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JJ Abrams Star Trek

JJ ABRAMS - Profile
“Star Trek”

JJ Abrams, the man who created the television series ALIAS and co-created FELICITY, LOST, and FRINGE admits that he wasn’t a devoted fan of the original STAR TREK. How ironic, then, that when Paramount Pictures asked him to produce their latest big-screen incarnation of the world-famous franchise, he readily agreed to tackle the project. “I was interested in working on a version of STAR TREK that grabbed me the way it did friends of mine,” he says.

After a year of working on the screenplay with his writers and producing partners, he was hesitant to send out the finished product to other directors. “When I read the script, I knew I would be jealous of anyone else who got to direct,” he laughs. “Here was this funny and emotional story that was a huge spectacle. There was massive action, it was fast-paced and had a huge heart. These were all elements of my favorite films, so how could I say no?”

In Abrams’ version, the story boldly goes where no previous creators dared to go: chronicling the early days of James T. Kirk. The story reveals how Kirk and the crew members of the USS Enterprise graduate from the Star Fleet Academy and set aboard their ship on adventures into deep space. It was in this basic premise that Abrams found the soul of the story that he was looking for.

“We have the character, Kirk, that has a lot of potential, but was aimless,” Abrams explains. “We know he ends up as Captain, but he’s so misguided; he has not found his way. Then we have the character Spock, who is half-human and half-Vulcan, but is fighting with the notion that he’s unable to fit in. The two characters come together and have this contentious relationship. They go on a crazy adventure together and put their lives in each other’s hands, and ultimately are victorious because of that combined power.” Abrams attests: “That is what struck a chord with me.”

The son of prolific TV-movie producer Gerald Abrams, the New York- born, Los Angeles-raised Jeffrey Jacob seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Graduating from Sarah Lawrence College to pursue screenwriting, it wasn’t long before some of his early scripts caught the attention of Harrison Ford (REGARDING HENRY) and Mel Gibson (FOREVER YOUNG). Though Abrams found success on the big screen penning screenplays for ARMAGEDDON and JOYRIDE, it was the small screen that ultimately catapulted him to Hollywood royalty. A succession of three shows, FELICITY, ALIAS and LOST, where he executive produced and directed, became pop-culture mainstays.

The double-agent spy drama ALIAS proved to be the vehicle to bring him back to the big screen. Hollywood heavyweight Tom Cruise, after viewing episodes of the show, called on Abrams to direct MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. How prophetic a journey for Abrams to evolve from a once eight year-old boy blowing up his miniature toys for homemade super 8mm movies to helming a movie for one of the world’s most well-known actors.

It was his childhood fascination with filmmaking and attention to meticulous detail that would come back to reap dividends for the STAR TREK assignment. “This film was literally taking everything I have done before and putting it into a quarter of the movie,” he says. “It was a huge challenge because each sequence was so different; I had to use every trick I knew and learn new ones. The scale of this movie is so ridiculous that it plays with your mind.” Not only did he have to create new planets, but decide on their atmosphere, language, attire and culture. “Every detail had to be considered,” he says.

With casting, Abrams faced a daunting task: Putting actors in place that reflected the personality of the original series regulars, without impersonating or mimicking them. Although some well-known faces expressed interest in the project, Abrams decided early on that casting unknowns would prove to be more beneficial. Looking no further than one of his favorite films, STAR WARS, he felt justified.

“You didn’t know who any of those people were when you first saw STAR WARS,” he explains. “So you believed that guy was Luke Skywalker. You didn’t recognize him from six other films, so you bought into who this guy was.” Following that formula, Abrams is laying his bets with Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov), among others, to inhabit the Enterprise.

A less confident director might feel handcuffed when accepting the challenge of such an iconic franchise, and Abrams acknowledges that his characters come predisposed to certain personality traits. But, his excitement stems from seeing how these characters--with those traits--react to a story that has never been told before. “The characters are all young adults; they are a disparate group of misfits and neophyte cadets, but as soon as they go on this adventure that they could never have anticipated, they form a relationship. They become a family.

Though STAR TREK has always been proactive in dealing with social and political themes, Abrams is under no illusions that his film will cure the world of any collective ills. “I wanted to make a film that would be the great ride at the amusement park; you know, the one ride that you have go on. It couldn’t be too shallow or short, and it had to deliver. As soon as you get off, you want to get back in line again. The only way for me to make that was to create a film that was as intimate and emotional as possible, then balance it with great action. At least, that was my ambition.”

ILM - a combination of artist, magician and scientist


On May, 8, the most famous Starship of all time returns to the big screen. But Director J.J. Abrams will make sure that this movie goes where no Star Trek has gone before. The film, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, shows the first adventure of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Enterprise crew. With a quantum twist.
Abrams went for a fresh and realistic look for his movie, while he tried to honor the last 43 years of the long running franchise and it‘s worldwide fan base as much as possible.

For this he went to Industrial Light & Magic, the company that started the modern era of visual effects. ILM has a long history with the Star Trek films and provided with the „Genesis Effect“ the first completely computer-generated sequence in a movie for „The Wrath of Khan“ in 1982.

I talked with ILM‘s Roger Guyett and Michael DiComo about their work with J.J. Abrams on Star Trek.

Roger Guyett joined ILM 1994 and worked on movies like Casper, Dragonheart and Pirates of the Caribbean. He won a BAFTA 1998 for „Saving Private Ryan“ and earned Oscar and BAFTA nominations his work on „Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban“
Roger worked as Visual effects supervisor and Second Unit Director on Star Trek J.J. rendered the title sequence for Lost himself, how was working with him as Second Unit Director?

RG: This is the second movie after Mission: Impossible III we did together, and we have a really good relationship. Bad Robot was looking for a Second Unit Director, and Vic Armstrong, who did the Job on MI3, was not available, so J.J. ended up asking me to do it. Most of the big action and stunt sequences tend to be very visual effects oriented, so it makes sense to have a Second Unit Director who is the Visual Effects Supervisor as well. We worked very close together and met almost every day.

Have you been a Trekkie?

RG: I love TOS, for me the Original series is the most relevant part of the Trek world… as a kid I never missed one episode while it was on TV. Part of my homework for Star Trek was that I watched all 10 movies that came before and re-watched some of TOS, to create the right feeling for the prequel we were doing. How did you upgrade the classic Star Trek effects, like the warp rainbow?

RG: J.J. wanted the movie to be based in reality as much as possible. The Enterprise should be a believable starship, the warp effect should look real and exciting. That means you have to upgrade all of these classics. You have to look at the design of the Communicators and Phasers and the transporter effect. All those things that are fixed in the Trekkies minds, like what Matt Jefferies original design of the warp nacelles looked like. Our version of warp travel is extremely exciting. Throughout the movie we paid respect to all of the classic elements the fans will be watching for, including a lot of the sounds known from The Original Series. We paid our homage to classic elements while upgrading them at the same time. The transporter chime or when the Communicator beep. They are all in there, not as exact copies from 1966 but updates true to the original. Everything the hardcore fans have affection for is there. Like our version of the uniform, they are very familiar but a more contemporary version of what was done in the original. We kept the colors, the Starfleet Delta and the shapes and styles are very familiar to the fans. It is the right balance between just copying something that would seem dated and making it more contemporary. The new bridge of the Enterprise is bright and glossy, some fans compared it to an Apple store…

RG: Yeah, I heard that too.. When you deal with such a hardcore fan base as the Trekkies, some people love what you do while others are disappointed. But you need to make strong decisions if you want to make a great movie. And our goal was to make the best and exciting movie possible. Spock Prime showing Scotty the formula for transwarp beaming is a nice nod to „The Voyage Home“, where „Professor“ Scott introduced transparent aluminum to the world…

RG: That is the great thing if you have somebody like Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman writing the script. Bob is a huge Trekkie himself, he is very aware and respectful of all the things the fans love and embrace. There is a lot of tipping the hat to the fans in the movie, while it is very contemporary film. It is a great adventure story, a high energy, and fun movie. The main viewer on the bridge looks like a real window with heads-up displays in it…

RG: Watching TOS as a kid, the screen always reminded me that the bridge was a set. It was hard to imagine the Enterprise warping through space if you just have a view screen that is playing back footage. But we were very keen on putting the crew really into space. These people are explorers, and if you want to make this experience realistic you don‘t want a view screen but a real window on the bridge. You can see the dish of the primary hull with the NCC 1701 on it, like the hood of a car spread out in front of you. You are connected all the time to the geography of space, where the crew of the Enterprise is going, and what they are about to do. While that created more work for us, it is an important aspect of the bridge itself, making the impression of being out there much more believable. The window can behave as a screen with Nero‘s face displayed on it, or can be a mixture of window and heads-up display. One of the advantages of that for telling a story is that you can have many things happening at the same time. You might be talking to somebody on the screen, but at the same time you can see where you are, adding more layers of context to what the characters are doing. In the sequence were Chekov is addressing the crew about the distress call, we see lots of different areas of the ship, and it appears really huge…

That is one of the main things J.J. did so well on the movie. Schedule wise and physically filming it was a difficult task, but it was certainly worth it. J.J. really wanted to show the size of the Enterprise, as a massive ship, by travelling around in her. So by doing a ship-wide broadcast and following Chekov´s image on the view screens you get the impression what all those different people of the crew are doing. You get a glimpse of Engineering or go down to the torpedo bay, and it really gives the movie a great kind of scope. For 43 years it was part of Trek canon that the Enterprise was assembled in earth orbit. Where you surprised that the ship was build on the ground in Iowa?

