JJ ABRAMS - Profile
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.”