Without question, Simon Pegg’s career trajectory of late has catapulted him into the stratosphere. In the past seven months, he’s appeared in a “Star Wars” film with “The Force Awakens” and now, another “Star Trek” film — a pretty amazing feat, considering most actors don’t get the opportunity to be in one film in either franchise, much less both of them.
But the real thrill, Pegg said in a phone conversation from New York Wednesday, was an opportunity to co-write the screenplay for the latest adventure of the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek Beyond.”
“It’s been a heck of a ride. It’s been a privilege to me as a fan and getting a chance to manipulate the ‘Star Trek’ universe and add details to it,” said Pegg, who, of course, also plays Scotty in the reboot of the film franchise. “It’s also great to add new characters and new situations for those beloved characters we know from 50 years of ‘Star Trek’ history.”
Opening on 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D screens Thursday night, “Star Trek Beyond” finds the crew in the third year of its five-year mission, forced to confront a malevolent villain, Krall (Idris Elba), after his forces destroy the Enterprise and captures its crew. In addition to playing Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Pegg shared screenwriting duties with Doug Jung. Pegg said while he and Jung felt an “enormous responsibility” to deliver, they weren’t necessarily intimidated by the assignment.
“As fans of the show, we felt, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ This is something that we’re eminently qualified to do since we’ve been around a long time and felt plugged in,” Pegg said. “It felt right, even though I knew it would be daunting at times, and incredibly frustrating since we had a short space of time to write it in. I knew that eventually, if we could pull it off, then it would feel like a wonderful thing to have done. As the cliche goes, ‘It’s always better to regret something that you did do instead of something you didn’t.’ I didn’t want to say, ‘No way I’m doing this.’ It felt like it would be silly not to have grabbed the opportunity.”
While Pegg knew from a narrative standpoint that the “Star Trek” saga was moving forward, he also wanted to give his take on the franchise a different spin, creatively. Oddly enough, while the spin would be fresh to the timeline of the new trilogy of films, it’s essentially an idea that makes up the core of the TV franchise.
“First and foremost, we wanted to get the Starship Enterprise trekking. It hadn’t even started its five-year mission in the first two movies,” Pegg said. “The first two movies were pretty much in their own solar system with a few little jaunts outside of it. It felt like we need to get this film to be what the original TV series was about, which was a mission to explore the galaxy.”
Another thing that was important to Pegg was to make sure the film didn’t take itself too seriously.
“We wanted the film to feel fun, and not dark and ponderous,” Pegg, 46, said. “That seems to be the mood these days, to make everything so dark and serious, almost as if to justify us watching these things as grown-ups. In actual fact, these stories should be celebrated for what they are. If the stories are light and fun, the movies should be light and fun. I think the original ‘Star Trek,’ aside from having a vein of social commentary and seriousness to it — which is an important part of it — also did embrace its humor, and people sometimes forget that. It was important to Doug and I that the film had a fun side, too, in addition to being an exciting and thoughtful adventure.”
Produced by J.J. Abrams, directed by Justin Lin and featuring the return of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Karl Urban, “Star Trek Beyond” has an inherent bittersweet feeling to it since fellow core cast member Anton Yelchin died tragically in June at the age of 27. Pegg said the loss of Yelchin has naturally been weighing heavy on everybody’s minds, even as they get ready to premiere the film for fans at San Diego Comic Con this week.
“We knew it was going to be an effort to promote the film with any degree of enthusiasm because we’ve lost somebody that we loved,” Pegg said. “We’ve been a family for a long time and I feel for anyone who’s lost anybody in circumstances that were premature. It’s an unspeakable pain, and we’re all utterly, utterly undone by it.”
Pegg said when he saw the film for the first time recently, he expected to be in tears the whole time, only to be gripped by the magic of a performer who was clearly in his element when he was onscreen.
“To see Anton alive, to see him feel alive, vital and brilliant like he was, it made me realize that he will live forever,” Pegg said. “For people who didn’t know Anton, things haven’t changed. You’re still going to be able to see him and still be able to enjoy what he did. For us who knew him, there’s going to be a hole in our lives forever, but we decided to move forward in the promotion of this film because it was coming out whether we liked it or not.