Yes, that was a potentially contentious area. We probably negotiated one aspect of that by not showing how the ship got into space… I talked to Bob Orci about that, he was aware of the contradiction, but the way it services the plot makes it worth having the ship built on the ground. What was the toughest job for ILM doing Star Trek?

We spent a surprising amount of time on the transporter effect. J.J. was very interested in the way the effect worked and wanted to make sure that it had real dimension.

We spent an enormous amount of time on making the Starships look the coolest and most interesting of all Trek history. Then there is a tremendous amount of destruction in the movie, which is a lot of fun to do. We spent a lot of time developing the virtual pyrotechnics for the space battles, making sure that the explosions when a ship is hit are appropriate to real space. It is a huge visual effects movie, there are more than 1.000 effects shots in Star Trek.

I am very proud of what we did and the movie is fantastic. There is nothing like doing a space movie, and Star trek has a history of pushing the envelope of visual effects. It is a great honor of being part of that tradition. Michael DiComo joined Industrial Light & Magic in 1996 as a technical director on 101 Dalmatians. On Star Trek he worked as Digital Production Supervisor. How do you destroy a starship?
MDC: First off all we need R&D to come up with a procedural way, luckily we don‘t have to break up the models by hand anymore. So a toolset is built and tested to blow up starships in a convincing way. Did you provide a lot of pre-viz materials for J.J.?

MDC: J.J. was already shooting the movie while we began to send him pre-visualized shots. It was a very tight and collaborative creative process. So while shooting live action J.J. received the pre-vis, got back to us and we had the chance to redo the sequence to deliver exactly what he wanted. We had ILM people on location so that J.J. could check the sequence on a Laptop, he saw the explosions as QuickTime movies while he was directing the scene.

After things got more settled down we would send whole sequences for reviewing to Maryann Brandon, the editor in Los Angeles. So the editorial team was able to react to our work in the right context. The space sequences look astoundingly real, how did you achieve that?

MDC: From the very outset Roger Guyett and J.J. were going for a much more realistic space environment. We started with very high contrast photography, because a lot of viewers know from real footage with NASA‘s Space Shuttle that the Earth bounces a whole bunch of light. Stanley Kubrick went for that look in 2001, but usually space movies go for a flat, low contrast look. We assumed that your primary light source in outer space is the next sun, and that there is very little bounce light. The dark side of the Enterprise is not illuminated by any fill light, you see only the windows and the ships tracer light. So we tried to play with that and forced that realistic contrast space look on the ship‘s hull. Things slide into darkness, so you can‘t tell on the dark side of Nero’s ship, the Narada, where it disappears. It‘s just so big, it looms out of the frame, and so dark that you can‘t see the surface, which makes it much more interesting and menacing.

For the details on the Starfleet ships, we asked the modelers and the painters in ILM‘s model shop who had built the Enterprise by hand for the earlier Trek movies. The Starship‘s outer hull is made from a lot of different panels, and they told us how to get that structure right. Some of the panels are matte, some dirty, some are scruffed and some clean. So we built the complete hull in CG, including virtual layers of paint. CG starts very clean, and then we worked in all the dirt and the grime. Our main task is to mess things up, to give the ships the look they get from patrolling at the final frontier. How did you build the Enterprise?

MDC: Bruce Holcomb, our lead digital modeler and our lead painter Ron Woodall brought in their amazing experience while building the Enterprise. Of course there is a big difference between a few concept drawings by Ryan Church and then building the ship in 3D space and orbit around it. When you see the light shining at the model you start to make some design decisions on top of that. But J.J. Abrams gave us so much creative freedom that we were able to built a beautiful Enterprise for him. When we pointed out that the relationship between the primary hull‘s saucer and the warp nacelles look a little weird, J.J. allowed us to change that, he is pushing something through the creative process till it is perfected. It was an amazing experience. The warp nacelles are equipped with Bussard collectors to collect hydrogen particles from space, after more than 40 years they don‘t glow red anymore…

MDC: While J.J. wanted to be stay true to the past on the Bussard collectors, he did not stick to every square inch of Star Trek that came before. If we showed him something that made sense and made the Enterprise look better he went for it. We actually started with the red warm look on the Bussard collectors, but then we moved to the cooler, bluish look because it worked better with the overall design. J.J. was aware that he would have to take some heat from the hardcore Trek fans, but he was not afraid to do something cool and fresh that could exist inside the established canon of Star Trek at the same time. Was Star Trek shot on film stock?

MDC: Yes, it was shot on film using anamorphic lenses. The negatives get scanned and we work on digital files. Anamorphic lenses like Panavision come with certain artifacts and signature distortions. There are certain ways that flares happen in anamorphic lenses, so when we blow up these giant mega spaceships with huge explosions we need to mimic the trademark anamorphic lens flare, a long horizontal blue line. Let‘s say you have a shot on the bridge of the Enterprise with all those bright lights. When the highlight moves toward the edge of the lens it does this unpredictable magical and beautiful thing. It flares up and creates all sorts of aberrations and reflections within the lens. Our compositing team developed a lens flare toolkit for all starships. We also created those flares by filming a flashlight on a dark stage to combine these real anamorphic shots with the ones we mimic in our software. But the look adds greatly to the scope of Star Trek. What special effects applications did you use?

MDC: At ILM we work with third party software and our in-house solution called Zeno. It serves as a hub and animation environment for most of ILM‘s production pipeline. Within the modular Zeno structure the artists only use the tool needed for the task at hand, and modelers and animators are collaborating on the same file in real-time. Changes on the file are updated automatically through the pipeline. A lot of modeling and animation is done in Autodesk Maya, and the final rendering happens in Pixar‘s RenderMan and mental Ray.

For the space battles we created a whole new set of 3D simulated explosions. Just 10 percent of the shots were supplemented with real live material from our archives. To show the realism of space, without oxygen, our explosions burn off superfast and are sucked back into the ships. We are physically true to what happens in space.

Sometimes you have this exact part of a Starship you want to break off and reveal the decks inside. ILM has a procedure called „Fracture“ for that, which gives us procedural control. This allows an artist to select five missiles for example, and determine which panels of the starship will be damaged without creating this by hand. When the Enterprise warps into this huge debris field of destroyed starships there are these beautiful pieces that come right at the camera. The artist has total control about the pieces of hull that are missing, and the bodies drifting in space.

He can take the piece of saucer and cut it open by hand, having all the creative decisions at his fingertips. How much hardware was needed to create the movie?
MDC: In ILM‘s basement in San Francisco‘s Presidio is a huge, freezing cold room filled with more than 10.000 processors. Star Trek was created at ILM‘s renderfarm on 400 Terabytes disk space. One frame of film, and there are 24 frames per second, takes between six and eight hours to render, depending on specific lightning in the scene. Have you been a trekkie before working on the film?

MDC: No. Of course working at ILM means you are a combination of artist, magician and scientist, so we have a lot of trekkies on our crew. They figured out all the hints in Orci and Kurtzman's script at once and pointed to different episodes and stories, and we others had to do our homework about all the alien races and ship models in Star Trek. Are you excited to see the movie?

I couldn‘t be more excited to see Star Trek, more than any other movie I worked on in a long, long time. It really has a freshness to it that makes it different from all the other space movies we worked on, and totally cool characters in a very real environment. I am very proud on the work we‘ve done on it. It‘s just beautiful looking work in a really good movie, which is a combination that doesn‘t always happen in special effects films.

Zachary Quinto Star Trek

‘Star Trek”

Green Tree, Pennsylvania is a suburb of Pittsburgh with a population just north of 4700. Like many small towns, their neighborhood paper likes to cover ‘local boy does good’ so when Zachary Quinto got cast in the television series HEROES, they were the first to do a feature on him. When the actor was queried if there were any roles that interested him, he humbly stated that he was glad to have just gotten this job but he understood that there was to be a new STAR TREK film and it would be kind of cool to play Spock.

