but two totally different moods and philosophies, really,” Yelchin said during a press day at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. “It was pretty wonderful to go from one universe into a totally different universe even though they’re both science fiction.”
Yelchin was born in Leningrad during the last gasp of the Soviet Union, five years after James Cameron’s original, modestly budgeted “Terminator” became a surprise hit. His parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, were ice skating stars who emigrated to the U.S. when Anton was six months old, giving their son ample opportunity to fully absorb American pop culture.
And the first two “Terminator” movies were front and center in Yelchin’s imagination.
“I think I saw them way too early. Like, I saw ‘T2,’ which came out in ’91, and I saw it on TV a couple of years after that, so I was about four or five when I saw it, and I was so into it,” he said. “I was obsessed with it: I had all the action figures, I had a Terminator factory that made gelatin Terminators — hey, they put one out and I had it.”
Now, instead of building gelatinous killing machines, Yelchin must construct new identities for two characters established by other actors: Reece was created by Michael Biehn in the original “Terminator,” and Walter Koenig originated Chekov in the 1966-69 “Star Trek” series. Yelchin, who will appear later this year in “New York, I Love You” and “Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac,” said he closely studied both actors’ performances, hoping to capture some of their techniques and qualities for his own versions of their characters.
“Every day, every week, pretty much,” Yelchin said of his DVD-assisted study of Biehn and Koenig. “There’s a set of guidelines I want to follow, and I take those guidelines from the character that was created by the original actor. For me, I had to adjust certain scenes to those guidelines as opposed to adjusting those guidelines to the script, because I felt like this was something that people would want to see in that character.”