“Rather than withdraw from it and not engage, we decided to get out there and work hard because it needs to be seen and not missed because it stars Anton,” Pegg added. “He was our brother and we loved him very, very much.”
The cinematic universe has proven to limitless to Zoe
Saldana, who in recent summers has played pivotal roles in the new “Star Trek” movie franchise and last year’s mega blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
This summer, though, the acclaimed actress is keeping things down to Earth, quite literally, with the family drama “Infinitely Polar Bear.” But while her role is decidedly different than Lt. Uhura and Gamora, Saldana said signing on to the film was more a matter of happenstance than a conscious decision to play opposite ends of the movie spectrum.
“I wish I was ‘The Man with the Plan,’ but I’m really not that kind of artist. I never have a whole year lined up,” Saldana told me in a recent interview. “Every now and then a project will come, whether it comes in small independent package or in a big studio package, and if I like the story and if I feel like it’s going to be a wonderful experience to be a part of it, then I’ll start pursuing it.”
Now playing in select cites and expanding throughout the U.S. in July, “Infinitely Polar Bear” tells the story of Maggie (Saldana) and Cam (Mark Ruffalo), a once happily-in-love couple with a pair of young daughters (Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky), whose marriage eventually falls apart over Cam’s inability to deal with his manic depression.
Separating from Cam and struggling as a single mother with the girls in small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Maggie, stressed and broke, comes up with a solution: If she can attend business school at Columbia University and earn an MBA in 18 months, she can ensure a better life for daughters. However, she can only do it with the help of Cam — that is if he can take responsibility of his daughters as well as himself — while she’s away in New York.
Saldana said once she read the script by writer-director Maya Forbes, she was desperate to do the film.
“I just kept reading the script over and over again — it was so beautiful and spoke to me on so many levels. It was real, so I wanted to be a part of it and do the character justice because it was so special to me,” Saldana said. “It deals with a very heavy subject with bi-polar disorder. So many people are affected by it, yet we know so little about it. Maya captured it in a very beautiful way because not every scene is about Cam’s condition. Every scene is about her father and her mother, and her sister and herself. The dad has this condition, but he’s a great guy and he tries hard every day. That’s what I loved.”
If that wasn’t enough, Saldana, 37, said stories of father-daughter relationships always resonate with her on a personal level.
“I lost my dad when I was very young, so I’m a sucker for stories having to do with daughters and fathers. I just had to be a part of this,” said Saldana, who just had twin sons in November with her husband, Marco Perego.
“Infinitely Polar Bear’s” approach is unique in that, while the film is set in 1978, it doesn’t draw any attention to Maggie and Cam being a bi-racial couple. In fact, apart from one brief scene where Maggie discusses her black heritage with one of her daughters, race is not mentioned throughout the entire picture. Saldana, whose mother is Puerto Rican and late father was Dominican, said she’s glad Forbes didn’t turn the film into a racial discussion.
In a day an age where the subject of race is broached on many different levels daily, I told Saldana how refreshing it was to see Maggie and Cam not portrayed as a black parent and white parent (and nearly 40 years ago, no less) struggling with their marriage and who both love their children; but simply as parents struggling with their marriage and who both love their children.
“I’m so happy that you mentioned that. I always wait for people to mention race in order for us to talk about it,” Saldana told me. “Race is not a subject that I spend a lot of time with because I don’t want to, unless it’s done in the right way. That’s what I loved about this film, because it reminded me of the way I grew up. My father was much darker than my mother, but it was never about that growing up at home. They never mentioned anything about color unless we were painting on paper or deciding what we wanted to wear. It was never about the skin color of people.”
Saldana said Forbes grew up in the same way, which gave the film the proper insight of not making an issue out of race.
“We tell more stories where people make an issue out of it, and generally those stories are by outsiders looking in,” Saldana observed. “But the people who were in it — and whatever the case may be, whether it had to do with their race, gender or growing up with two parents of the same sex — it was never about that. When you’re in it, you’re not talking about it, you’re simply living it.”
Effectively, that’s how Saldana could tell how Forbes’ script was authentic — something the actress doesn’t get with every screenplay she reads.
