Actor Anton Yelchin reprises his role as starship navigator Pavel Chekov in the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond,” the third installment of the rebooted classic sci-fi adventure film. The big screen outer-space epic is slated to hit theaters Friday, July 22.
But before that big budget studio tent pole, the actor appears in a low-budget down-to-earth horror/thriller called “Green Room.” The 27-year-old plays a member of a down-on-its-luck punk rock band that gets trapped in a rural Oregon roadhouse dressing room with his mates when they stumble upon a murder at the hands of a dangerous gang of Neo-Nazis. That gang is led by a creepy businessman played by Patrick Stewart, in a 180-degree departure from his heroic “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “X-Men” characters for which most filmgoers know him. The independent horror flick is written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who previously helmed the revenge drama “Blue Ruin” and the 2007’s “Murder Party.”
Yelchin, who was born in Russia and raised in suburban Los Angeles, recently spoke about joining the cast of “Green Room,” which also includes Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber and Macon Blair (who also starred in “Blue Ruin”).
Q: What attracted you to the project?
Yelchin: I saw “Blue Ruin,” and saw this beautiful, melancholy quality to it. And seeing Blair, who also is in this film. It has a traditional arc in that it’s a revenge tale. But it also strays from the revenge tales. (My character) is searching for a reason, but there isn’t any. It was an absurd, impulsive act. But it’s all impulsive and absurd, and that’s part and parcel of being human. We tend to build these systems out of logic or order or structured space to assuage how terrified we are that we’re going to come out on the other end and it is going to be absurd. I found that really moving. And then I read this script and it was a punk rock film in an earnest way. You could tell (Saulnier) loved this and experienced this. And though this is different from “Blue Ruin,” there’s still a melancholy undertone of people falling into deep (expletive) and having to figure their way out of it and coming out on the other end, realizing it was just deep (expletive). That’s kind of heartbreaking to me and that’s what propelled me to work through this character.
That being said, Jeremy’s films also speak to me in ways on an aesthetic level. It has a punk rock feeling about it, and I love that. I’ve always loved that. Also just the way Jeremy treats actors. You watch “Blue Ruin,” and you see there’s so much affection for Macon’s performance. You can see that the actors are working with a filmmaker who is ushering their performance to be beautiful like that. So, on all those levels, I really wanted to be a part of this film and I feel fortunate that I am.
Q: Are you a musician?
Yelchin: I don’t like to say I’m a musician because I feel that’s slighting people who are actual musicians. But I’ve played music with my friends. I had a crusty punk band (called The Hammerheads). Alia (Shawkat) played some guitar and has an incredible voice. It’s just ethereal. Joe (Cole) and Callum (Turner) are the most impressive (musicians). Joe, in particular, because I’ve tried to play drums and it’s so difficult. He had six weeks to learn how to play hardcore punk and keep the time, which is really fast and hard. By the time we got to shoot those scenes, Joe was playing the drums. The first day of shooting was a scene at a Mexican restaurant (where the band is erroneously booked) and he was playing the drums. I was really impressed, not just as a musician, but as a human being. Callum, who I think has really sick (vocals), I don’t know where that came from. He knows how to channel that in a wonderful way. So we all just sort of came together.
Because I’ve played with my friends, who are infinitely more talented than I am when it comes to their instruments, I knew that being part of a band was trying to write your own stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad or if you can’t play your instruments, it’s that you share ideas, musically, with your other band mates and that bonds you. We ended up doing that and, at the wrap party, we played a song that Alia and I wrote, and another that Joe rapped. It came out of nowhere. Joe’s just a good rapper. He was rhyming over this beat that Alia, Callum and I were playing. So, by the end, if we had had a little more time, we could have played a gig.
Q: Did you shoot the film in sequence?
Yelchin: It was a total (expletive) show. That’s how I felt. We shot our exteriors first per Jeremy’s idea that there was seasonal change (in Oregon). He preserved our innocence in a way. I knew we had to get exteriors out of the way. And then we spent 20 days (on set) in the green room. There, we pretty much shot in order because if there was blood spilled on the floor of green room, it had to be in the next shot, and so on. I want to say after we got in there, we shot the rest of the film in order.
Q: How was it keeping the energy up and working in a confined space?
Yelchin: Part of my job is to maintain emotional continuity. It’s one of the things I do. I’m mapping out where this character should be because you’re usually never fortunate enough to shoot in order. This film takes place over the course of 16 hours but during that time so many changes are occurring that the characters take for granted what the actors can’t.
A lot of it was watching everyone else work. I’ve never quite been with a cast under such emotional duress in such a confined space for so many days. You end up feeding off that whether you want to or not. Everyone was so gung ho, to say the least, about their feelings. One of the most beautiful things I shared was with Callum when we did this really horrific scene. I still feel connected to that guy because of that. He’s also a wonderful dude and we’re friends, but there was something about that that was like we’d carry on in this one way because you’re sharing things with people you don’t know at all. You’ve known them for maybe 3-4 weeks that you wouldn’t share with your best friends you’ve known for years.
Q: What are some of your punk rock songs and bands that have influenced you?
Yelchin: My two favorites are The Misfits and Bad Brains. The Misfits had an EP when they were thrown in jail in London, and one of the songs is “London Dungeon.” They’re amazing. I listened to the Bad Brains’ first record every day on the way to work. It had nothing to do with the mood but it was so ferocious. They’re like from another planet.