On the 19th June 2016, one of the most talented actors of his generation died in an unusual and horrific freak accident after his car rolled down an incline and crushed him. The next day, the tributes to his talent came pouring in; all had one theme in common – that it was unnatural.
It seems about right, as he appeared to have spent his life playing the wide-eyed innocent. Whether it was as the Russian techie Chekov in the Star Trek series or as the high school student in Charlie Bartlett and Fright Night, Anton Yelchin seemed to be known as the kid of Hollywood. But what adds to the tragedy of his death was that he had finally begun to move beyond these roles to progress into a leading man. His looks were maturing and he had began to be cast in more interesting roles, like in Green Room where he played a punk being attacked by a group of neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart.
The randomness of his death and the bizarre circumstances made it all seem even worse, so I decided the best way to deal with the death of an actor (while having a lot of time on my hands over the summer) was to watch everything of his. During which, I learnt he had in fact been a true old-school actor who was full of versatility all along. Though he rarely changed his trademark husky voice (other than when affecting a Russian accent) and often carried similar skittish movements into his various roles, he always shaped his character around the film and tended to emerge as the strongest actor because he would manage to personify the tone. For instance, in Star Trek he is lightweight, silly and fun while in Like Crazy he is thoughtful and troubled, and in Green Room he is unsettled and forced into violence just like the audience. I won’t pretend all the films he took part in were all amazing, but they all had one amazing thing in common.
During his 16-year career, Yelchin managed to mostly pick a range of interesting and entertaining films. A really fantastic one I hadn’t heard of before his death was Rudderless, where he plays a young musician who encounters a grieving father trying to deal with his son’s death through song. Due to the film’s emotional and powerful soundtrack (on which Yelchin performs), this is probably the one I would recommend to anyone else who, for whatever reason, can’t quite get over the loss of this young actor. His co-worker on the film wrote that Yelchin would perfect his performance the night before shooting by orchestrating every movement right down to the moment ‘air would leave his lungs,’ when he exhaled. The carefulness of his style really shows in the sweet film, as it does during his role as a naïve human in the vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive.
I would also encourage anyone to go and watch him when he was a kid opposite Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Although he was only in one episode, he holds his own remarkably for his young age and it is worth YouTube-ing. It also shows just how lengthy the young actor’s career was, as he began acting at the age of 10. His first lead role as the title character in 2007’s Charlie Bartlett, made while he was still a teenager, is entertaining though extremely dated. Two years later he found his major breakthrough in JJ Abram’s reboot of Star Trek, where his hammy Russian accent and slapstick physicality showcased his knack for comedy, which was repeated in the sequel and will be repeated again when the third film is released posthumously.
One that featured most of his recent obituaries was Like Crazy, a film depicting a romance between an English student (Felicity Jones) and American furniture designer played by Yelchin, torn apart by visa issues and distance. While the film has a few flaws, it is a moving movie and an interesting take on a well-worn genre. A key reason it was in so many obits was because it was the biggest romantic lead of Yelchin’s, a staple in any handsome actor’s career.
Not to say that it is the only romantic role he ever had. In 5 to 7 he plays a writer in New York who falls in love with a married French woman. Yelchin managed to take a pretentious (though well meaning) script and make the clumsy lines seem real. The following year he also starred in a short film called Kiss Kiss Fingerbang, about a nice guy who discovers his dark side once he realises what happens to his girlfriend once he… well, you know. It is hard to imagine another of Felicity Jones’ romantic onscreen partners, like Eddie Redmayne, be in a short film about fingering that is so obscure and strange that hardly anyone saw it, as well as being made by an unknown director.
This, along with most of the choices Yelchin had just began to have the luxury to make, shows the authenticity of his young career. He never lost the love of acting or the art of film, and audiences everywhere had something stolen from them on June 19th.