Guillermo del Toro’s latest project, the Netflix animated series “Trollhunters,” is meant to be a fun homage to action adventure series like “Jonny Quest,” which the director watched as a child “with milk and cookies.” But the series launches with one sad element to it — it marks one of the last acting roles of Anton Yelchin, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 27.
As Del Toro told IndieWire via phone, “He was an extraordinary young man and, being 52 myself, having kids that are 19 and 16, to me, the most unimaginable loss is somebody that age. Somebody that goes that young. It just hit me unexpectedly hard.”
“I had a very paternalistic sense toward him,” del Toro added. “I felt he was a young man that was enjoying a really good moment in his life. He was eternally curious about photography, music, acting, film, TV, everything. He was truly one of the great human beings and 100 percent a real artist.”
In the series, Yelchin stars as Jim, a young teenager who gets swept into an unseen world of magic and adventure after discovering an amulet that transforms him into the Trollhunter, protector of a hidden civilization of trolls.
According to del Toro, finding Jim’s voice was incredibly tough, because they were aiming for a very specific type of character. “The thing about Jim that has been a battle for me, from the beginning of this year, is to explain to everyone — to the studio, to the writers room, to the actors — that what I wanted was to have Jim be a good guy. That is not terribly complicated. He’s a guy that is really a very good boy,” he said. “I wanted Jim to be in that ’70s mold, when I watched heroes on TV with milk and cookies. He was a good kid that I could identify or aspire to, as opposed to having a character that has a lot of darkness and then has to either purge it or confront it.”
In order to find that exact angle, Yelchin needed a few sessions to find that exact quality. “The first couple of sessions with Anton, he really wanted to find the character,” Del Toro said. “I think it took three sessions, three full sessions, of him recording Jim. Then he found it and never again was he off-key. He was so in love with the character.”
Del Toro and the “Trollhunters” team had recorded enough with Yelchin to complete the 26-episode first season of the series “without a single line replaced.” But should the show move on to a second season, the role would be recast. “We are still going to preserve as much of what we have with Anton because, to me, he was Jim. Period,” del Toro said. “It took a great deal of engineering team to do this and to complete the first season properly, with him. I think we all felt that it was the least we could do, to do it in that spirit.”
The memory of Yelchin’s loss still affects him deeply. “When I saw ‘Green Room,’ it hit me really hard because I saw it after he passed away. I’m friends with Tom Hiddleston and spoke with Anton when we were shooting ‘Crimson Peak’ — we shared the same view that he was a phenomenal guy. We both loved him very much. You cannot imagine that he’s going to be gone.”
Netflix releases “Trollhunters,” starring Yelchin, on Friday, Dec. 23.