While being interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in 2009, actor Zachary Quinto spoke of how he used to work as a waiter in a Galway based coffee shop for a time, and how he would love to return to the city. Now all these years later, he has been asked to return and show off his performance prowess for the Galway Film Fleadh Actor's Masterclass. Over the course of the festival, Quinto introduced screenings of two of the most important films of his career - Star Trek and Margin Call - and then performed long Q&As after each of them, at one of which he announced that Star Trek is preliminarily scheduled to shoot in 2014, with J.J. Abrams still interested in returning to the director's chair.
I was lucky enough to speak to the actor for quite a considerable amount of time, discussing pretty much his entire acting back catalogue, so for all you fans of Quinto (which is pretty much all of us), this is the interview for you:
Entertainment.ie: Welcome back to Galway!
Zachary Quinto: Thank you, man! Happy to be back.
E.ie: How you finding it?
ZQ: I love it here. I want to live here. I was thinking that when I was walking around.
E.ie: You must be happy to come back, having worked here in a café, and then come back all these years later to do an actor's masterclass?
ZQ: Yeah, I worked here fifteen years ago, and to be back now, and in the context of the work that I've been doing, it's really special.
E.ie: Every actor must have that first “I want to be an actor” moment. What was that moment for you?
ZQ: I was a child, and I started performing after a teacher of mine recommended me to this audition that I went to and got this job as a kid performing with a group, we sang and danced and that was my exposure to the world of performing. And I remember seeing a production of Sweeney Todd as a kid, and as a result of that experience, I knew in that moment (clicks fingers) that it was what I had to do.
E.ie: Early on in your career, you did some TV shows, mostly one-off episodes, but they weren't just small shows, they were some of the biggest shows in America; Touched By An Angel, CSI, Lizzie Maguire, Six Feet Under, Charmed, and then a whole season of 24. Looking back on those know, how do you feel about all of that TV work?
ZQ: There's probably a few of those that I might not have not done (laughs), but you know, I was ambitious and eager and wanted to work, and that was my journey, through those experiences. And some of those were really fulfilling and gratifying, but mostly, yes, they were just one-off guest stars that I did, and that was about the first five years of my career, I would say, doing that kind of auditioning, and it's a very traditional entry point to that sort of career, in LA especially. So that was my early experience, and then 24 really was the beginning of the change of the level of my exposure and opportunity because it was the first consistent job I had an a show for a whole season. And then from there I did another series, a short lived comedy series of VH1 called So NoTORIous, and that was right before Heroes, and Heroes was the obvious game-changer in terms of my career.
E.ie: Syler in Heroes is one of those once in a lifetime characters where you get to play a hero and a villain, and pretty much every personality aspect that a character, or an actor, could get to play. How did you feel about having this one-off character to play?
ZQ: I felt great about it, especially the first season. The first season for me was nothing but creatively fulfilling and so exciting because the show was such a huge phenomenon globally. You know, the nature of television, particularly network television, is that people are making decisions a lot of the time based on fear, like the fear that they will not be able to keep up the level of exposure or success as when it first started. So one of the challenges with Heroes as we went on into the third and fourth seasons was, ultimately- I feel like Sylar should've probably died. I don't think he should've stayed around, because things got a little bit more convoluted, and the foundations of the character dissipated in the last seasons, because you didn't know one way or the other how it would go. You didn't know necessarily what you were getting, and I felt that unfortunately in some ways the show started to break its own rules. And once a character dies and comes back to life and dies and comes back to life, and this happens time and time and time again, an audience, I think, loses their investment, or the incentive for their investment, because they don't know what to trust or what to believe. And that's unfortunately not unique to Heroes, I think that's the nature of anything serialised, anything that comes out of the gate with such intensity and inevitably you're struggling to keep up with something that may not be possible to keep up with. So I think when it ended, I certainly would've valued more closure in the end of the series, but I think it ended when it needed to end. I'm grateful for the relationships I had with all those people, and so grateful to Tim Kring, the creator of that show, and Dennis Hammer [producer], and all the people that produced the show, and the writers on the show. It really changed my life in a lot of amazing ways, and I've nothing but gratitude for it. But I was ready to move on at the time.
E.ie: You moved on to an almost absolute opposite character to Syler, who was so out there and over the top, to a stoic and unemotional Spock. How was it as an actor to play someone who was so restrained, not to mention a character who has already existed, as well as acting against the other actor [Leonard Nimoy] who's already played that character?
