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October 25, 2011

Is Anton Yelchin the next leading man?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/is_anton_yelchin_the_next_leading_man_20111025/

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That’s what a New York magazine profile of Russian-Jewish actor Anton Yelchin suggests. But thus far, Yelchin is best known for supporting performances in J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” and 2009’s “Terminator Salvation”. His next film may change that, since he plays the romantic lead in Drake Doremus’s long-distance love story “Like Crazy” which won the Grand Jury Prize at least year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is intimate and intense, with scenes that finely detail the nuances of young love, but it fails to boil the blood. While Yelchin plays a lovelorn American separated by immigration law from his British gal-without-a-green-card, he actually seems far more interesting in person, with a penchant for profanity.

“Indie symbolizes that you are not a dominant order? Bullshit!” Yelchin says. The worst, he adds, are “those fashion stores in L.A. that have a music section and a DVD section—everything a cool person should know. Some Godard because he’s French and that’s cool. But not Fellini’s films. Why?”

Throughout the piece, Yelchin rails against capitalism and details an experimental film he’s making about “the clash between commodification and identity”. He states (somewhat ironically) that images are “the most important commodity in our culture.” Acting, he likes, though he is not fond of celebrity or photographs, because they feed into the commodification of images which he distrusts. Observing a scene of college girls sitting in the grass, playing with their iphones, Yelchin posits some dark under-web of disorder brewing beneath the benevolent surface. Logan Hill writes:

He stops talking for just a few seconds, looks around this beautiful day, the college kids lolling in the grass, reading books, reordering playlists on their iPhones. “I mean, you see all those young, pretty girls,” he says. “At least one of them has some crazy, deep-dark weird shit that’s being contained by this capitalist façade. If you just crack through it, it becomes a sea of complete and utter darkness and just chaos. Which is what we are as people, I think.”

On screen, Yelchin comes off with a kind of naive innocence, an almost feminine frailty that is tender and sweet, but lacks the swagger that makes women swoon. Is this leading man material?

The story sets him up that way, because apparently there’s a shortage of those in today’s Hollywood (the same thing is often said about Ryan Gosling who much more aptly fits the bill in my opinion) but Yelchin does not give off that cool, hard masculinity romantic leads require. He’d be better cast as some slightly bizarre computer genius who’s part of an underground anti-government rebellion. He obviously resents power structures.

But even though he speaks about capitalism as if it were a dark, sadistic force, he is clear on his appreciation for what his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents sacrificed so that he could reap the benefits of the American Dream:

“I’m fascinated by how ethnic communities have assimilated into massive capitalist environments,” says Yelchin, reflecting on our walk through junk-filled dollar stores in Toronto’s Chinatown and comparing it to Blade Runner. When Yelchin was 6 months old, his Russian-Jewish parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet, moved to California. “There’s no one I respect as much or love as much,” he says. “What they went through? Standing at the edge of an abyss: You don’t know the language, the country; you don’t know if you’re going to get a job because you have this weird profession. You’re an ice-skater! And they just did it, because they didn’t want me having a shitty life.”

The guilt factor was huge. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor—“that standard Russian-Jewish thing”—and Yelchin says that he became an actor so young in part because he wanted to pay his own bills. “Now part of my guilt is already taken care of.” He loves acting and loves the independence, but he’s troubled by celebrity. “I don’t hang out at trendy Hollywood bars,” he says.

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