Star Trek Beyond: Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella, Chris Pine interview

Three stars of Star Trek Beyond talk to us about Red Bull, the franchise's meaning and breakfast burritos...

Doing a junket in Australia one day and finding yourself at another junket in London the next can’t be easy on the constitution, which explains why actor Zachary Quinto was clutching a can of Red Bull when we sat down with he and co-stars Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine a few days ago.

They’re here, of course, to promote Star Trek Beyond, the third in the rebooted series which began in 2009 with JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and continued with 2014’s Star Trek Into Darkness. This time around, we’re in for a more ensemble-y kind of adventure, with Ms Boutella joining the cast as a tough alien named Jaylah, a character who fits into the Star Trek universe so naturally that it feels as though she’s always been there.

Ahead of Beyond’s release in UK cinemas later this week, here’s what Pine, Quinto and Boutella had to say about their experiences of making the film and the franchise’s continued relevance.

Zachary Quinto: I’m Red Bulled u-u-up!

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Chris Pine: Oh fuck. You’re on another Red Bull? Holy shit.

Sofia Boutella: Maybe that’s what I need. Does it work?

ZQ: It works like nothing else. I never drink it except on junkets. And also, sometimes other times.

But not on the Enterprise.

ZQ: When I’m doing a play. I’ll drink it then.

That makes sense.

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ZQ: So how are you?

I’m very well! Congratulations on the film. I enjoyed it.

ZQ: Did you? You enjoyed it?

One of the things I liked was that the way it opened, you’re half-way through your five-year mission, and there’s the grind of space exploration as well as the excitement. I thought that was an interesting way of jumping back in.

CP: Yeah, I really enjoyed that part of the film. I thought it was one of the funnier bits. With these big action films, people never take into account the times that aren’t dramatic. That was indeed a funny way to start.

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-I’ve been told there’s a scene cut out where [Kirk] has a breakfast burrito.

CP: Yeah! We didn’t really have much time for that preamble stuff, but we had a breakfast burrito version, a coffee version, which ended up staying in… I lobbied for the breakfast burrito moment, but it did not win out. I thought that would’ve been really funny. 

Your characters have evolved quite a lot from the young Star Fleet recruits of the first film. Did you have a say in the tone of your characters in this movie?

CP: Yeah, Simon [Pegg] actually called us up pretty early on and asked if there’s anything we’d particularly like to do or see in your characters. And then on the day, whether he was in the scene or not, he’d be around for consultation, basically. He was very collaborative, and this felt like, the third one in, we have a better sense of who we are as characters. And Simon’s worked with us twice before so he has a great sense of what we do and do well. So it was fun. It was a great collaboration.

Do you think it’s more of an ensemble piece, this movie? Because for you, Sofia, there’s obviously loads of action for you.

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SB: Yeah, loads of action!

ZQ: I think what this does is it takes the crew and it fractures us. It splits us apart and it splits us into groupings that we wouldn’t normally be in. And I think that’s really exciting for the audience, because you have an experience of these characters as you wouldn’t normally see them, and in relation to characters they might  not spend the majority of their time with. Certainly, in the case of Spock and Bones, who spend a lot of the film together. Sulu and Uhura spend a lot of time together in the movie. Kirk and Chekov and Scottie, and then Jaella added into the mix. So yeah, it’s great to watch, and I think thematically, it says that a crew is never stronger than when they’re together. And so through that fracturing we spend a long time finding our way back to one another, and learning a lot about ourselves in the process.

One of the themes in the film seems to be inclusivity. About the Federation bringing different races and cultures together. Do you think that’s an important thing to express right now?

ZQ: I do, yeah. [Sighs] We’re living in an increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic time, and you can see it reflected in societies all over the world – whether it’s here in the UK with the whole Brexit debacle, or in Australia where we just came from, where their most recent elections were too close to call. The razor-sharp line of division that exists between political ideologies in our own country in the United States, I think it’s clear that these movements are forming – and one is more forward thinking and more embracing and more inclusive. The other is less tolerant and more judgemental and more fear-driven and fear-based. I think, you know, over the next generation, we’re going to see which way we turn as a civilisation.

While this remains a summer blockbuster, popcorn film, I think underneath that are some more resonant themes that are reflective of the times we’re living in. 

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[To Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto] Is that something you guys picked up in this?

CP: Uh, yeah. I like this film because there’s a simplicity to the theme. It’s essentially – the question that it asks – is, “Is the Federation good?” The good guys think it is and the bad guy does not, and the bad guy ends up alone, and the good guys end up with their family. Not to be super reductive about, that’s what it feels like it’s about, to me. Working together always works together better… it also appeals to a primal, animal thing, which is that humans are social creatures. No one can survive on their own. Thinking you can is ridiculous, especially going into the middle half of the 21st century. To think you can do it alone is just ridiculous.

SB: Aliens can!

Well, your character starts off alone, but becomes part of a family, so to speak. Is that how you saw Jaella, as someone self-sufficient, but also learns she can lean on other people too?

SB: Yeah, it’s the same thing. It’s difficult to survive on your own, but [Jaella] did it for a very long time, and had to get by in a very solitary way. But I think she found things within the ship that kept her going. She watched a lot of videos, and that’s how she learned the [English] language. She kept busy by putting her outfit together, and finding pieces to build her defences and surviving. When she meets with them [the crew of the Enterprise] I think there is hope for her at some point. At first she’s defensive and protective, and then there is hope for her to actually get out of there. Yeah, she’s a really fun character.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Roddenberry’s TV series had the utopian sense that in time we’ll become less warlike, more peaceful. That was back in the 60s. So in the 21st century, are we moving in the right direction?

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ZQ: The advancement of technology has probably guided us more than anything else in one direction or another. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We’re so much more connected, but we’ve never been more fractured as a culture. I don’t know. I feel like we’re living in really precarious times, and I don’t think we’re any further along toward a utopian view of our culture than we were then. If anything, I think we’re a little bit more astray, more far afield from true integration and true acceptance. I think the next 50 years are going to present the human race with challenges that so far exceed the limitations of geopolitical boundaries or nationalist identity. We’re going to be up against challenges that we can barely fathom at this point. So how we embrace them and deal with them will define a great many things about where we go, but, you know, it’s hard to say. We’re teetering on the edge, I would say.

CP: I don’t know. I think about Reagan’s idea of the shining city on the hill.

ZQ: [Does uncanny Ronald Reagan impression] “The shining city on the hill!” [Laughs]

CP: [Seemingly ignoring it – he’s clearly heard Zachary Quinto’s Reagan impression before] …this idea of “We were once great when…” I think the human race has always been pretty fucking abysmal to one another. We’ve always killed one another, tried to destroy each other. So maybe in the human… I feel so dumb for talking about these big ideas, but you know, maybe the realisation of the full human potential is the utopian thing. Maybe that is our collective struggle, is to find a way to get there. But right now it seems like we’re duplicating what was written in the Bible, a millennium ago, which is “An eye for an eye.” Revenge policy; “If you hit me, we’ll hit you back worse”; ad infinitum.

SB: What they said!

Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Sofia Boutella – thank you very much.

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Star Trek Beyond is out in UK cinemas on the 22nd July.