ZQ: I feel like I've said this before, but that year for me was like winning the lottery, and then winning the lottery again. I had just finished the first season of Heroes, and Star Trek happened right away. I got the job right away after that and I couldn't really believe that it was happening to me. It was everything that I had dreamt of that point. I had just finished the season of this hugely successful television series and then to have the opportunity to work with someone like J.J. on such a huge in such a central role was so exciting that I didn't have time to be intimidated by it. J.J. set a very clear tone of what he wanted the movie to be when I met him and Leonard supported me as the choice for the role, and Leonard and I got along immediately and incredibly well and we've become enormously good friends and incredibly close and an important part of each other's lives, subsequently. There was really only a sense of support and celebration around that, I have to say. I just opened up to the experience because I had no choice. I'd never done a movie before, so for me to step into something that epic and that large, I had to just trust my instincts and trust the people around me and not worry about the pressure and not worry about the comparisons and not worry about people's reactions. All I could worry about was doing good work, so that's what I chose to focus on, and what I feel ultimately paid off in the end. It's a group of people who are really focused on the work and want to do good work and that's all we can ask of ourselves, so it worked out.
E.ie: You're next big movie after that was Margin Call, which was also your first feature that you produced. You must've felt really happy when that paid off with an Academy Award nomination, and critically it was loved. For future productions, you've got All Is Lost, which is J.C. Chandor's [writer/director of Margin Call] next film, and you've also got Breakup At A Wedding and The Banshee Chapter. They're all quite different, what do you look for in potential productions?
ZQ: We want to tell stories that are socially relevant for the most part, and that's Margin Call, and that's All Is Lost in a lot of ways, but in very different ways, they're very different films. And then The Banshee Chapter and Breakup At A Wedding were both innovation, so social relevance is one thing, but innovation and storytelling is another. Now that could either mean the style of the film, or the content itself, or the way in which it's shot. Breakup At A Wedding is a romantic comedy using a found footage mode of storytelling, and found footage is something that's generally reserved for horror films and thrillers, like Paranormal Activity for example. So we decided it would be an interesting and innovative pursuit to take that mode of storytelling and lay it on top of a different genre, so that's where Breakup At A Wedding came from. The innovation of The Banshee Chapter is that we used 3D technology that hadn't been used yet, these cameras that Blair Erickson who wrote and directed the movie had a lot of history and experience with James Cameron and his company, and he came to the table with the idea of using this technology to make this movie and to tell this story, which is also a found footage, more traditional horror or psychological thriller story. So it's about innovation in a lot of ways, and it's also about giving first time directors opportunities. All of our first three films were first time directors; J.C. Chandor, Victor Quinaz, Blair Erickson, and our fourth movie is J.C.'s second movie All Is Lost. So it's about cultivating relationships with filmmakers that we believe in and are inspired by and in many cases we've known for years. Victor is someone that we went to college with and have known and have been good friends with for fifteen years, and Blair is also someone that came from Carnegie Mellon University where we all studied. That's where I started my (production) company with two friends from college, one of whom I've known since I was 15, so there's a lot of history there, and we look for projects that also support that and celebrate that. To give people that we've known for a long time opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have.
E.ie: Your career in film was sky-rocketing both as an actor and as a producer, but then you returned to TV with American Horror Story. What was the incentive to return to TV?
ZQ: Ryan Murphy [creator of AHS] is an incredibly persuasive and influential man, and he does a lot of interesting work I think and he came to me to ask me to be a part of American Horror Story, the first season just as a guest story for four episodes. I thought that would be all I would do and I had great time playing a fun, campy character and I thought the story of that season was really interesting and innovative. The way that he was creating this insular series, this anthological series, I just thought that was really innovative. And then he came back to ask me to be a part of the second season and I think in pursuit of creating, basically, a repertoire company of actors on television that are playing different characters every season and telling independent stories is incredibly unique and something that hasn't been done in decades. It used to be done in American television culture, but now that's something that's unheard of, so I felt that was a whole new way of doing television, and it didn't require a six or seven year commitment. If you sign on to a pilot, you have to sign on for seven years if that show goes for seven years, you're attached to it. So the other value in American Horror Story was the amount of time that involved, I would do just one season and then be done. So I had an incredible time working on both seasons of that show, and last season it was really interesting for me to go back to play a character that was so evil after having played Syler. To go back and play Oliver Thredson was a great full circle, I got a sense of closure exploring that part of my psyche for the time being.
E.ie: Evil Zachary is done for now.
ZQ: For now (laughs). I'm gonna put psychopathic characters to rest for now.
E.ie: Final question. Hypothetically speaking, if J.J. Abrams decided to copy and paste his entire cast of Star Trek into Star Wars, who would you like to play?
ZQ: I've said I'd like to play an Ewok, like a grand wizard Ewok. But I don't know if that's gonna happen, though. Something tells me that might not happen.