The London press conference for JJ Abrams’ Star Trek took place today, and I was there to take part. I did manage to get a question in, to which Abrams, and Pegg gave their answers. Everybody at the table gave their responses not only to the inquiries of the assembled press, but also questions submitted by viewers of Sky Movies.
Present were John Cho, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, JJ Abrams, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban. This is the first section of our coverage – touching on Simon Pegg’s childhood, Pine’s studies of Shatner, Quinto’s career plan and more… with extra installments to come soon. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
The press’ applause died down before Pegg walked out, so he called out “Don’t stop” as he appeared, and it then continued until all were seated.
The chair, and semi-obscure comedian and TV personality, Mark Dolan introduced Abrams and the cast. He pointed out that the event is being filmed for Sky Movies, to be excerpted on both for their website and TV stations.
The first question came from Raj from Nuneaton, who wanted to know “Do you need to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy the movie?”
Abrams: Chris Pine, take it!
Pine: Oh, pressure! I do not think you have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy the movie and I think what appealed to me in the beginning is when I spoke to JJ we came from a similar place which is that we weren’t initially fans of the series. And this speaks really to the genius of this man right here [Pine gestures to JJ] is that he knows how to combine big spectacular effects and wonderful imagery with something that is smaller which I think is the great character drama that’s in this film that we’ve whether you’re a fan of small movies or big movies I think you’ll find something in this that will appeal.
From the floor came a question for Zachary. Essentially, did he lobby for the part, what does he consider as the pros and cons of the role and was he nervous following up Heroes with more sci-fi?
Quinto: Right. First of all it was a sort of unintentional campaign that I ended up involved in. I was doing press for Heroes just as I found out JJ was making the movie. A journalist from my hometown newspaper asked me if there was any other project I’d be interested in and I mentioned how much I would enjoy playing Spock in this new iteration of the franchise. And then this article got syndicated and subsequently other journalists that were interviewing me about Heroes started asking me about Star trek so it was something that happened very unintentionally but also organically in that regard.
We exist in a different time than the one in which the original series was created and I think that there’s less of a stigma attached to science fiction now than there was 40 years ago. I also think that people attention spans have diminished greatly in that amount of time so the notion of a character being inextricably associated with a character they play now seems to be a little bit less of a phenomenon than maybe when Leonard and Mr. Shatner took these roles and created them. And I also feel it is incumbent upon me to make sure that I have the kind of career that I want and the kind of career that I want is one of longevity and diversity so now I begin that part of the journey and hope that is a platform to let me do that. The Heroes […] science fiction and then Star Trek is kind of an organic progression for me as well so I’m just glad to be part of something I am genuinely excited about and feel really proud to be a part of.
The next question came from Tim of Burnham on Sea who wanted to know what aspect of the original Trek seemed the most insurmountable?
Abrams: I think that the world of Star Trek is so much bigger than anything I’ve worked on before. The scope of it is so crazy and despite it being Star Trek and being a fantasy our goal was really it make the thing feel real and alive and it’s a strange one because it s dealing with a lot of over the top, you know, science fiction, it’s a clear fantasy, but I really wanted to make sure you believe it and the only way to do that is with the characters. So the bigger sort of challenge was to take something that has pre-existed us by decades and make it feel legitimate and vital and relevant for today and the only way to do that is through the characters that these actors, I think, brilliantly portray. None of the visual effects spectacle would matter if you didn’t care about and believe those characters. That was the thing that was the goal we had and I believe that they achieved it.
Pine was now asked if he had studied Shatner, and was now braced for press attention.