Like a shot heard round the world, every subsequent interview the actor gave, the question arouse about his supposed dream role. Luckily for him, when casting did commence for the feature film, the powers that be were aware of his desire and brought him in to read for the part.

STAR TREK, directed by JJ Abrams, is the latest incarnation birthed out of the landmark 1966 television series; however unlike the ten other films or five television adaptations, this version takes audiences back to the beginning. We witness the formation of the now infamous team of Captain Kirk, Sulu, Uhura, Chekhov and Spock; how these young Star Fleet cadets morphed into their leadership roles aboard the USS Enterprise.

Abrams believed that casting the iconic Spock would prove his hardest challenge, but when Zachary came into the audition, he was struck by how much the young actor looked the part. “I knew his acting but when he walked into the room, I was struck how much he looked like Leonard Nimoy, whom I already knew was going to be in the film. We needed someone who could be the younger version of Spock and his talent, his look and his eagerness for the role just made his selection a no brainer.”

For any actor, steeping into a role so identifiable with another actor could be a daunting task and Quinto was well aware of the spotlight that would be cast upon him. Luckily he had someone in his corner who made the transition comfortably easy. Attending the 2007 edition of the Comic Con Convention in San Diego, Quinto found himself riding in a crowded elevator with Nimoy. Silently standing next to each other, no words were spoken on the ride up, but when the doors opened, Nimoy turned and simply stated, “You have no idea what you are in for.”

Subsequent encounters between the two lead to a friendship that afforded Quinto some in depth insights not only into the background and psychology of Spock, but the aura that surrounds the legend of the character that stereotyped Nimoy. “Leonard has spent forty years with this character and you can see the ways in which it has really shaped his life. But I know him to be a man with no regrets,” attests Quinto. As to his own concerns, “I am just looking at this opportunity as an incredible launching point and I am eager for a diverse, extensive experience as an actor.”

The experience began when a few physical changes were necessary to transform him into the half human, half Vulcan who espoused the philosophy to ‘live long and prosper.’ It meant a new set of ears, shaved eyebrows and a bowl haircut. “It was a momentous occasion when I put the ears on for the first time,” he recalls, a process that took the make-up team two hours to apply each day. That appendage is the quintessential image that most people have of the character and although they made a noticeable physical difference, Quinto admits that after a while he didn’t even notice they were there. “Acting is truthful behavior in imaginary circumstances so all of the costumes and props were just about commitment. And as for the ears, my body sort of got used to it.”

Getting used to things has been something Quinto had to learn to deal with from an early age, as his father died when he was only seven. Channeling the grief into his new love for theater, by age eleven he was appearing in productions by the regional music theater company, Pittsburgh Light City Opera. In high school, he received his first artistic honor, the Gene Kelly Award for his role in PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Deciding that theater would be his career, he attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, graduating in 1999. Moving to Los Angeles the next year, after waiting on his fair share of tables, he quickly was cast in such TV shows as CSI, SIX FEET UNDER and 24 before landing HEROES, a recurring role as the show’s complicated villain Gabriel “Sylar” Gray.

What has pleased the 31 year-old actor is that this take on the STAR TREK saga continues the optimistic tone that creator Gene Roddenberry first implemented in the original series. “They dealt with problems and themes back then that people had trepidation to talk about, like racial, social and political issues. It was so ahead of its time. What I love about our film is that it’s about friendship and family. That is our heart and while we might have action and drama and comedy, it is ultimately a very moving and touching film.”

John Cho Q&A Star Trek Interview



CHO: I was not a big fan as a kid. And that probably was due to my age. I was six when I immigrated to the States in 1978. And it was the height of ‘Star Wars’ mania. I know I probably shouldn’t compare the two but by then, ‘Star Trek’ was sort of dated. It had funny velour costumes. ‘Star Trek’ was much more literary than ‘Star Wars’ and so it took me a while to get into it. But by the time I got into high school, I was watching ‘The Next Generation’.

CHO: Well, for me it was mainly the opportunity to be connected to something that I felt was so positive, as I said, from my youth. And to reprise a role that meant personally a lot to me and I think meant a lot to Asian Americans. There are a couple of things that are a downer, being an Asian-American actor. One of them is not being able to, say, play the son of an actor, that’s a big actor that I really admire and as a result, being shut out of a lot of families in scripts. Once they cast a particular role as white, you can’t play their brother or their son. Secondly, there are certain mythologies that you can’t do. One is the Western. And for me, ‘Star Trek’ was my Western. It is, in its themes, it’s such a classic Western, exploring new worlds and stuff. For me, it was a chance to play cowboys and Indians in space. That was another draw for me.


CHO: That’s right. And I did clock that as a child. And it was very meaningful to me. I made twin observations. One was, wow, they don’t think much of people that look like me here, as I surfed channels. And then it was clocking George Takei. He was the helmsman of a spaceship, just being cool and not doing any of the things that other people were doing. He was not throwing karate chops or having an accent or buckteeth. So it was very meaningful for me to see George on television. And that’s a great deal of why I was so interested in being in this remaining. I was keen on engaging in that legacy.


CHOI think JJ just let us be funny. He encouraged that, which I think is useful. I find that sometimes on dramas, there’s more goofing around between takes then there is on comedies. And I’ve found that to be true in my case sometimes. There’s a science to hitting all those beats in comedy. Rather like math. You know, you you’re like [snaps his fingers], do this, this, and it will set up this. And in between takes, I find myself always in a discussion with the director. “How do we improve that scene?” “Can we milk one more joke out of it?” It becomes, like, this obsession with perfection between the scenes – for me, that’s how I find myself on a comedy set. And, you know, on this set we were just… We were dealing with, you know, the end of the world in the scene and so we needed to find a release valve.


CHO: More than you’d think. I haven’t seen the finished product, so I don’t know what they’ve added. Obviously there has to be a green screen that we’re looking at. But a lot of those controls, although they didn’t make anything go or thrust or work, they turned. So it was easy to make believe. There were so many knobs and stuff. And then there were hallways that led out directly out of the bridge. So it was easy. They made it very easy for us.

John Cho Star Trek

“Star Trek”

John Cho is the first to laugh when describing how he began his career. “I wore the right size clothes.”

While attending college at Berkeley, Cho was part of a local writing group when one of his colleagues asked him how tall he was and how much he weighed. When he replied to the rather usual query, he was informed that some guy had dropped out of a play and he appeared to be the same size fit for the costumes. Would he do it? “I said yes and that is how I got started as an actor,” he smiles. “I had two lines but had a great time.”

That wasn’t quite the same standard applied when JJ Abrams was casting the latest big screen incarnation of STAR TREK. For the part of Hikaru Sulu, Cho was called into audition and then had to ‘sweat it out’ for months waiting for the decision. As fate would have it, the call came when the actor was on his honeymoon in Italy. “That was a very nice treat,” he adds.

Based on characters that were first introduced in Gene Roddenberry’s landmark 1966 television series, this version of STAR TREK is going boldly where none of the other ten films or five television versions have. In Abrams interpretation, audiences will be taken to the beginning and introduced to Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Lt. Uhura, Chekhov and Sulu; from their days at the Star Fleet Academy to their galactic adventures aboard the USS Enterprise.

For Cho, who has previously appeared in such comedies as AMERICAN PIE and HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO THE WHITE CASTLE, the chance to be in the film allowed him not only the opportunity to honor the groundbreaking role that George Takei introduced as one of the very first pro active Asian Americans ever appearing on screen; but also to satisfy his lifelong fantasy to appear in a western.

Now in case you are wondering how the science fiction fantasy would qualify as a western, Cho explains. “As an Asian American, there are two roadblocks that I face. One is I don’t look like most of the actors who are working so I can’t play their sons or brothers. The second is there are certain mythologies that I cannot do. One of them is the western but for me, STAR TREK is my western. With its themes, it follows the classic storyline of the genre so this is my chance to play cowboys and Indians.”

Because television was not the most racially sensitive back in its infancy, Cho recalls viewing as a child stereotypes that he could never fully identify with. What he found so appealing in the character of Sulu was the image of a man who looked like he did that was not throwing karate chops, laden with a thick accent or showcasing bad teeth. “This was why I was so interested in being in this re-imagination,” he proudly states. “I was keen on engaging this legacy.’

Having previously met Takei through some theater work, Cho was able to reconnect after he was cast and sat down with them man who created the character. “George was so gracious with his time. We went all over the place in our conversations but probably the greatest thing I came away with was watching his attitude towards life. He is so generous as a person. But we both knew that my job was not to recreate him. I didn’t want to mess with the mythology and upset people but in order to function, I had to let go.”

One of the things Takei couldn’t share with his young cohort is the technical training that was required for the part; mainly due to the fact that Abrams enabled Sulu to be a much more proactive character in the film. Several months prior to filming, Cho, along with his co-stars Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, were put through a rigorous boot camp learning such skills as sword fighting, boxing and martial arts. “I was the jack of all trades,” he admits. “I had to learn all different types of physical expression and doing stuff that I thought I could never do. I really found this to be the most important part of my preparation.”

