Anton Yelchin’s a smart guy. This interview took place at 9 in the morning, a time when most people aren’t really mentally up and at ’em, to say nothing of Hollywood actors. But Yelchin was up and alert (without the help of Red Bull, mind you – a case of it was delivered to his room during this interview but he was mystified from whence it came as he doesn’t touch the stuff) and ready to dig into the meaty, intellectual aspects of playing young Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation.

I think the biggest missed opportunity of the movie was not making it Kyle’s film. Yelchin is fairly amazing in a sadly small part; I hope the movie does well simply so there can be more Kyle Reese in the second and third installments.

Of course Kyle Reese wasn’t the only famous character Yelchin is playing this summer. This interview took place on the morning Star Trek opened, so that presented an obvious place to start our talk.

This summer you have two roles where you’re stepping into someone
else’s shoes. I guess the obvious first question is, as an actor how do
you honor what came before while also making it your own thing?

Star Trek everyone talked a lot about this. A really intelligent thing
that was said was that the goal is to incorporate the original and
honor the original and not imitate it, not to make it a caricature.
Naturally with Star Trek it’s a little easier to caricature that, and
you avoid that whenever possible. The character of Kyle Reese is such a
paranoid, intense, interesting individual that it’s harder to
caricature. There’s no desire, it would never occur to you to do that.

lot of it is doing as much research as you can; at least that’s how I
approached it with both films. I watched as much of the original [Star
] series as I could, and I had always been a fan of Terminator, so
I had seen T1 a bunch of times. It was a pleasure to sit down and
rewatch it. Throughout filming I’d watch specific Reese scenes that I
thought applied to what we were shooting. When I’d come home I’d
obviously already done the work on the scenes but I’d always refresh my
memory and try to pick up on new things in Michael Biehn’s performance.
I think that kind of creates that sort of intertextual connection
between the two performances. For me, before I came to Albuquerque they
were still working out things with the script. One of the things I
decided with McG was that we’d use T1 as sort of the blueprint and then
adjust the script to T1 and Kyle Reese in T1 as opposed to changing

Beyond the fact that it’s iconic and there are so many
things people are looking for, the reason they’re looking for those
things is that he’s so fascinating. Their attraction on that character
is based on the character you see. There’s a duality to Kyle Reese
that’s really interesting in that on one hand he’s insanely heroic and
strong and brave and on the other kind of paranoid and has lived in
this insane environment and become a soldier and gone through this
whole process. The flipside of that is there’s a vulnerability there
that you only see really in one scene [in T1] and that’s the scene with
the photograph. It wouldn’t fully capture Kyle Reese to be heroic and
bad ass all the time – that’s going to be there, that’s Kyle Reese –
but very specifically I had to pick and choose moments to show you that
connection as well… but to make sure there weren’t too many, that it
didn’t overshadow everything. That’s something I think James Cameron
and Michael Biehn did so wonderfully in T1, in that they created a very
balanced character. He wasn’t just a generic kind of 80s hero nor was
he this soft hero who could at times be strong. It was a balance.

said that when you came on they were still working on the script. I
know with Star Trek JJ has said they were working on the script until
the last minute when the strike hit. That feels like a very modern
thing, like the script isn’t done even up to and beyond when you start
shooting. How hard is that for you as an actor making decisions to know
this is something you want to take on without that final script?

bizarre, because you have to make a decision based on a number of
factors that aren’t just the quality of the script. You make your
decision based on, with these, your previous knowledge of the
character, what you think your work is going to entail, talking to the
director. The people you’re going to work with. In a way with Star Trek
it was almost easier because by the time I read it I knew the script
wasn’t going to change. There was no work being done. There was a
strike and the script was the script, you know? If there was going to
be work being done it was going to be us sitting down on set and
changing a line here or there, but no real work was going to be done.
With Terminator it was different because we got there and we sat for
two weeks and discussed everything and read through everything. It went
through a lot of changes in the process of filmmaking, with Jonah Nolan
and other writers. It was definitely bizarre because I set up the
guidelines for what I wanted this character to be back home, and I took
these guidelines to Albuquerque and pitched them to McG. I said, this
is the guy, and if he’s not in the script we’re going to have to change
it. To McG’s credit he’s very open and he loves it when you bring ideas
to the table. He uses your ideas if he thinks they’re good.

So there was this character I came up with and when I got together with
Sam [Worthington] we came up with scenes that would incorporate his
idea for his character and my ideas for my characters and form a
connection between them that wasn’t too soft. I think there’s a
tendency in movies to just get buddy/buddy really fast and Sam and I
were like, this is not happening with these guys. We sat down and went
through the scene and found the connection between these guys and made
sure they weren’t friends right away.

It was bizarre. I’ve never experienced working on a film where the
script isn’t the first thing you’re looking at. But with Terminator,
because I’m so familiar with it, when I found out I was going to be
playing the young Kyle Reese that already meant a number of things.

You mention the one scene of vulnerability with the photograph in T1.
Assuming this does well and you guys come back for 2 and 3, at some
point in that progression there’s going to have to be Kyle falling in
love with a photograph. Have you considered how you’ll play that kind
of thing?

That was actually something I considered in this film, because there
were scenes that aren’t in the film that I think got cut from the
script – and I thought it was intelligent to cut them – where Connor
gave Kyle the photo. One of things I realized about Kyle was that he
was this paranoid person from the start just because of the nature of
the environment he grew up in. But there were natural human processes
he could not eliminate, like desire for female companionship. The basic
things that create a teenage guy. I thought does Kyle ever stumble upon
some Playboy from 1985? He must have these natural impulses. That
impulse to fall in love would be a vulnerability because he never had
that, he never had that first girl he fell in love with. It was easy
for me to figure that he would have this fixation, especially if it
came from a person he has different kind of fixation on, this desire
for a paternal figure in John Connor, ironically enough. If this
picture came from his paternal figure, it would be a fascination he
would have. It’s a very bizarre fixation he has because he loves her
from this picture. He’s created an ideal version of this human being
and fallen in love with her. That’s what he sees, and he projects that
on her. That’s more complicated than what goes on in T1, but that’s
essentially what happens. It says a lot about his inner workings that
he is simultaneously living this life we visualize for ourselves, that
we would like to live – especially based on the life he has lived he
would have this utopian vision of what his life could become.

Something that got cut from the film but was in the advertising and
must have been in the script is the idea that this is not the future
from which the original Kyle Reese came. After T2 the future was
changed, so the Kyle you’re playing is probably different in many ways.
Did that give you leeway in how you approached him?

I didn’t take that into consideration because in the pop culture
universe this is the future they’ve been waiting to see, and this has
to be that guy. Naturally my Kyle Reese is going to be different than
Michael Biehn’s since I’m not Michael Biehn. It’s the portrait of the
Resistance fighter as a young man. But I thought that as a fan I want
to go to the movie and see Kyle Reese and go, ‘Oh, this guy can grow up
to be Kyle Reese.’ There’s a definite edge to him, there’s a definite
angst to him. I thought it would be interesting to up the angst factor
since he doesn’t have the definition a soldier would have, since he
isn’t a soldier yet. But he would be angsty – it’s a hormonal process.
And not angsty in an annoying way – angry. He is angry in T1, too –
very angry, in fact. What I adjusted from T1 is that I tried to up
his… he reacts very logically to everything in T1. It’s a controlled
anger, a controlled paranoia. He has an objective and handles things
logically to get to that objective. At this point he doesn’t have an
objective besides survival and other than maybe getting out of this
city. His reactions are a little off, he doesn’t have that direction a
military organization will give him.