Flaunt Magazine — Vegabond Issue: Permanent Vacation
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The Wanderlust of Anton Yelchin
Gregg LaGambina

There is a hand around Anton Yelchin’s neck. It has a wide-open eye staring out from its palm. It clinks against an elephant and a Star of David. His chosen amulets act as a summary, the first visual indication of a creative soul unencumbered by choice. At age 20, he’s all in. Everything is as good as anything else.

“I want to get a bunch of chains, but I want them all to have some kind of interesting meaning,” Yelchin says, grabbing at his neck. “These all have meaning for me. The Star of David has been in my family for a long time, and obviously I’m Jewish. The elephant—that’s just a good luck thing my mom talked about since I was little. The hamsa, I just like it. It’s an Israeli thing. But I want to get a cool, crazy looking crucifix too. It would totally clash. Like a bolt of lightning would just come and strike me down.” Dressed in a bright white V-neck T-shirt, jeans, and black Cuban boots, Anton Yelchin disappears easily into this café crowd. His eyes dart behind black Ray- Bans, sizing up short-skirted women and shorthaired burly bulldogs alike. A cup of filtered water and a wedge of lemon are suffering both from the high, clear California sun and the absent-minded assault of Yelchin’s grip. Melting ice leaks through cracks in the plastic, the slowly disappearing water marking off time like a makeshift hourglass.

Odds are, one or two of the millions of people who bought a ticket this past summer for Star Trek or Terminator Salvation are here, stabbing at their laptops, sucking at iced coffee through clear straws. But if they crane their necks and listen closely, there’s nothing to hear that gives Yelchin away.

“I like being at home,” he admits. “I like being at my house. I like my room; I like my shit. My parents are sometimes like, ‘Let’s go away for a weekend,’ and I’m like, ‘Can’t we go away here? Can’t we disconnect the phone and just chill at home?’ Eventually, in a couple of years, I’ll move out. But I don’t need that kind of privacy. I really love my parents, they’re the people I trust the most and admire the most and I like living with them.” Born to a pair of Russian figure skaters who emigrated to Los Angeles six months after the birth of their only child, Yelchin spent much of the past year laughing off questions about his St. Petersburg origins. In light of his portrayal of Pavel Chekhov, navigator of the Starship Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ revival of the Star Trek franchise, his family tree briefly took on misguided significance.

“One of the thi ngs I get upset abo ut is whe n peo ple call me a Russia n actor ,” he says . “How do I quali fy?

I guess that was some pro found si x mo nths I spe nt out there .

If there is anythi ng that is very Russia n abo ut me , it’s my para - noia . I thi nk that ’s an intri nsically Russia n quality . I’m a very para noid perso n.” If it’s not exactly paranoia, then it’s a heightened anxiety that he doesn’t so much suffer from but uses as a way of looking at the world. In small measure, on this patio, whether he’s tearing at his napkin, bouncing his leg, or making a passing comment at the size of a nearby hound’s labia, Yelchin’s eyes and mind move around from subject to subject, indicative of a deep-seated impatience that holds domain over the decisions he makes. Since his breakout billion-dollar summer, he hasn’t settled on his next project because he doesn’t like any of the scripts. So, to pass the time, he started a punk band called The Hammerheads.

“I’ve been playing music because I love what I do so much, and acting is incredibly important to me—just the involvement in it, and the sort of mental and spiritual involvement in it—when it’s not there, I need to do something that at least sort of mirrors that. Music does that in a way.” He’s waiting to hear about the fate of William H. Macy’s directorial debut. It’s a film in which Yelchin would portray a young kid enamored with a woman 20 years his senior, a hooker and a drug addict, whom he ends up trying to emulate in an effort to win her over. Hearing Yelchin’s manic, stream-like description of it, you can tell he’d be perfect for the part.

“He meets her at Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s just this quiet kid, and he realizes that he can never get with this wild woman who’s like 20 years older than him. So he creates a separate character for himself which is like this badass biker dude.

