In the latest issue of Playboy Magazine, which people still totally buy for the articles, there’s a lengthy interview with J.J. Abrams, cinematic wizard behind “Mission: Impossible III,” “Super 8” and the “Star Trek” reboot. Abrams’ second foray into the “Star Trek” cosmos, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” opens on May 17th , while Abrams’ next gig is even more daunting – directing the still-currently-subtitle-less “Star Wars: Episode VII” for Disney. The interview is full of juicy information – about ‘Trek,’ ‘Wars,’ the possibility of future Abrams sequels (“Cloverfield II” anyone?) – so much so that we just had to make a little crib sheet for the ten things we learned from the interview. Read on and prosper.
1) J.J. Thinks Benedict Cumberbatch Is “Fucking Kick-Ass” As The Villain, But Still Keeping His Identity A Secret
Just a few weeks out from the movie opening and the debate still rages on as to whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch is the famous villain Khan (originated by Ricardo Montalban in the original series and the still-classic feature “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan“). When discussing Cumberbatch, Abrams says, the “Sherlock” star is “fucking kickass in the role.” He goes on to describe how the ‘Darkness’ in the film’s title is Cumberbatch’s character.
“Kirk and the rest of the crew are figuring out how the hell to get an upper hand with this guy. The darkness is real in this movie, and it’s incredibly challenging and terrifying, and it can certainly be lethal,” he explains. Still, either the interviewer doesn’t prod about the identity of Cumberbatch’s character or Abrams refused to even go there, but Khan isn’t even brought up. Maybe his silence says all you need to know…?
2) ‘Star Trek’ Should Still Be Sexy
After noting that the difficulties in making a really earnest “Star Trek” affair had to do with the fact that, “not only are we post–’Star Trek’ the series and movies, but we’re post–’Galaxy Quest,’ post–’Saturday Night Live‘ spoofs,” he said that the new films’ sexiness is keeping with the spirit of the original series (and is essential to this new sequel).
“Star Trek has to be sexy. In the 1960s they were limited because of the time, but so much was insinuated. Part of the fun of our first movie was playing with the idea that Uhura and Spock were a couple,” Abrams explained. “This movie takes that further and asks how that’s possible. Why would she be interested in that kind of guy, and why would she put up with him?” He then added (and, please remember, this is an interview for Playboy): “It’s obvious what he would like about her. I mean, it’s fucking Zoë Saldana.”
3) Nimoy Dropped By The Set, Shatner Didn’t
At one point during “Star Trek Into Darkness” pre-production there was a rumor that William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk, would be folded into the new film like Leonard Nimoy was in the first Abrams film. This ultimately did not come to pass, and Shatner has been prickly (to say the least) when it comes to the new “Star Trek” universe. When the interviewer asks if any of the original “Star Trek” crew swung by the set, it shouldn’t surprise you that, while Abrams acknowledged that Nimoy did stop by (“He’s always a joy”), he started off his discussion of Shatner with an audible sigh.
“I haven’t spoken with him in a long time, but I did read something where he gave me a fantastic underhanded compliment,” Abrams said (clearly relishing the fact that one of the original “Star Trek” stars took the time to give him shit in print). “[It was] something like our movie was a fun action ride and maybe one day it’ll have heart. A great compliment only to pull the rug out in a way that only Shatner can do. I adore him.”
4.) He Passed On ‘Star Wars’ In The Heat Of the Moment
Sure, he’s locked into directing the new “Star Wars” project for Disney now, but last fall he wasn’t so sure, passing on the project and publicly stating that he had no interest. He noted how different the two franchises are, and then blamed that on the reason he had originally been hesitant. “That was why I passed on ‘Star Wars’ to begin with. I couldn’t imagine doing both. But when I said that my loyalty was to ‘Star Trek’ [I] was literally working on finishing this cut. I couldn’t even entertain another thought,” Abrams said. “It was like being on the most beautiful beach in the world and someone saying, ‘There’s this amazing mountain over here. Come take a look.’ I couldn’t balance the two, so I passed on ‘Star Wars.’ “
Still, after his work on “Star Trek Into Darkness” was more or less complete, he became a little more open to the possibility. “Kathleen Kennedy called again. I’ve known her for years. We had a great conversation, and the idea of working with her on this suddenly went from being theoretical and easy to deny to being a real, tangible, thrilling possibility,” Abrams explained. “In the end it was my wife, Katie, who said if it was something that really interested me, I had to consider it.”
After literally smiling through a series of questions about the new “Star Wars” movie (who would be in it, what he would like to see carried over), Abrams finally buckled down: “You won’t like this answer, but it’s so early it would be insane to discuss details or get into plot points about what this unfilmed movie will be. And I’m not going to give my opinion on the original movies or characters.”
