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RIP Anton Yelchin: 9 Reasons We Loved His Performances

IndieWire's editors share their reasons for celebrating this all-too-brief career.

Anton Yelchin

Anton Yelchin passed away at the tragically young age of 27, at a time when many actors’ careers are just gathering momentum. But Yelchin had already amassed an impressive filmography that stretched back to his childhood, with an eclectic mixture of blockbusters, TV projects, and smaller efforts. “I’m just a huge supporter of this universe of filmmaking,” he told IndieWire in 2011. “It’s just fundamental. I can’t stress that enough.” Here, the IndieWire team shares their thoughts on why Yelchin stood out.

A Rare Screen Presence

Yelchin was the rare young actor to convey a plucky disposition while something gentler and melancholic lurked beneath the surface. As the energetic teen offspring of the troubled shrink on “Huff,” Yelchin was often the sole voice of reason in a sea of anxiety-riddled adults. While they grappled with middle-age, he was tasked with calling them on the pithy nature of their problems. As an actor, he compensated for his smaller build with furtive gestures and a high-pitch delivery that made him the ideal vessel for unfettered emotional states. Whether grappling with heartbreak in “Like Crazy” or commandeering punk rockers fighting off neo-Nazis in “Green Room,” Yelchin made his character’s conundrums immensely relatable. American cinema tends to favor big gestures and histrionic eruptions. Yelchin’s screen presence was an antidote, though at 27 he was only getting started. While his role as Ensign Pavel Chekhov suggested grander commercial ambitions, Yelchin’s last few credits showed he was still revving his engines for a career filled with intriguing efforts — from the upcoming mystery-drama “We Don’t Belong Here” to the romantic two-hander “Porto” — that transform conventional genres into more intimate, personal sagas. The underlying appeal of Yelchin’s performances was he always seemed to be struggling to express something deep and never finding all the words. The tragedy of his sudden death was that we’ll never know the entirety of what he was trying to say.  —Eric Kohn

Early Potential

If you haven’t seen “Huff,” the short-lived tragicomedy starring Hank Azaria as a therapist dealing with a shocking loss, now would be a good time to start. Yelchin plays Azaria’s sweetly precocious teenaged son — and the actor’s intelligence, warmth, and wit made the father/son relationship the show’s driving force. Yelchin was just 15 when the show debuted in 2004, and even then he stands out amongst heavyweights Hank Azaria, Blythe Danner, and Oliver Platt. Short-lived, indeed. —Judith Dry

Romantic Collaborator

"Like Crazy"

“Like Crazy”

Anton Yelchin was an actor whose unique talents were defined by a commonality, a link cemented by outstanding films as well as one talented co-star. “The Beaver” and “Like Crazy” were released within months of each other in 2011, and other than earning much praise following their respective film festival premieres (Sundance and SXSW), the two efforts shared little in common — other than Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence, his love interest in both films. It wasn’t so much the two shared a spark (they did) or overwhelmed their co-stars (they came close). It was more than each added depth and specificity to characters in need of just that; an immeasurable gift to films Yelchin brought to all his roles, no matter how diverse or similar. —Ben Travers

Vulnerable and Real

While there are any number of strong scenes in Drake Doremus’s 2011 “Like Crazy,” which captures with long lenses the intense love affair between American designer Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna, a British visitor (Felicity Jones) who loses her visa and must return to England, the images that haunt me are silent. Jacob regards Anna across a subway car, sits at a bar thinking about Anna and leaves to call her, and embraces Anna at the airport as she breaks down in tears. “You’re killing me,” he says as he follows suit. Later Jacob takes up with Sam (Jennifer Lawrence); they seem to be having a blast dancing at a nightclub, until Doremus’s roving camera catches Jacob’s attention straying; he’s sad, Sam isn’t Anna. We read it all. (So does Sam.) Yelchin had that rare ability to take us into his mind so we can read his thoughts, feel what he feels. Vulnerable. Accessible. Clear as a bell. —Anne Thompson