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Cho immigrated with his family to the United States when he was six. Initially based in Houston, Texas, the family moved from Seattle to San Francisco before finally steeled in Los Angeles in 1978. After graduating with a BA in English, Cho proceeded to teach English at Pacific High School in West Hollywood while still pursing an acting career. Various theater roles led him to films, where he first gained attention with a small role in the 1999 comedy AMERICAN PIE, popularizing the slang term “MILF.” The young actor continued with small roles in AMERICAN BEAUTY, EVOLUTION, DOWN TO EARTH and BETER LUCK TOMORROW, a drama that focused on a group of Asian Americans living in Southern California who engage in violent, criminal behavior before eventually being cast in as one of the co leads in HAROLD AND KUMAR. In 2006, People Magazine selected him as one of the sexiest men alive.

One is sure that once again, Cho wore the right clothes.

Chris Pine QA Interview Star Trek

“Star Trek”

Chris, could you just talk about your own relationship with ‘Star Trek’ because you were born way after the TV show?

PINE: Way after the TV show. Growing up there were re-runs on television and I’d watch those occasionally. And my grandmother was a big William Shatner fan so we’d watch ‘T.J. Hooker’ and old ‘Star Trek’ episodes. So it was on my radar but I wasn’t a fan.

Have you met Shatner?

PINE: I have not. I wrote him a letter early on in the process and just introduced myself. I just wanted to let him know that I was going to do my best to bring to life this part of Kirk’s journey and do justice to the wonderful job that he had done for 40 years. And he wrote me back very promptly and said, “Thank you so much.” “I wish you all the best of luck and let’s grab some lunch some time soon” which we have not but he’s a busy guy. Actually my father, who’s also an actor, did a Priceline commercial with him about two or three weeks after I found out I had the part; so ironic, strange. And he’d also been on ‘Star Trek’ too, my father.

For someone who has never seen ‘Star Trek’, how would you describe James T Kirk?

PINE: James Kirk is angry, arrogant, brash young punk who is masking an incredible amount of insecurity and fear. He came from a broken home and is searching for something to do with his life. It is clear what he wants but he also isn’t sure if he wants to contend with the great shadow his father has cast over him. The interesting part of the journey is his learning how to harness all of the emotions born from this conflict, from this misguided young man into the focused confident commander that he later becomes. He is no superhero but rather an everyday kinda guy faced with a tremendous challenge. And even though he gets beat down he always picks himself up again.

How did it feel to be in this huge big adventure?

PINE: I’m very excited and I have all the confidence in the world that it’s going to appeal to fans and non-fans alike. It’s overwhelming and its totally daunting but the great thing about J.J. making it is I don’t think any of us ever felt the pressure on set to live up to any kind of expectations. Even though it is like 150 million dollars and it’s this mega, mega, mega tent pole film, he was always concentrated first and foremost on the relationships between the characters and making sure that those were meaningful because he realized that without meaningful relationships, all the effects in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans.

But as actors sometimes its interesting not only what they say yes to but what they say no to versus how fate works out. I think we actually talked about this before, that you were about to do this George Clooney movie too and it was which one are you going to do and the offers were coming in and for whatever reason you chose to do ‘Star Trek’ and the George Clooney movie fell apart.

PINE: Yeah, right. It was like the best times and the worst of times. That one week I happened to have the opportunity to work with George Clooney or do ‘Star Trek’. I mean in a matter of a day my world had completely changed and it was a difficult choice with which I was faced. I mean here I love Joe Carnahan who was going to do ‘White Jazz’ and the prospect of working with George Clooney was awesome.

So why ‘Star Trek’? Why was that?

PINE: Because in that week I really tried to do my due diligence and figure out what was more meaningful to me. On the surface my inclination is naturally to go to Carnahan and do the character part because I get to play this incredibly strange person. I mean this guy’s a psychopathic latently homosexual homicidal maniac.

This is the James Elroy movie?

PINE: Just like awesome. It was just a great role. And then the James Kirk thing came to me, which on the surface is like the classic leading man and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that. But really upon looking at it further, I felt like for me that was actually the more challenging role. It was actually safer to hide behind the make-up and do all that fun ‘character’ stuff. The challenges posed by playing James Kirk, by the prospect of doing a big budget movie, by all the pressure, by the fact that I’d be facing all this scrutiny, I mean not really pleasurable things to think about but it also made it exciting. It’s like high stakes poker or something. It’s like you can either win really big or you can lose really big but that ride is really fun. It’s the drug you know. It’s really fun.

Was it difficult to get the role in ‘Star Trek’ the audition process?

PINE: I auditioned once in the spring of ‘07 and had the worst audition you could ever ask for, and didn’t think anything about it, and just thought another audition that went down the drain. It was fine. I was then asked to come audition for it after the summer and had no interest in going back in again but my agents said you should probably meet J.J. which was the smart move clearly because J.J.’s reputation in the business is held in pretty high standing. So I went and met J.J. For anyone that knows, the audition process sucks. You go in and it’s like they either like you or they don’t. Period. Your forehead’s too big or you’re not this or that or whatever it is. You could tell immediately in the room that J.J. was a great guy. And he is passionate, and positive, and fun, and likes to make movies. He’s really just a great guy. And I auditioned with a couple of scenes and then he threw the sides down, and pushed the chair away, and we started improvising. When J.J. gets really excited he’s like a big eight-year-old kid. It’s so fun to be around people that love what they do, it’s just intoxicating.

Why do you think you did so badly in the first audition?

PINE: Who knows? I was doing a play at the time. My energy was focused elsewhere. It’s difficult. It’s not brain science but when you’re asked to talk about photons and torpedoes, just to get a sense of reality of doing that is hard sometimes if you’re not focused and ready to do it. It’s like I auditioned for ‘Avatar’ and for ‘10,000 B.C.’ and it’s when you’re like in a hot room in Burbank and you’re asked to crouch on a seat and pretend you have a loincloth and a spear, sometimes you can either buy yourself doing it or not. I just didn’t at all.

The whole essence of sci-fi is dealing with things that really aren’t there. How easy is it for you as an actor to access all of that?

PINE: Well it’s one thing when it’s a hot stuffy room in Burbank and it’s a different thing entirely when you’re on a ten million dollar stage with the best looking set of all time and great actors. I mean then its just cake. Its action and then, boom, you’re in it.

But the stuff where you’re supposed to be beamed from one place to another and you’re supposed to do all this other stuff?

PINE: It’s very interesting how the imagination works. It’s like once you just let go, you do just that-you let go. But that’s not to say that after a really long day and you’re doing some intense scene, and I’d be looking at Zach and here he is with his bowl hair cut and pointy ears and yeah, sometimes it’d be a little ridiculous. But for the most part, I know it’s so trite, but it’s like being a big kid in a really big expensive playground and your imagination just says yeah, let’s do it.

Do you think the show really lasted because of the milieu it was set in? Outer space is still the last great mystery.

PINE: What made it interesting and so brilliant about the original series is that because it was in outer space, they could take liberties with class, race and investigate questions that couldn’t have been tackled had it been set in, let’s say, Manhattan at the time. During civil and social unrest and an unpopular war, this show created this utopian soceity where everyone works together In this future state. The enemy weren’t the Russians or the Viet Cong. It was the Romulans and the Klingons. The setting of outer space allowed them to investigate issues that they couldn’t have done. Now with more unrest, economic downturn and wars, this film is another vision of the future that shows hope. It is a wonderful escape and a wonderful vision of humanity.

Have you ever stopped to really comprehend the phenomenon that has become ‘Star Trek’? Outside of James Bond, I cannot think of any film characters that have lasted as long.

PINE: I didn’t grasp the epic scale of the fan base and sense of protectiveness that the fans have until I started watching the series. I still don’t quite understand it. When we went to WonderCon, I saw people dressed as characters of the show and I think for these people, the show presents, clearly, this opportunity of escape. There is this strong, strong sense of community.

What are they saying about you?

PINE: It runs the gamut. They are very protective of the people who created the show and, look, I would be wary of this 28-year-old kid coming aboard. I want to do this job well and add to what is already there. I am taking nothing away from William Shatner. I am merely telling one specific part of this character’s journey.

Unlike superhero characters, these people have no super human abilities. They do get to rely on high technology to help them but they still have to face each other in usually very humanistic terms.

PINE: That is a great point. What is appealing to people is that you are not watching Batman or Superman, with their perfectly sculpted hero suits and cool gadgets. This is about the camaraderie amongst brothers who face life and death circumstances. Through all the turmoil and obstacles, you succeed triumphant only by working together. Just because it is set in the future, it is no different than, say, Band of Brothers.