Abrams then said if he approached it from the point of view of a fan, it would be game over. “If I viewed this from a fan’s point of view—and no one’s a bigger ‘Star Wars’ fan than I am—or from a legacy standpoint, it would scare the hell out of me. But instead of trying to climb this mountain in one giant leap, I’m just enjoying the opportunity and looking to the people I’m working with,” Abrams said.
5.) He’s Tired Of Reboots
Given that Abrams has been instrumental in two “Mission: Impossible” sequels, a costly “Star Trek” reboot and an even-costlier “Star Wars” reboot/sequel, it’s worth wondering if he’s got any more sequel/reboots in the pipeline. He says that he doesn’t (besides something for TV that he of course wouldn’t identify), and that this mentality could have kept him out of the “Star Wars” game. “One of the reasons I at first easily said no to the notion of ‘Star Wars’ was the thought that I had to do something original again,” Abrams said, noting how his TV stuff (which he has had the most success in and has had the most wide-ranging impact) is original stuff. “It’s the thing I was looking forward to doing next. The best-laid plans, you can say—but when something like Star Wars comes along, you either roll with it or not.”
6) He Might Direct “Let The Great World Spin”
After noting that his influences range from Alfred Hitchcock to David Cronenberg to Steven Spielberg (duh) and that his favorite movie of all time is “The Philadelphia Story,” Abrams let it slip that he might be up for directing an adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel “Let the Great World Spin,” which has been in development at his Bad Robot production company for a while now. “There’s an amazing book called ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ that we’ve been developing with Colum McCann, the writer, and I’d love to do that,” Abrams said, which is about as close to an admission of intent as you’re going to get from the secretive filmmaker. “Not because of anything other than I feel the characters are beautiful and alive and have incredible heart and soul. But I’m open to anything.”
7) His Need For Secrecy Stems From The Leak Of His Superman Script
Abrams is notoriously secretive, with his offices housed in a purposefully anonymous building and a widespread policy of silence being of paramount importance. (He even gave his TED talk about “The Mystery Box,” some kind of magic kit he received as a child made more magical by the fact that he never opened it.) More recently, though, his strict adherence to secrecy had to do with a “Superman” script he wrote for McG. (One that got out and was savaged by Ain’t It Cool News.) “That’s a paranoia I’ve developed since the Superman script I wrote years ago was reviewed online. I always had a sense of how I enjoyed entertainment, which was to sit down in front of a TV or inside a darkened movie theater and be surprised by everything that happened on the screen. It used to be that to get a spoiler you had to really seek it out,” Abrams said. He then noted: “Now you have to work to avoid it.”
8) He Gave Michael Bay Shit
It’s easy to forget that Abrams was one of the credited screenwriters on Michael Bay‘s apocalyptically epic “Armageddon” and while he has something of a reputation in Hollywood, Abrams wasn’t ruffled, especially after Abrams found out where he went to school. “I know Michael’s a guy who can be abusive and crazy and all kinds of stuff. But when I was driving over to meet him for the first time, someone called and said, ‘He went to Crossroads,’ which is a private school down the street from here in Santa Monica. I thought, He’s a Crossroads kid? Growing up in Brentwood, I knew kids like him. I had never met Michael, but this idea that he was a Crossroads kid suddenly demystified him for me,” Abrams said. “I met him and immediately started giving him shit, and he was giving me shit. He liked me because I wasn’t afraid of him and I understood who he was, which was someone who was a little freaked out by how big he’d become so fast.”
9) Directing ‘Star Trek 3’ Is Still A Possibility
While Abrams’ commitment to Disney’s new “Star Wars” franchise seemingly puts him out of the “Star Trek” game for the foreseeable future, something that really upset “Star Trek” fans (especially since the long-held belief was that the Abrams films would form something of a trilogy), Abrams says no. “I would say it’s a possibility. We’re trying to figure out the next step,” Abrams said, before diplomatically adding: “But it’s like anything: It all begins with the story.”
10.) “Cloverfield II” Could Be Inspired By “Pacific Rim”
Another endlessly theorized-about Abrams-led sequel is a follow-up to his found-footage monster movie “Cloverfield” (directed by Matt Reeves, who is now one of the most in-demand dudes in Hollywood). Abrams has mixed feelings about the project. “Part of me just wants to let it go, though we’ve had a couple of discussions about cool ways to do it,” he said. Abrams then said that it could be at least partially inspired by another giant monster movie opening this summer: Guillermo del Toro‘s buzzy “Pacific Rim.” “I’m looking forward to seeing ‘Pacific Rim’ this summer. It feels like there are some really big monsters coming down the pike that could inspire something we do.”
There’s yet another Abrams property that, shockingly, he still could be open to bringing back on the big screen: “Alias,” his wonderfully bizarre, woefully under-watched spy show for ABC (which is where we first fell in love with the dude). “We discuss it. In the right circumstance and situation I would definitely be open to it,” Abrams said teasingly. In other words: don’t hold your breath, but it could be in the mystery box one day.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” opens May 17th.