And he seduces her with this badass biker dude, and he’s really just this timid kid. So it’s great because there’s these two characters to play. He has this heart condition where his heart speeds up called PAT-paroxysmal atrial tachycardia-where basically your heart just speeds up. And he has that so he always has to take it easy, but with this character he comes up with, he starts drinking and smoking and… It’s great, it’s really funny and weird. He’s followed around by Satan ‘cause he has one of these attacks and he sees Satan, so the rest of his life Satan just follows him around. I think Steve Buscemi is going to play Satan. It’s this very bizarre love story, it’s great, I’d love to do it.” He pauses, his attention suddenly grabbed by something stirring underneath a nearby table. “I love pugs. They’re so cool. They’re such cool, little dogs. Look at that.” These momentary conversational derailments could just be the sideeffects of a long, dull summer talking endlessly about the same two blockbusters made months and months ago, wondering exactly when the next piece of work will come along and rescue him from that room down the hall from Mom and Dad. Not working is a risky thing to impose on someone like Yelchin, who seems ready to devour everything at once. He admits to being obsessive. He admits to being paranoid. He skipped out on college and is teaching himself critical theory, voraciously gobbling up every book within reach. He’s writing a screenplay. He’s playing guitar. Considering that thing they say about idle hands, it’s probably best he’s under parental supervision. Hopefully, working with a kindred (manic) spirit like Robert Downey, Jr. Taught him more about art and less about how to fill up any downtime in your twenties.

“He’s such a free actor,” he recalls about filming Charlie Bartlett with Downey. “He can literally turn 180 degrees between takes because he has such a grasp of what the character is that there’s no wrong choice he can make. I saw that and I was like, ‘That is fucking amazing.’ That’s what it’s all about.” After hedging closely to the promise of not talking too much about Star Trek or Terminator, and considering his next string of films is yet to be determined, a simple inquiry into the kinds of books he likes to read, or the films he likes to watch, unravels Yelchin into a breathless kind of fan-boy rant. Without proper warning, it spills out in every direction and serves as a glorious insight into the things that can capture his wandering mind.

“I’ve been reading Hemingway’s short stories. I really like Hemingway.

And before that I was reading The Big Sleep as part of my noir studies thing. It’s so good.

It’s so trashy. It’s like such a crappy, great book. I really want to go and read some Mickey Spillane. He was that shocking pulp writer. His main character would like, beat the shit out of women, then he’d either fuck or kill everything. Or fuck it, and then kill it. Or kill it by fucking it. Any woman that came in, he’d fuck her, then kill her, and then he’d fuck her again. So, I really want to read that.

“There’s not enough room on my shelves for DVDs,” he continues, laughing as if he was listening to someone else deconstruct Spillane as some insatiable blood-lusting fuck machine. “I need to watch more [Pier Paolo] Pasolini is what I’ve decided. I’ve only seen Salò. Have you seen Salò? It’s so good; it’s so insane. It’s just an incredible, incredible, incredible epic movie. It’s one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. Probably like, top 10. I just think it’s genius.

“I took a girl to see that film on a date, which was awesome. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m taking a girl to this movie. This is not gonna get me laid.’ We saw Salò, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m warning you, it’s pretty pornographic, and they’ll be eating shit.’ But she didn’t care! But I’m a bad person to go to a movie with, I’m always whispering shit like, ‘Notice that framing, look at that composition, you get it? Like, that’s an object; he’s made her into an object. Look at that. Blah, blah.’ You know? Just like stupid shit. But she was down.

“[The film] is all about how fascism—that’s another thing I’ve been really interested about, how fascism doesn’t disappear. It’s an intrinsic part of Western culture. The basic idea of fascism is that you make people into objects for the state.

And that’s cinema. The audience is the subject of the cinema, they’re being subjected to whatever you’re putting out there. And Salò is all about that crazy shit. These four fascists take a bunch of kids and they realize because they can’t be actual fascists anymore, the ultimate fascist thing they can do is watch them, like use them as objects sexually. And that’s their supreme form of fascism. It’s not just fucking them and raping them and doing all this crazy shit, which is one level, but watching as that happens to them because they’re just the ultimate object, you know? And these kids willingly become part of this process.

“Our whole culture is about that,” he says, after a breath, gesturing with open arms to the surrounding bookstore and café. “It’s like this whole place, the fact that people come here because they think it’s a cool, hip place, they’re willingly objectifying themselves to wear the cool clothes and buy the cool John Fante books.

“Anyway, Salò is pretty amazing.” He laughs and takes a sip from his leaky cup of lemon water.

Outside, on the sidewalk, with pedestrians peeking into shop windows at endless curiosities for sale, Anton Yelchin disappears among them, marching off confidently to “some really good bookstore I think is around here.” Just one amidst the herd now, watching him navigate his way down the block, it’s easy to dismiss him as just another young actor, grasping and searching and saying things in a way he’ll probably regret later. But let’s not discourage him. He’s yet to be absorbed by the machinery of public relations or bedeviled by the monotony of selling movies with a thousand grins under a thousand flashbulbs. He’s still eager to get at the truth of things. So let’s not criticize. Let’s capture him here in this moment as he turns that corner on a boot heel.

Let’s wish him luck. He’s 20 years old. And he will never be this free again.