“It’s something I always point out to writers. I can tell with stories when a person of a certain culture is writing about a foreign culture because they point out on every page and every scene something about the foreign culture,” Saldana said. “It’s like when a white writer writes about one character is black. They will have a white character at some point make a joke or a statement about their color. You can tell who the writer is without knowing them.”
But when the writer does get it right, like Forbes does with “Infinitely Polar Bear,” it’s an exhilarating feeling, Saldana added.
“When we’re talking about art and actors, we’re hired to be chameleons. We’re hired to do a job and if we do it well, you’re not going to see me, you’re going to see the character I’m trying my hardest to bring to life,” Saldana said. “So when that can be seen or pointed out, or I’ve been told that I’ve accomplished that, then I know that the writer has gets it and I’m on the right path. It just makes me feel really good to be doing what I do.”
Like his acclaimed role as the anti-hero, Merle Dixon, in “The Walking Dead,” Michael Rooker is finding himself in the middle again – but this time he’s a blue-skinned alien in Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” light years away from the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic Earth of the popular AMC series.
Rooker’s “Galaxy” character, Yondu, is interesting in that he’s not an out-an-out bad guy, and in some ways, he has a propensity to be good. Walking that fine line is something Rooker, 59, has not only enjoyed in several projects throughout his storied career, but his whole life, and director James Gunn wanted to tap into that experience.
“James wanted to write something for me that I’m good at — I’m good at doing bad things and still having people like me,” Rooker told me, laughing, in a recent interview. “Even as a 10- or 12-year-old, I’d be doing something bad, like climbing trees, and people would yell at me for doing it yet be smiling at the same time. I never understood what was going on with them. The great thing is, it still happening. James wanted to me to have the ability to say and do anything on screen and still have people like me, and dig the performance and dig the way I do it.”
Rooker brings a good ol’ boy approach to Yondu, a space pirate who takes Peter Quill from Earth as a young boy after his mother’s death. After growing up and learning the ways of Yondu’s group, the Ravagers, Quill (Chris Pratt) betrays his mentor and keeps for himself a mysterious orb he’s stolen from a powerful space lord, only to learn the sphere holds powers far greater than he ever could have imagined.
Like his fellow “Galaxy” cast mates (including Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), Rooker has the unenviable task of portraying a beloved character whose origins date back more than four decades in the original Marvel comic books. And while he respects the fan’s opinions, Rooker said it was a necessity to make changes with the character of Yondu for the sake of the film.
“I don’t really worry about all of the reactions, but of course, it’s always there in the back of my head,” Rooker said. “I know there will be some people who will be disappointed that Yondu doesn’t have a big fin on the top of his head, but they have to realize the roof on my spaceship is pretty low. I would have had to duck when I was walking around for the entire production. The change was decided before I got there, and basically I had to take what was in the script and run with it.”
For anyone familiar with his character in “The Walking Dead,” Rooker has been the subject of makeup artists before as a zombified Merle, so he knew was he was in for to turn Yondu blue.
“We’d start with a three hours of makeup, then we had a little break for food before more makeup and wardrobe, so in total, it was about five-and-a-half hours each time,” Rooker recalled. “That’s not so bad. For my role in ‘Slither’ (a 2006 horror comedy, which was also directed by Gunn), it took seven hours to put on and two-and-a-half to take off. Yondu’s makeup only took 45 minutes to take off.”
And while extensive makeup is a part of the job that some actors dread, Rooker said he loves the process and has absolutely no complaints about it.
“When I go to work, I get to go to a set. It’s like a 12-year-old kid saying goodbye to his parents, running out the door and playing all day long, and coming back for supper at night,” Rooker enthused. “That’s my life now. When I go to the set, it’s like going to a playground and doing all kinds of stuff.”
And lucky for Rooker, those sets have been filled with a variety of roles in several different genres.
“With ‘Guardians’ I get to be a blue alien who whistles to use a great weapon. In ‘Eight Men Out’ I got to play baseball all day long and on ‘Days of Thunder’ I got to drive race cars. In ‘Henry (Portrait of a Serial Killer)’ I got to kill people,” Rooker said with a laugh. “You get to use your imagination all these sorts of crazy, creative ways. Some ways are quite dramatic, some are hokey and some are fun. You just get to go everywhere.”
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers