At only 22, Anton Yelchin has acted alongside Mel Gibson (“The Beaver”), Christian Bale (“Terminator: Salvation”), starred in a TV show (“Huff”) and played an iconic role in a blockbuster franchise (a teen Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot). Despite this, Yelchin has the startling appearance of a newfound talent in “Like Crazy,” Drake Doremos’ Sundance-acclaimed romance that opens Friday. Yelchin maintains a balance between likable heartthrob and unfaithful scum in the improv-heavy story of the tumultuous long-distance relationship.
The microbudget project found Yelchin working in new turf, as he told indieWIRE earlier this month at the Hamptons International Film Festival, where he attended to participate in a panel of “breakthrough performers.” Yelchin also explained why the experience led him to consider financing other small projects and why the independent filmmaking experience hasn’t prevented him from enjoying Hollywood productions.
After you did “Star Trek,” you must have received some bigger offers. By taking on “Like Crazy,” are you trying to show that you’re not limited to working on studio projects?
I knew Jonathan Schwartz, the producer. We’ve been good friends for a couple years. I just think he’s always been making interesting things. I’d heard about Drake [Doremus] over the years. I wanted to do something with Jonathan and Drake who had this movie and wanted to meet me. I just thought it was an amazing opportunity because it was improvised and it was extraordinary to do something like that. I met with Drake and we hit it off. I think these movies are under the radar in terms of…
When you say “these” movies, you mean…?
I mean these kinds of projects. This was a $250,000 movie. Institutions, agents, managers, they’re not thinking about these. I feel very lucky to be a part of it and I just jumped at the chance.
So you have to be proactive to find projects like this.
I think, to a certain extent, you do. Some of it has a lot to do with community. It is definitely a community. You meet the guys that made “Martha Marcy Marlene” and…
You missed the “May.”
Yeah, “Marcy May Marlene”!
It took me a while, too.
I always miss the “May”! Those guys, [from Borderline Films], one will direct, one will produce. I met [“Martha” actor] Brady Corbet recently. I think he’s a great and really cool guy. I think a lot of it has to do with groups of individuals supporting each other. So I felt very fortunate to be a part of this and meet Drake. I had to do “Fright Night” over the summer, so I said, “Let’s make this movie as soon as we can.”
I guess you couldn’t really push that one aside.
No, I did that 10 days after I wrapped “Like Crazy.”
Does it feel like a “one for them, one for me” sort of thing?
No, I feel lucky to be part of anything that I’m a part of. I look at it, and if I like it, I do it. The amazing thing about this job is that you get the opportunity to play so many different characters and have so many different kinds of experiences and do so many different character studies, whether they’re in such a broad, generic format or a very specific genre format or a genre like a dramatic romance. My favorite thing about this job is doing all these different things.
You’re at that stage where you can be a credible teenager and also do these young adult things, so that kind of opens up a couple doors at once.
Yeah, I think after “Fright Night,” I’m not that into playing teenagers anymore. A lot of times, it can be one-note, over and over again. But with “Fright Night,” it was such a great cast and I was a fan of Craig [Gillespie] and I wanted to do it. After doing “Like Crazy,” it was something completely different.
After “Like Crazy” went to Sundance, it started to get more attention. Paramount picking it up is a part of that, as well as the film winning the Grand Jury Prize. Did you start hearing from more people who wanted you to do more smaller projects?
I’ve been getting a lot of different kinds of things. Like I said, I feel really lucky. I think that’s what this job affords, what makes this job great.
But actors always say, “I feel really lucky,” and you know it’s not just luck.
I guess. But if I sat here and said, “Hey, I’m a fucking great actor…” You know what I mean?
Then again, you’re here at the Hamptons International Film Festival as a “breakthrough performer.” It must be a funny way to get positioned because you didn’t exactly arrive last night.
I think the best way to put it is this: The reason I say I feel lucky is because I do what I do. I think when you love something and you get the opportunity to do it, and consistently do it and be able to play different characters or great people, you feel lucky. I’ve been doing it for kind of a long time at this point. Sometimes I think about it and it’s been almost 13, 14 years. It’s always humbling to have someone say, “You did a great job. Here’s an award.”
I imagine when you do something like “Like Crazy,” you get to remind people that you don’t need the kind of money or support that a big production would bring, where even if you weren’t great, there were things they could do to kind of gloss over that. With “Like Crazy,” it’s all about the performance.
Part of the reason we hit it off with Drake is that I’m a huge supporter of this, the idea that right now, because studios aren’t financing movies and you can take something for literally no money. We shot it on the Canon 7D. So the fact that there’s technology and means available to edit something at home and to shoot it on a consumer-level camera for no money with 10 people on the crew, a small group of really dedicated people — I can’t say that enough — how fundamental it is to the evolution of the industry and the development of filmmaking outside of spectacle filmmaking. I’m a huge supporter of it. I was talking with a buddy of mine about pitching in and making small movies for like five grand, 10 grand.
You mean you’re interested in producing?
I’m not so much interested in producing as I’d love to direct and write, and of course keep acting. But if someone needed a couple grand to make a small movie, I’m all for it. I’m just a huge supporter of this universe of filmmaking. It’s just fundamental. I can’t stress that enough. Felicity [Jones] and I did a Q&A in a classroom in Arizona for a film class and I just felt like they didn’t really understand. You can’t really understand until you’re out there making movies, just how crazy the climate of filmmaking is and how difficult it is and the kinds of conversations that you hear. When I was a little kid, you didn’t hear conversations like, “We’re not putting that together for a million dollars.” A million dollars? They used to put movies together for $15 million. That’s where we are. I think it’s extremely important. We didn’t have the mega-budget [on “Like Crazy”] and I think everyone worked for free.
Speaking of mega-budgets, have you done “Star Trek 2” yet?
No, we’re going to start in the new year at some point.
So having transitioned into this new stage where you’re doing smaller movies, is it going to be weird to go back and do something huge again?
It’ll be a lot of fun. The thing about that movie is that the people are so great that are involved. I think J.J. [Abrams] is brilliant. I’m proud of this film and I’m equally proud of “Star Trek.” They’re completely different universes, no pun intended. But they’re both, for what they are, really good films. So I’m excited to go back because those guys want to make another really good film. I don’t know anything about what they’re doing and they keep you in the dark until the last minute, but I do know that they want to make something really good, which is exciting. And it’ll be fun to fly around in a spaceship again at Paramount, and to be with those guys again.
And I’m so proud of “Like Crazy,” because of the process and how hard we worked and we put everything into it. And we made it just because we wanted to make it. We had no idea that this is going to happen. To have this is just icing on the cake.
What else is going on for you these days?
I finished a movie called “Odd Thomas,” with Willem Dafoe and Addison Timlin. I think Willem’s extraordinary. When he signed onto “Odd Thomas,” I was just so honored to be on set with him. He’s also just the nicest, kindest man, and a legend. He’s someone that I admire so much because he’s done it all. He’s been in huge blockbusters, he’s been nominated for Academy Awards, he’s gone and done amazing cameos in Cronenberg films, Lynch films and he does experimental theater. He’s amazing.
What’s the movie like?
It’s [based on] a Dean Koontz book. It’s kind of like a supernatural thriller. It was fun. Stephen Sommers directed it. Stephen is obviously known for the “Mummy” movies. It was interesting to work with Stephen and for Stephen to work with me because I would come to him with all my notes and he would say, “Whoa, you’re doing notes!” And I would say, “Yeah, man. That’s how I work. That’s my job.” I had a really good time. I hope it turns out well.
When you’re doing a bigger shoot and you’re around various different people, do you want to pump up your other stuff and say, “Check out this smaller movie I did?”
I’d love to show it to people, but I think when you’re on a film, you’re sharing that experience. I’ll tell friends of mine about what I’m doing, but I don’t walk around going, “Hey, we’re making this movie, but forget this for a second and check out this other movie I’m in.”