When you first put on the uniform and you look in the mirror, do you remember what you thought?

PINE: I hope I don’t look like a jackass. No. The first thing I asked J.J., even before I got the part, I was like please don’t make me put on a stupid costume. But it wasn’t really putting on the outfit for the first time as much as being on set with everyone that was so cool. I remember the scene when I sat down in the captain’s chair. I’m not a diehard fan, so it doesn’t hold the same kind of… It’s not as sacrosanct for me as it is for someone else. But you can’t help but smile. It was a pretty big moment.

How did it feel to be looking at Zoe Saldana?

PINE: Not bad at all. Zoe, poor girl. It was like a fraternity on set between all the guys and then J.J. and all his producing partners. It was Animal House without the togas and keg stands. But Zoe is a strong woman so she knows how to handle herself around men and she’s a perfect combination of beauty and brains and great talent and we had a grand old time together.

There is a lot more sexual chemistry between Uhura and Kirk than other episodes of this saga have ever told.

PINE: There is an undercurrent. I don’t think it was any specific choice of JJ to shake up the canon of “Star Trek” folklore. I just think it makes a more interesting story when you add that dynamic. If you are stuck in space and there is a beautiful woman on deck, that certainly doesn’t mean your libido is going to die. We will see how it progresses if the films continue but there is a romantic component to this one, yes.

Zach said that because of his physical appearance, he didn’t feel comfortable in social situations and so he found himself socially beginning to withdraw and I was wondering if you noticed that in him and his character that over the course of time?

PINE: You know I didn’t but that’s really interesting. I had probably the easiest job in the book. I mean Kirk isn’t exactly reserved. Compared to Zach who’s got to take the spectrum of emotion and then just by nature of who he is as a character he has to suck it all in, in order to convey emotion. I don’t envy that position at all. And even J.J. was saying how when he’d cut together scenes, Zach would be doing stuff that he never saw while he was watching him do it on set. He would convey something just by a look or a blink of an eye. That’s a credit to how good Zach is. I mean that is a deceptively difficult part I think to do because people just think you have to look logical, calm, and collected and it’s not that at all. I think to make the character interesting you actually have to take all the breadth of emotion and just distill it.

But he had that advantage per say of the look of Spock then audiences immediately knew him. Were there characteristics of Kirk you could use, because you have this wealth of TV shows and the first six or seven films? Were there little mannerisms that you thought as an homage to add that or something?

PINE: Yeah, there was a conversation with J.J. about what bread crumbs to leave along the way and I think we came up with a couple things. And also when I got it I began watching the episodes and I think just by process of osmosis, just watching it, there were things that I just enjoyed about it. His performance in the original series is really interesting to watch because he’s operating on many different levels. The original series, there is a camp factor to it that’s very fun. It’s that same sense of humor that he brings to ‘Star Trek’ that you see him many years later, and clearly at more of an extreme level, bringing to “Boston Legal.’ I think that people sometimes may not appreciate the cpmplexity he brought to the original series because with their modern sensibilities can’t get over the cheesy effects. He was a Shakespearian actor so he’s bringing all of that projection, and carriage and presence to bear on the part. There’s a way he moves on the deck of the Enterprise, which is almost balletic and there are certain ways he sits in the captain’s chair that are so clearly, and have become so identifiably, Captain Krik. But in terms of making a list of Kirkian attributes, no, I didn’t do that. What I had to do was given to me in the script. The script gave me everything that I needed to play the part.

How physical was the role for you?

PINE: When I read the script, I would just kind of skim over the action stuff and get to the character stuff, and what I failed to realize is there’s like four pages that take about four seconds to skim through take about a month, month and a half to shoot the actual thing. I had no mental preparation for that. I had all the physical preparation where they gave us a trainer, and the best stunt guys in the business. I just wasn’t prepared for the fact that instead of twelve hours a day thinking about the love scene or the talky dialogue scene, it’s like a day of running pretending you’re being fired upon or being chased by something. I had no concept of that and I haven’t sweat that hard in a long time. But it was fun because it’s a different kind of Zen. When you’re using your body that way, like from that scene you saw in the bar, there are these big stunt guys who want to do a good job so they have their mean faces on. So when a big 200 pound Asian cat’s coming at you like with his arm drawn like this, it can be pretty scary. AMking sure you’re hitting your beats and taking good care of the choreography centers you in an incredible way. I did, however, end up breaking a stunt guy’s nose. These stunt guys are so tough. I accidentally broke his nose and it wasn’t like I really got him, it was just like a knuckle. And he goes off to the side with all the other stunt guys in this, like, fraternal huddle. They go off to the side and they get a cold spoon and they set it and he’s like “I’m back”, “I’m back”, and then there he is, he’s doing the scene again, no crying, no nothing. I can imagine it’s like what western stunt guys would’ve been.

Did you know at the time that you’d broken his nose?

PINE: Oh, I felt so bad. It was awful. I’ve never gotten into a fight in my life. I just felt awful but he was good sport and he was a good guy. Interestingly enough we got to talking because I took him outside and was like “Dude I was not trying to impress anybody in there, I just don’t know what I’m doing you know.” He comes from a long line of stunt guys too. I think he’s a third generation stunt guy so we were talking because I’m a third generation actor. It’s an industry town. We don’t make steel or coal we make movies. And that sense of history is very cool.

How specific do these fight scenes have to be?

PINE: That opening fight scene that is in the film took over two months to rehearse and two days to shoot. I was so bummed that after watching the film, it is only on screen for a minute, if that. You have to learn to turn your body on B line then throw a punch on C line. It is all very specific. I have way more respect now for the Tom Cruise’s and Jet Li’s who do action films. It is using a whole different muscle. I only had four of five big action sequences to do but I was exhausted. I cannot imagine what those other actors do it all action films. I really had to get in better shape and really work on the lungs so I could breathe through all the scenes. There were some moments when I was in the corner just trying to catch my breath (laugh).

How were you with the wirework and wind machines? The fight scene on the drill was impressive.

PINE: Well, I’m not going to tell you the magic of that because I know that J.J. wants to protect as much of the sleight of hand as possible. But even after watching it I’m blown away what the folks at ILM can do. It’s extraordinary what they can do. Between camera tricks and post production the magic you can create is ridiculous and I really hope they don’t in the behind the scenes show how they did everything. I think J.J. really wants to, as much as he can, protect the magic of film making is lost when they start bulking up the bonus packages on the dvd’s. It’s too bad, it really is.

What really is appealing about Kirk is his sense of humor. How much did that evolve in the filmmaking process and how much did you improvise on set allowing that to occur?

PINE: JJ wanted to invite fans in and it was important for him to strike the right tone. I think for those non fans, the skeptical critic, to be able to laugh with these characters also forces the guard down and I think makes it easier to go along with the ride.

How much did your vocabulary have to increase?

PINE: I had mouthfuls of military jargon. I just had to clamp down and and put on my best serious and urgent face.

As a third generation actor, were you ever not going to be an actor or was it just inevitable?

PINE: You know I wanted to be a baseball player. I wanted to be Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’. When I was a kid I wanted to be a garbage truck driver. Yeah, I think I was so close to it that it never entered my mind that I would actually do it. I remember visiting my dad on the set of ‘Quantum Leap’ because he had a guest star part and seeing Scott Bakula eating craft service and there went the magic of ‘Quantum Leap’. Going to the ‘Murder She Wrote’ set and there was no romance to it. It was work. So he’d come home, we’d all sit around the table and have dinner, and we’d talk about what happened on set just like a family of doctors would talk about a surgery or something. Then when I got to college I kind of got more into acting, and I just oddly enough found my way there on my own and realized that it was something that I was better at than anything else that I was trying to do with my life so I might as well give it a go. It’s odd how it happened I think.

What about your grandmother? What movies of hers have you seen?

PINE: Her IMDB list is like 120 films. She was a beauty pageant winner in Waco, Texas and she moved out to L.A. in the 30’s and got under contract at Universal. In fact the first that I did was at Universal I think on the same stage that she worked on in her career. She did the ‘Dick Tracy’ movies and serials and ‘Abbott and Costello’ movies, she played Michael Douglas’s mom once and the last thing that she did ‘Adam at 6:00 a.m.’ in 1964. She did television. She was all over the place. She worked with Lon Chaney Jr.

As a kid were you curious about her stories or not?

PINE: Unfortunately as I was kind of becoming an aware young adult, she’d had a stroke. She was out actually at the motion picture home that has recently, unfortunately, suffered a great deal financially and has resulted in the loss of their medical wing, a place where my grandma spent much of her time. But all I can say is what was wonderful about going out to the motion picture home, which is a retirement community for people that are in the business, is that you’re going out there and here’s my grandmother who was a B movies actress in the 30’s and 40’s and the gal in the next room was a costumer at Warner Brothers during the hay day of Warner Brothers. And then there was a script supervisor from MGM. I mean it’s a very cool thing. It was just a very cool thing. I don’t know what to say about it but she was a wonderful lady and I miss her a lot.