A Sensitive Side

Even if you were only familiar with the blockbuster films on his resume, Anton Yelchin stood out as a new kind of leading actor, with the sort of 21st-century sensitivity that defines the best sort of guy. From “Fright Night” to “Terminator Salvation” to “Star Trek,” Yelchin could be found playing the role of young man on the verge of greatness, with a wit and earnestness to his performances that made us want to believe in the hero he was clearly destined to be. —Liz Shannon Miller

Elevating the Work
"Burying the Ex"

“Burying the Ex”

“Burning The Ex” may have been the worst movie the late Anton Yelchin starred in during his short but incredibly eclectic film career, but for some reason it’s the performance I keep thinking about as I come to terms with his death. His trademark charisma — something along the lines of disheveled sweetness — could make you watch almost anything, and his character, a B-movie fanatic obsessed with Corman-era genre pictures, seemed to embody his own personal obsession with film history. The only thing he seemed to love more than genre cinema (and boy, did he hit every genre, from science-fiction to romance, horror and coming-of-age drama), was working with genre directors: from Joe Dante to JJ Abrams, Guillermo Del Toro, Jeremy Saulnier and more. “Burying the Ex” proved that more than a fine actor, Yelchin was a pure movie fan at his very core; the kind of guy with whom you’d want to talk about horror movie history, or watch a schlocky monster movie, or what it’s like to work with the director of “Gremlins,” which undoubtedly was the biggest reason he signed on for “Burying the Ex” in the first place. Yelchin wasn’t in it for the fame; he just loved the movies, and it radiated in “Burying the Ex” in a way that will always make me smile and admire the hell out of him. He’ll be so terribly missed. —Zack Sharf

Genre Talents

As a horror fan, it was easy to appreciate Yelchin’s love of the genre, and the energy he gave to the men he played onscreen. He excelled at being pushed to the limit by the supernatural, yet grounding the audience: battling an undead girlfriend in “Burying The Ex,” nazis in “Green Room,” ghosts in “Odd Thomas,” and vampires in “Only Lovers Left Alive” and the remake of “Fright Night.” Never a conventional hero — curly hair, awed expression, scrawny frame — he helped to bring levity to even the highest of concepts. It truly seemed the best was yet to come for Yelchin, as fans were so excited to see him play against type as a psychopath in the upcoming television adaptation of Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes.” Surely he would have nailed the part, and brought a fragility to what could have been a one-note role. —William Earl

A Hollywood Rarity

Anton Yelchin was one of those Hollywood rarities — a child actor (he first hit screens back in 2000 and grabbed serious attention a year later with his turn in “Hearts in Atlantis”) who made the transition to adult with apparent ease. Yelchin worked steadily through his teens and twenties and never seemed compelled to stay in any one lane. He was equally at home in small Sundance indies like “Like Crazy” and giant blockbuster franchises like the new “Star Trek” series. A glance at his upcoming slate only speaks to Yelchin’s ability to and interest in mixing it up, from a new summer “Star Trek” entry to the David E. Kelley scripted series “Mr. Mercedes” to Mark Palansky’s incentive “Rememory.” Yelchin dabbled in everything, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the best was yet to come from him. That we will never see what else he could do with an already unique and enviable career just adds to the tragedy. —Kate Erbland

Growing Into Greatness

Anton Yelchin in Star Trek Into Darkness

Anton Yelchin was one of the major reasons to love J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek;” his performance had a charm and energy that made the iconic Chekhov wholly his own, without the easy mimicry others might have brought to the role. And then it was Drake Doremus’ “Like Crazy,” a difficult drama about falling madly in love; his performance was raw and real and entirely sympathetic, in a realm that seemed so difficult to portray. Most recently, it was Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” an all-too-realistic horror movie. Even if you typically avoid bloodshed (and there’s plenty here), it’s a terrific film, and much of the credit goes to Yelchin’s performance. Without brawn, he earned his place as the film’s hero through sheer courage and common sense. He gave every sign of being an actor who would continue growing into greatness. And that’s why this is a paragraph that I don’t want to write. —Dana Harris

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