Zachary Quinto will be reprising the role of Spock next summer in Star Trek Beyond, but before that, there’s the small matter of his pivotal role in the videogame to movie project, Hitman: Agent 47.
He spared us some time to talk about that and many other topics, including the mighty Jason Statham… You’re on the press tour to promote Hitman: Agent 47 at the moment. Does the process of talking through the film so much, analyzing it with people, change the way you look at it?
Sometimes. We were just having this conversation, Rupert (Friend, who plays Agent 47) and I. Is it more stimulating, valuable, to try to engage and come up with new ways to talk about it every time or is it more self-preserving to just stop and maintain a position and a relationship to talk about it?
I think the thing that excites me the most is when a journalist is actually insightful enough and intelligent enough to make me look at it a different way or is able to articulate a perspective that they have that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered, and that’s where these junkets can be valuable creatively. When we engage with journalists that are interested in going beyond the traditional questions, that are coming at it at a more unconventional point of view, I think I prefer that version of talking about a film. You’re playing a character in the film who has to blend in; the character’s name is an alias, and the first time we see him he’s on a bus, observing Hannah Ware’s character, while avoiding being noticed. Does that pose any particular challenge as an actor, trying to create a character who is almost a non-entity?
The thing about that is partly what I was drawn to about this project and this character. More things happen at once, if that makes sense. On the one hand I’m trying to blend in but on the other hand I have a whole host of ulterior motives that as the actor I am able to play with, to present in varying degrees. I am fascinated by the idea, the ambiguity of the character, which allows me to paint with different brushes a little bit.
Sure he seems like he’s sitting on a bus with other people, blending in, but to me as the actor playing the character there’s a whole litany of things running through my mind that allow me to realize that there’s other dimensions, and hopefully as an audience I draw them into the mystery of “Hey, what’s that guy like? Why is he just sitting there? Why is he smiling? Why is he following her, what does he want?” I like that aspect of the project in particular.
It seems that you’re almost, in a lot of your roles, exploring the ambiguity of people. Even when you’re playing something like Spock, there’s still some level of us never being quite sure of your motivations.
I think character really dictates that, and Spock is a character with a lot of internal opposition, and so yes, I do feel like a lot of things Spock experiences and goes through happen internally and perhaps invisibly, or under the surface, but it informs the way he communicates or relates to other people.
The same thing goes with this character and maybe I’m drawn to those kinds of characters who are not giving it all away and not being completely clear about what they’re thinking of doing or moving toward. I do enjoy that, not exclusively, but at least periodically, and I’m sure while this probably won’t be the last antagonist that I ever play, in the last film that I ever play, I definitely have a concerted effort to change it up. I’m curious about how the physicality affects the performance. I presume you did some of the stunt work, the fighting. Does that change how you perform a role, when you’re doing a lot more moving around?
Rupert and I did as much of the stunt work as we were able to do, and at a certain point you get into insurance considerations, things that the companies won’t let the actors participate in. All the combat, hand-to-hand fighting stuff we did ourselves. Of course we worked with stunt doubles and had a great stunt team, and they certainly performed as well, but the vast majority of the stunt work was Rupert and me.
I do think the physical nature of a job like this defines the experience in a different way, the character has to fit in to this larger structure, the action-oriented sequences, and so the degree that the action defines the character defines how he moves, defines how he relates to other individuals and circumstances around him. That’s a part of physicality. And then beyond that, the emotional side of the character is informed and also informs.
You brought up the action sequences. I’m curious, when you get a script like this as opposed to one that’s more dramatically focused, is it harder to tell what the finished product is going to be like?
Yeah, sure. It’s contingent on a number of different factors — the director’s ability, the quality of visual effects supervision and the quality of the story. The thing that actors rely on is the script, and in the script I could tell that they were trying to do something a little bit different. But how that would look, the visual components of that, I had no idea and until I saw the movie I had no idea how effective they would be or how well they would work. Why do you think audiences are drawn to these sort of characters? Both you and Rupert are playing the type of people that if you met at a bar you’d probably steer clear of. Why do you think we like seeing films with them in?
I think that the entertainment industry and films in particular are great big canvasses for society’s projection. Why are so many people drawn to the character I played on Heroes in an emotional way, in a physical way? I think people are drawn to that which they cannot experience themselves. Sometimes when a character is very dark or a little bit evil there’s a deliciousness to it that people really heighten because they can’t have those experiences in real life. I think that has something to do with it, not entirely though. In the last few years, you’ve been working in both film and TV, it feels to me as an outsider that those two industries are becoming much more similar now. In terms of the quality and the people working in them, is there a particular difference now for you if you work on a TV series or a mini-series like The Slap as opposed to a movie like this?
It all comes down to scheduling, and how the money is spent.
When you’re making a television show you have to do it every week. As soon as you’re done you have to spin around and do it again, whereas when you’re making a film you make one film and then everybody goes into perfecting that particular film and sharpening that story and putting it out there once. The formats are different.
I think in the entertainment industry, and technology in general, it seems like all media is hurtling towards virtual reality and once we get there all bets are off. The lines right now between video game technology, narrative storytelling and filmmaking are blurring more and more. We’re just going to see a continuation of that until the idea is when you’d normally go and see a movie you’re actually immersing yourself in the world completely as you would when playing a video game. Then all bets are off, that would change the landscape of the entertainment industry forever and I don’t think we’re that far away from that. That’s always exciting. How do you think that might affect someone in your profession, if we move to what you’re predicting? At present we see lots of great actors do voice work, but how do you think being an actor in something that’s so strange might be?
I don’t know. Didn’t Kevin Spacey lend his voice and his likeness to a Call Of Duty game? It’s already starting, there’s a double Academy Award Winner.
It’s interesting in a different way, but it’s already happening in film, it’s already happening with something like Avatar. The actors, for the most part, are motion captured, doing voiceover, but as really artistically rendered versions of themselves on film. You’re not seeing Zoe [Saldana] as she is, you’re seeing Zoe as a computer-generated manipulation of a character that has her qualities, but it’s not her likeness in the end. I think we’re already there, I just think people are slow to identify it or recognize it, but it’s been happening over the past five or ten years. I think it’s just going to continue happening in a more visceral or immediate way. We’re running short of time, so I have to ask a regular Den Of Geek question before we finish. What’s your favorite Jason Statham film?
I think he’s really great in Spy, that’s the thing I saw him in most recently. It’s a great subversion of how people see him. I like him in general but I really like his willingness to send himself up and send the style of movie he’s done over the last few years, to send it up in a very effective, comic way. That was a smart move on his part.
Zachary Quinto, thank you very much.
Hitman: Agent 47 is in theaters now.