Chris Pine Profile Star Trek

CHRIS PINE - Profile
“Star Trek”

Chris Pine, who won the coveted casting slot to play James T. Kirk in the new feature STAR TREK, is not the first one in his family to stroll the halls of the USS Enterprise. That honor was bestowed upon his father, Robert Pine, who guest starred in STAR TREK: VOYAGER, one of the many TV incarnations of the beloved science fiction series. But dad never got to sit in the Captain’s chair.

“It was daunting,” laughs the young Pine about having to fill the shoes of William Shatner, who first inhabited the role of Kirk for the 1966 TV series and has since been so identified with the part. “Mr. Shatner had a way he moved around the deck of the Enterprise, which was almost balletic; specific poses he struck in the Captain’s chair which are so identifiably Kirk. He was bold and confident and funny and I was really impressed by the complexity that he brought to the character.”

In JJ Abrams version of STAR TREK, we are taken back to the beginning, meeting our protagonist space travelers for the first time; from Spock to Sulu, from Uhura to Kirk, and how they all happened to be placed on the same Star Fleet ship for what has been a lifetime of galactic adventures.

In casting his feature, Abrams was adamant that he needed to find actors, much in the same way George Lucas did with STAR WARS, that were fresh faces so audiences would not be burdened with previous on screen baggage. Assembling his eclectic artistic team and about to start wardrobe fittings, everyone was in place except for the lead.

“Kirk goes through so many extreme situations in the movie that I needed an actor who was versatile and could shoulder the responsibility of this movie,” explained the director. “We were making a big movie with no big movie star. I looked at a lot of young actors but no one had the right feel. Then Chris came in and he was so funny and smart, confidant yet vulnerable and tough. Chris just asked all the right questions and was hungry to do it. I was so lucky to have an actor that wasn’t self-conscious and knew this job wasn’t just about acting.

Humbled by the praise, the 28 year-old Los Angeles native recalls his audition process with a bit more modesty. “I thought it was just about the worst audition I could’ve given” he adds. “I came in during the spring of ’07. I was doing a play at the time and my energy was focused elsewhere. I was asked to talk about photons and torpedoes and—well, anyway, I just felt the audition went down the drain.” A few months later, his agents called to ask him to go back again, an offer he initially turned down; only to be convinced that he should at least meet with Abrams.

For anyone familiar with the audition process, it can be a cold reality of indifference. But Pine immediately saw a difference as Abrams allowed his actor to improvise and find the nuance of the character. “JJ was so passionate and positive. He is like a big eight year-old kid and the audition was actually fun. It was a smart move on my part to go back.”

For those of you who might not have had the pleasure to have ever seen the character of Kirk, Pine describes him as an angry, brash young punk who is masking an incredible amount of insecurity and fear. “He came from a broken home and is searching for something to do with his life. It is clear what he wants but I think he has to contend with the tremendous shadow his father casts over him. This film is his journey to learn to harness that rage and impulsiveness of a misguided young man into the focused confident commander that he later becomes.”

Ironically, the dilemma of following parental footsteps rang very close to home. Born in Los Angeles in August of 1980, Pine was the son of two working actors and the grandson of 1940’s film siren Anne Gwynne. Though he grew up visiting sets his whole childhood, acting was not his career focus; instead dreaming of a career first as a garbage truck driver (“I grew out of that one”) and then as a professional baseball player. But attending the University of California at Berkeley, heredity kicked in and he soon found his way into the family business, first by acting in plays, a guest stint on “E.R.” and then his feature debut as Anne Hathaway’s love interest in PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT.

“I oddly just found my way into acting and soon realized that I was better at it than anything else,” he notes. “I didn’t know what else I was going to do with my life so I figured I would just give it a go. I suppose it’s odd that I hadn’t found it earlier.”

For STAR TREK though, Pine found out that acting wasn’t going to be his only skill set. When he first read the script, the young thespian admittedly skimmed over the action stuff to concentrate on the character development. What he failed to realize was that four pages that took him four seconds to flip through while reading were going to take him over one month to physically prepare for. Attending boot camp, Pine was given classes in kickboxing, krav maga (an Israeli based fighting technique) and general conditioning.

“We had the best of the best,” he recalls about the training, “but I wasn’t mentally prepared. Instead of twelve hours a day thinking about a love scene or some intense dialogue driven moment, I would spend a whole day running pretending to be fired upon or chased by something. I had no concept of that and let me tell you, I have not sweat that much since high school.”

While more than happy to describe his preparation for the role, Pine is unwavering in attempts to get him to reveal any of the camera tricks or effects shots that allow him to be perceived in the depths of outer space. “I go to the movies and see stuff where I don’t know how they did what they did. It’s like a great magic trick and like any great trick I don’t want to know how they did it. I think that way the experience is more fun.” Mourning how the magic of filmmaking is slowly dying as everyone can peek behind the curtain, it was Abrams who implored his cast to protect that magic a request Pine is more than happy to oblige. But then as just to offer a delectable tease, he leans in an adds, “we weren’t actually in space. At least all the time.”

While many of the film actors were able to make a physical connection with their original counterparts, Pine has yet to stand face to face with Shatner, although they did correspond. “I wrote him a letter early on in the process and just introduced myself, “ explains Pine. “I wanted him to know that I was not trying to usurp his status as the original Kirk and that I was just doing my best to portray a certain part of the story and character.” Shatner responded back in kind wishing the actor the best of luck and an offer to grab a lunch sometime soon. While that meal has yet to occur, it is safe to say it will provide one great conversation piece.

Zoe Saldana Profile Star Trek

“Star Trek”

Spending part of her childhood in the Dominican Republic, Zoe Saldana recalls watching the show VIAJE A LAS ESTRELLAS with her mother and great-grandmother. Devoted fans of the series, her relatives were not only emotionally involved with the characters, but immersed in all the stories. Little did they realize that the 10 year-old girl sitting next to them on the couch would one day get her chance to actually portray the most important woman on the show in a big screen adaptation of the series.

If the name VIJAE A LAS ESTRELLAS doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the English version strikes a more familiar tone, STAR TREK. “My mom was a huge Trekkie,” Saldana now admits. “Needless to say, she was very happy when I got this part.” And not just any part. Saldana is portraying Lt. Nyota Uhura, the lead communications officer of the ship who is an expert in linguistics. As the USS Enterprise travels to different galaxies, she is the mediator between the commanders of two different ships from two different planets. If she gets the communication wrong, she can actually start a war.

STAR TREK, directed by JJ Abrams, is the latest incarnation birthed out of the landmark 1966 television series; however unlike the ten other films or five television adaptations, this version takes audiences back to the beginning. We witness the formation of the now infamous team of Captain Kirk, Sulu, Chekhov, Spock and Uhura; how these young Star Fleet cadets morphed into their leadership roles aboard the USS Enterprise.

When the show first premiered, it was revolutionary in that it not only promoted international peace and harmony but also featured prominent minority representation from Asian and African American actors. Nichelle Nichols, who originally portrayed Uhura, became a stalwart symbol for not only her race and gender but her fashion sense as well.

“She was a very sexy, elegant and strong at times,” explains Saldana. “What I wanted to do was recreate her and picture her in school. Because she was very strong and she was able to command herself in that presence, I knew that I could have fun with her and make her powerful.” One thing the actress did not want to do was mimic the prior performance and thus decided to limit her viewing of the previous STAR TREK incarnations. “I took my time getting to know Uhura. We had advisors on set and I spoke to Nichelle and JJ and they allowed me great flexibility in creating this woman as long as there were the basic guidelines I followed.”

While actresses complain about the lack of proactive roles Hollywood seems to afford them, the genre of science fiction has traditionally been good for women. “Look at DUNE, or ALIEN or THE TERMINATOR,” boasts Saldana. “All of these films were ahead of their time offering women substantial roles that demanded more of their physical attention. They were not just the girlfriends. They were the saviors. They were missionaries. They were going to deliver the child that saved the world. Here with STAR TREK, it was one of the first times that a woman had a significant position of power in a cabin. Here was this military show that allowed a woman to have power and it meant so much.”

Much more so than in any of the prior films, there will also be a greater sexual energy between Uhura and Kirk, a fact that brings a smile to Saldana’s face. “I will just say that they have a lot of curiosity about each other. Kirk definitely sparks a lot of intrigue, not only around Uhura but the school in general because he is so different. He takes everything so lightly. Everybody wants to know what his deal is and Uhura is not immune to that. She is intrigued at the same time.”