Pine: So having not been a fan, I was aware of the show but hadn’t really watched it – I’d seen some of the old episodes. So then going back and you know, JJ’s team had all of the remastered original series to look at so I went home and started my due diligence and started watching. I found kind of midway through the first season as much as it was a positive adventure searching through that world and seeing the dynamics between characters and the aesthetic of the TV show, I really found myself paying more attention to how could I perfect the ideal William Shatner as James T Kirk impression and that was not the mandate that JJ had set forth at beginning of this process, it really was to, while paying homage to what was done before so you kind of had a sense of continuity between Mr. Shatner an myself, it really was time to breathe new life into these characters and give it a new fresh perspective. So I kind of abandoned that effort and I felt that I had gotten enough of the series and the world and the spirit with which Gene Roddenberry had created the series, and then it was really a matter of a conversation between JJ and I about what little nuances we could pick from Mr. Shatner’s performance to pepper in my own. And then in terms of the media attention, I certainly hope this movie is a success, obviously. Again, like Zach I couldn’t be more proud of being part of this new incarnation of the story and sitting up here with all these wonderful people that I love so much, but you know I can’t predict the future so we’ll see what happens but I’m hoping for the best.
James Salter of Cornwall wanted to know which Star Trek characters Pegg pretended to be as a child.
Pegg: Yeah, I was a fan of the show as a kid, I watched the show since I was 9. I remember it being on BBC2 at 6 o’clock, teatime, which I’m sure a lot of other people in this room do too and being utterly beguiled by it. Finding my science fiction legs with Star Wars obviously, because that kind of exploded in 1977, and was very much a brash light show, getting more into science fiction and enjoying the cerebral nature of the original series which is what they had to do because they didn’t have the resources to do Star Wars obviously in 1965, they did something which was almost like a play every week. Getting into that as I got older, I completely fell in love with it. To become part of it, as a nerd, which is what I am, and I’m sorry but its true, is extraordinary. And to do scenes… when Chris and I were doing our scene with Leonard Nimoy it was kind of weird you know because he was talking to me as the man I’ve known since I was 9, and its not a man form this planet it’s a man from Vulcan with pointed ears. And it’s kind of odd to have Leonard look at me say lines and me not go SQUEAL [he made a loud squealing laugh] and become very excited and need to go to the toilet. So for me the jot of being part of this story is on a daily basis I wake up and pinch myself, its fantastic. And also to join this group of people who are so… I came slightly later to the shooting because it was a long shoot and everybody had already met each other but when I joined the crew and I finally came on board it felt so right and in a weird kind of hippie-ish way it felt like we already knew each other and it immediately clicked and was a great feeling and I think that kind of spirit of togetherness that pervades Star Trek was very much there on the set… and I’ve just gushed myself into forgetting what the question was.
Chris is absolutely right. You don’t have to but if you are a Star Trek fan there’s a lot in it for you, there is a level of conversation between viewer and film in this. If you do know Star Trek you’ll get lots of little bits and pieces and you’ll feel spoken to and acknowledged as well. Its an important fanbase, [for] Star Trek, they’re dedicated, they love their stuff and you know its and important thing and what JJ has miraculously managed to achieve with this… lots of people, in the past, when you try to appeal to an existing fanbase and a new viewership it’s a very hard balance to strike. I think this nails it completely because you can watch this not knowing anything about the pre-existing history and love it for the sheer adventure and human story and the ideas of it, but if you do know it and you see that the surface of Vulcan looks a little bit like Vasquez rocks in California where they shot the episode Arena – nerd! – you think fantastic, you know. It just nails it and I’m very proud of it for that reason.
Pegg was then asked if he initially turned down the role of Scotty.
Simon: I never turned it down. JJ e-mailed me, like he does, rather than just sort of go through all the usual rigmarole, I just got an e-mail saying ‘Would you like to play Scotty?’ and just going ‘Yes please!’ felt like ridiculous, I felt I should think about this, I should take a couple of days and I did, but I was always going to say yes.
JJ: You said ‘I don’t think I could do that’ and so I sent back saying ‘Oh well, next time’ and then immediately ‘Not so fast!’
Anonymous mailed in a question wondering why Nero didn’t have the typical Romulan crest of ridges on his forehead.
Simon: Yeah, Eric.
Eric: I inherited my look from JJ and our wonderful designer Neville Page who sent me secretly encoded drawings of how Nero would look and I just went ‘Yep, that looks great’… I don’t know how to answer that question. Probably more for JJ.
So far, we haven’t reached /Film’s question… but it’s coming soon, with plenty more. Keep ‘em peeled.