One can only presume that after STAR TREK opens there will be a great deal of intrigue surrounding the actress as well. Born in New York, the trained dancer moved with her family from Queens to the Caribbean when she was ten. Attending a prominent arts school there for a few years, she returned to her hometown as a teenager and immediately set out on a career in the creative arts. She joined the FACES Theater Company, a group that performed improvisational and educational skits for teens followed by a role in the chorus of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. After appearing in an episode of LAW AND ORDER, a rite of passage every actor in New York goes through she adds, Saldana made her feature film debut in CENTER STAGE, chronicling the struggles of a group of students at the American Ballet Company, where she got to show off her notable dance skills.

After a brief appearance as the pirate wench Anamaria in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, Saldana was given a nice romantic turn in Steven Spielberg’s THE TERMINAL, where she played a security officer who is romanced by Diego Luna. Foreshadowing what was to come, the Oscar winning director gave her a few “trekkie” documentaries for her to view to understand the fanaticism that followed the show. “That was my introduction to STAR TREK and I became a fan of the fans.”

Also starring in James Cameron’s highly anticipated AVATAR, Saldana appears poised for greater things but don’t expect the notoriety to impress her. “That is not something that I wake up in the morning thinking about. I just want to continue working with amazing directors. These last two films I have done have spoiled me and I hope to become this rotten child in Hollywood where I only get to work with amazing people that I can learn from.”

One presumes mother and great grandmother will still be devoted fans.

JJ Abrams Star Trek Interview

“Star Trek”

Let’s presume there are people on this planet who have never heard of STAR TREK before. What makes it an interesting premise for a story?

ABRAMS: What I loved about the script was the idea of a character that had all this potential, but was aimless. We know Kirk ends up being the Captain, but he started out so misguided. That is what struck a chord in me. We meet someone who has not found his way. Then there is this other character, Spock, who is half-human and half-Vulcan, and he is always fighting with this notion that he is not able to fit in. I had never really thought about that. These two characters were fascinating, and then the idea is that they come together and have this contentious relationship. At the end of the story, they have gone through this crazy adventure together, and put their lives in each other’s hands and ultimately are victorious because of their combined power. I loved that idea. Having worked on this incarnation, I have come to love all of the characters. What I hope this film does is what all my favorite films do -- combine emotion and character with unbelievable visuals and great action.

How much does the location of space lend to the story?

ABRAMS: It is intrinsically connected. You can’t find where one begins and one ends. The themes of the film, the emotional connections, in theory, could be transferred to another time and place and find analogous situations and relationships. You wouldn’t have teleportation if you were doing a western, but you would find another way to get the characters there. You wouldn’t have the issues that space lends, such as time, speed and warp travel, but you would find other things that would lend themselves to the story you are telling. What makes these stories work is that we are dealing with characters that we care about.

Here we have a TV series that went through various TV incarnations and then different film series. What is it about this particular story that lends itself to so many incarnations and retellings?

ABRAMS: I suppose one of the answers could be there is an inherent sense of adventure with the show; you are pitting characters against unexpected conflict. It is what makes a show like ER successful -- you never know what they are facing each week. There is a natural broad stroke that works in that regard. My feeling is that, cynically, there is a studio that owned the property and wanted to exploit it and so they kept coming up with different things that would ride the coattails. Some of the series like NEXT GENERATION were infinitely more popular in their first run than the original series. It is about the luck of having found good storytellers who were passionate about what they were doing. It worked side-by-side with what the studio desired. This version of STAR TREK comes from the same place of the studio wanting to exploit, but I am hoping audiences will feel that this film was not done for a business decision. It was done because the story was valid and relevant with characters that were emotionally appealing.

When you first came aboard to help put together the story, how many incarnations were there? How long did it take to come up with this premise?

ABRAMS: It took us a year or so to come up with the story. Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci did an amazing job and wrote a great script. A lot of it was just me, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof and Alex and Bob getting together and just developing the story and ways of telling it in the most exciting ways. There were huge challenges, but I think we got past them. It was that script that made me want to do the film.

Who came first with your casting for this film?

ABRAMS: I thought Spock would be the hardest role to cast, but it was the first. Zachary came in, and I couldn’t believe how much he looked the part and how good he was. We cast him very quickly. We then cast everyone else, but we didn’t have the Captain. It was getting to the point where we had to start measuring people for wardrobe. Then Chris Pine came in, and he was so funny and smart. He was confident, yet vulnerable and tough. Kirk faces so many extreme situations in this movie, and we needed an actor who was versatile. He was that -- really smart and asked great questions and was hungry to do it. More than anything, whoever was going to take this role was going to have to shoulder this movie. We were making a big movie with no movie star. The only feature film directing experience I had was MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. Every day that I was on set, I knew why I was on that set. It was Tom Cruise’s set, his movie and his thing. It was a wonderful relief because I had that support. When I got to STAR TREK, I didn’t have ‘that’ guy. But from the first day that Chris started working, he had this confidence and determination and focus that made me feel it would be okay. He was so hungry to do it. He wasn’t self-conscious, so I was lucky to have an actor to do a job that wasn’t just about acting. He was number one on the call sheet, and he shouldered that responsibility. In retrospect, I appreciate that even more. If you have someone new and not comfortable in that situation, it is unsettling and even the crew feels it. We finished on schedule in large part because Chris did a great job.

So as the leader of the ship he created this leadership role on the set.

ABRAMS: It was a strange thing. When I did ALIAS, Jennifer Garner had to do so much work. She was in basically every scene of that show. She was so sweet and hardworking and determined to do a good job, she even used to bake desserts for the crew. The crew loved her -- they wanted to make it better for her, and you felt this thing happen where everyone on and off screen just tried harder. If you have a bitter, angry, unhappy star that is the number one on the call sheet, it will make for a crappy experience. Chris has never done this and he came in like it was his 12th movie. There was no attitude and he had great humor. On screen, he brought it and did an amazing job. It was a big thing to have someone who has never done that before shoulder that responsibility. You can see it in his eyes. He did it all effortlessly, yet I know he put in a lot of effort. Look, I feel the whole cast is amazing. Some people leave the theater and speak highly of Spock and others of Kirk.

Is it true that Matt Damon was at one point mentioned to play Kirk?

ABRAMS: I actually approached Matt and we had some discussions, but everything happens for a reason. On the one hand, it would have been great to work with Matt -- but at the end of the day, it was such a better move to cast the movie with unknowns. Not because it is fun to discover the stars of tomorrow, but even more so, just like with the first STAR WARS, you didn’t know who those people were when you saw the movie. You believed that guy was Luke Skywalker. You didn’t recognize him from six other movies. You bought into who this guy was. It is a slippery slope when you cast any actor that is somewhat known. What is the cut off point? If you cast half famous faces and half unknown, it can throw an audience -- but this way, we weren’t beholden to any fame meter.

What was it about Zachary that let you believe right away he was right for Spock?

ABRAMS: I knew his acting, but when he walked in the room, I was so struck by his likeness to Leonard -- who I knew was going to be in the film. We needed someone that we felt could be the younger version of Spock. It was his physicality and eagerness to play this role. It didn’t come from a massive case of fandom, but the struggle of a character. The combination of his look, skill and his desire to play the role for all the right reasons made it a no-brainer.

You mentioned that Nimoy will be in the film, but Shatner has been vocal about not being in the film. Did you try and find a place for him?

ABRAMS: We did meet with him at the beginning and pitch him the story. He was not in the film, though we discussed a number of ideas for how his character could be in the film. I knew that if we did that, it would make it a different story. I wasn’t saying it couldn’t happen, or that if we did another one we couldn’t find a way to make it happen. But for this film, it wasn’t the story we were telling. He made it clear that he didn’t want to do a cameo and so the alternative was to really change the story. Every time we tried to figure out a way to put him in the film because we thought fans would love that, every version felt like some stupid attempt to just put him in the film.

You mentioned before that you were not a real fan of the TV show so why did you want to come aboard and direct?

ABRAMS: I was initially asked to produce, and then I became intrigued by it all. I thought it would be interesting to do a version of STAR TREK that would grab me the way it did friends of mine. I called the writers, and added my two producing partners from LOST, and we came up with this story that I thought was great. One of the writers, Bob Orci, is a huge fan of STAR TREK. Bryan Burk, on the other hand, had never seen an episode or any of the films, so we had this great balance. By working on it together, we found a story that worked for all of us. When I read the script, I knew I would be jealous of anyone who directed it because it was a funny and very emotional story that was a huge spectacle. There was massive action and a fast pace. This is why I wanted to make movies. I didn’t want to make another sequel to a series of films that had been a TV show. I had just done MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, and the last thing I thought I would do was direct another one of these. I said to my wife that I was offered STAR TREK, and she advised me not to do it. I gave her the script and she told me I had to do it because the script was so good.

Normally in Hollywood films, there is a clear-cut villain, like the Germans or Russians or the Japanese. In the world of sci-fi, we don’t have those clear-cut historical enemies. Instead they battle the Romulans. How much does this reflect our world in crisis? Audiences like to identify with the enemy so who are these people?

ABRAMS: One of the things that science fiction does brilliantly, when it is done right, is allegory. My favorite show is TWLIGHT ZONE. Rod Serling got in trouble year after year with networks and sponsors because he was writing about issues that really mattered to him, like politics and race relations. Finally, he decided to do the TWLIGHT ZONE and write about the same issues, but make it aliens instead of Russians. He would take the issues that clearly mattered, and swap out some of the specifics – this way he was allowed to tell the same story without getting into trouble. People still discuss it now because it resonates today. He told stories that mattered. It wasn’t really about aliens. Even STAR TREK was created when there was high tension with the Soviet Union, and there was a U.S. versus Them moment in time. But there was optimism in the show that, in our future, we would all work together. As Gene Rodenberry said, there was this prime objective where we would all go out and explore and discover new worlds -- but not to conquer them. Even though, as in this film, STAR TREK had conflict and bad guys and some scary stuff, it is ultimately an optimistic story and that is why it continues to come out in different versions. Yes, it can relate to current fears, but all stories have conflict. You can always find your analogous fear in science fiction stories or otherwise, but having said that, there is an inherent sense of optimism in the film. Now more than ever, it is something that I am hungry for. That sense of hope is connected to that vision of the future and what the future might be. It is a fantasy, but STAR TREK gives you that. For the past ten years or so, many science fiction films have been darker and more grim -- while they are entertaining, they are much more pessimistic.

The TV show was also groundbreaking in casting African American, Asian and other minority actors and it made a huge impact. In this day and age of an African American President, you cannot make the same impact. So how do you deal with racial and social issues today?

ABRAMS: While it is true that there is nothing shocking today about having an African American woman in a position of power, or an Asian character onboard, it doesn’t have the same meaning now as it did back in the 1960’s. It was a nice by-product of the times, but I agree that today it is actually more relevant because this is increasingly the way the world looks. It is less about being groundbreaking, and more about being reaffirming. With LOST, casting a Korean couple that didn’t speak English was something I was afraid audiences would have problems with. But we never got one comment when we had an episode where 75% of the episode was subtitled. I think people are hungry for diversity. It is not about getting more of a Latin or African American audience. It is more a reflection of the time we live in. Even our extras have diversity. I felt it was something important to show. While it won’t have the same initial impact, like when STAR TREK had the first interracial kiss on television in the 1960’s, it does have a reaffirming positive message to send. It is consistent with the optimism that STAR TREK represents.

Looking at your prior work, there isn’t a lot of special effects history there. Actors sometimes have to go to boot camp to learn skills, so what did you have to do to immerse yourself in the language of special effects?

ABRAMS: That is a cool question. I have always been a crazy fan of this stuff. I remember being 8 years-old and going to the Universal Tour and watching the cool effects of how they did the AIRPORT films, where they would hang the plane upside down so the strings would be upside down so when they played it back, you wouldn’t see the strings. I’ve been fascinated by make-up effects and visual effects and miniatures all my life. So the films I did when I was a kid always had exploding models. I would put firecrackers in them and blow them up. Now, with visual effects, I am a huge fan of the tools that are being used. These computer programs that even allow consumers at home to have access to the same tools that professionals use. I love this technology, and so with my limited knowledge, when I talk to my visual effects supervisors, I can talk to them about what I would do. I have a perverse passion for it, but I also think it helps me with the filmmaking process.

What was the biggest visual challenge for you?

ABRAMS: This film was literally taking everything I have done before and putting it into a quarter of this film. This was such a huge challenge. The sequences were so different and so I had to use every trick I knew and then learn others. The biggest challenge for me was just the scale. In a typical movie, the establishing shot is a building or maybe even a city. Here it was a planet. It was like going to Las Vegas. You walk from one hotel to the next, and thirty minutes later; you still are not there yet. It is so vast. The scale is so ridiculous that it plays with your mind in relation to size. When you create a planet, you don’t just worry about what it will look from a distance, but what will its atmosphere be like? What is the culture like here? What do they wear? How do they speak? Every detail has to be accounted for. If my character crosses a normal street, I know street, plants, and buildings. Nothing can be assumed in this film. The biggest challenge was in the parameters of the world of STAR TREK, and everything that has come before -- how do we make these worlds, and make them believable? I didn’t want to shoot them all green screen and have it look like it was on a stage. I needed to find different locations so I could get outside and move the cameras. There was a lot of stuff. There was this big overall design approach.

I want to ask you about your visual influences. Where did you go to for research and inspiration?

ABRAMS: We have all seen 2001, STAR WARS and all those sequels, BATTELSTAR GALLACTICA and even all of the hundreds of hours of STAR TREK, that it would be very hard to show an image of a ship flying by that we have never seen before. What I came to realize is that it is not about the ship flying by, but who populates the ship. The only reason you care about the Enterprise is that you love the characters that inhabit it. We did reference all of those prior films so we didn’t step on anyone’s toes. We felt that there were certain things that we had to do, but I tend to go with my gut feeling of the way something should look, rather than borrowing a look or style.

Were you handcuffed at all in dealing with the characters because the fans already know exactly the characteristics of each of the lead protagonists?

ABRAMS: It is not so much that knowing the personality would be a hindrance. In doing STAR TREK, we are exploring these characters that do come pre-loaded with these character traits. The fun is seeing how these characters with those traits react to a story that has never been told before. We see these characters not only deal and respond to each other, but get to know each other. By the end of this film, they are this family that has put their lives in each other’s hands. At the beginning of the film, it is this disparate group of misfits and neophyte cadets. They are young adults just forming their lives. Because of this adventure that they never could have anticipated, they form this relationship. That aspect of the story wasn’t explored in the previous STAR TREK stories. We were just supposed to connect with them. I never felt cocky enough to be Kirk; logical enough to be Spock or even Scotty, Bones or Sulu. I wasn’t feeling me in the world. But by deconstructing them, those were amazing ways into a story.

Did you leave any breadcrumbs for the audience? What I mean is that since we know the characteristics of our leads from their later years, did you have moments where we see where these characteristics came from; such as why they say a certain thing or why they do a certain thing?

ABRAMS: Yes, but you have to be careful not to be too cute. I am not saying we didn’t have nods to what came before, we have plenty of those, but I have seen films where a character does something and there is this big flurry about it and it means nothing in context. Had I known that comic book, for example, it would have had huge resonance. For those who do, it does. But you have to be careful you don’t presume too much about what the audience knows, otherwise it has an air of self-importance. We were careful not to go too far. It was important that we use the existing zeitgeist fundamentals that people know about STAR TREK. There is great power in meeting someone like Kirk, knowing he will eventually become Captain, and seeing how he begins. It is using the baggage we inherited. It wasn’t about breadcrumbs or self-reference, it was just about appropriate moments for this story.

Is it true Gene Roddenberry’s widow has a cameo in the film?

ABRAMS: She was always the voice of the Star Fleet computer, and we recorded her voice for the film before she passed away.

How difficult was it balancing directing this film and still overseeing TV shows such as LOST and FRINGE?

ABRAMS: It was really hard this year. We did CLOVERFIELD, STAR TREK and the TV show FRINGE at the same time. The answer is to work with people that are great. I wrote FRINGE with the Alex and Bob, two guys that I worked with before and CLOVERFIELD with Matt Reeves, with whom I created FELICITY so I tend to work with the same people over and over again. Bryan Burk produces everything I do so I have shorthand with all these people. We wrote the script and were in pre-production on FRINGE before we were shooting TREK. Then we were shooting TREK while Bryan oversaw FRINGE. I was giving notes on that. I couldn’t direct two things at once, but I could produce because I have a great team that can focus on the other project. I am not really doing LOST. Damon and Carlton run the show and I stand in awe of what they do.

What do you want audiences to take away from this film?

ABRAMS: Honestly, as someone who was not a huge fan, I hope they get the same thing I did. It is a great story with great characters that is emotional, funny, scary, fast paced and action filled. I wasn’t trying to make a movie that would cure the world of social ills, but I did want to make a film that would be like the great ride at the amusement park. When you go to an amusement park, there is always one ride that you have to ride and I wanted this film to be that. I didn’t want it to be too shallow or short or not have it deliver. I wanted a film to surprise you in what it delivered. Even beyond your STAR TREK expectation, I wanted you to get back in line again. The only way you get that movie is to make it as intimate and emotional as possible, in addition to the great action. When you balance big action with real emotion that, to me, is my favorite movie. That was my ambition.