"Gotham's" Cory Michael Smith Savors the Arrival of the Riddler
Zachary Quinto keeps finding new areas to boldly go where he hasn’t gone before.
The actor is already well-known for his genre stints as Spock in Star Trek franchise, the villainous Sylar on Heroes and various characters on the anthology series American Horror Story, and he’s become power player behind the scenes in his role as producer on acclaimed films like Margin Call and All Is Lost. Now Quinto is combining several of his professional passions for the new Starz documentary series The Chair, which has two rookie filmmakers competing for a $250,000 prize by each directing a movie from the same script – with the winner voted on by viewers.
Intrigued by the premise of the series, which premieres Sept. 6, Quinto signed on to co-executive produce alongside Project: Greenlight veteran Chris Moore. During a visit to the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour to promote the show, Quinto joined Spinoff Online and a small group of reporters to discuss his new project, his success as a producer and his expectations for returning to the high-profile franchises he’s been a part of.
What’s been the challenge for you in managing both of your vocations, producer and actor?
Zachary Quinto: Just time! I travel so much for my life as an actor. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by partners who I trust implicitly and who I’ve known for over 15 years. So I feel like there are circumstances in which I have to delegate, and I have to believe that they’re doing everything that I would do in the way that I would do it. And luckily, that’s been the case so far.
What have you found has been your specific strength as a producer?
I think my relationships with actors and agents, and the fact that people are probably more likely to take my call than other people. I can get to people and actors, I can schedule meetings and sit down with and bring my own personal relationships to bear when I’m trying to put a project together. And I think that the casting side and the relationship to the face of the industry – I have two business partners, Neal Dodson, Corey Moosa and myself, and we always joke that Neal is the brains, Corey is the heart, and I’m the face of the company. And I think that’s sort of half-joking, but half-true as well. And my visibility, I think, is one of my strengths as a producer.
Has NBC or Tim Kring’s camp reached out to you at all about the new Heroes revival?
I’ve been in touch with Tim over the years, and he told me that they were doing it, and certainly left the door open for me to be involved. The trouble is really my availability. I don’t know that it would really even be possible, and it’s a challenge for me because that experience and that role and that opportunity really changed my life completely and sent me on a path that I might not otherwise have been on. But at the same time, I’m very interested in forward momentum, I’m very interested in diversity, I’m very interested in expanding people’s expectations of me and defying people’s expectations of me. And I don’t know that going back to such a definitively iconic character would necessarily do that. So it’s a larger question that I haven’t necessarily had to answer yet because no one’s actually given me an offer or given me any sort of circumstances, but I don’t know – we’ll see. I wish them well. I’m really glad to know that they’re doing it. I know the fans are really excited. And I know that whether or not I’m involved, they’ll certainly be excited to watch it.
How about popping into American Horror Story: Freak Show?
I’m not involved in American Horror Story: Freak Show. And I’m pretty sure that my schedule […] would prevent me from getting involved at this point, because I know they’re well into shooting the season.
You are going to return as one specific iconic character.
That’s one you can count on, yes! I will be back as Spock.
What would you like to see for Spock going forward? Would you like to see a more Trek-y movie?
Well, Bob [Orci] is sort of a purist about the Trek universe. I’ve spoken to him a number of times about his ideas, and I think they’re really exciting. And I’m really excited that we get to be a part of his feature directorial debut. And it will be a different world without J.J. [Abrams] on set every day, but it’s a family, and Bob is an essential part of that family. And we’re all really excited to see where it goes. I think it’s in the preliminary stages now of the script kind of being finished and polished and worked on and tightened. And I imagine the phone will be ringing sometime in the next three months to talk about when we’ll go back to production.
Do you expect it to feel like the end of a trilogy, or just an ongoing story because these characters will never really end?
Well, you know, the five-year mission, I think, will be a part of this next film in some way or another, so I think you’re right. We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic sci fi series in the history of the entertainment industry, so I think it’s inherently an ongoing story. But I do think we’ll feel some sense of evolution in these characters that’s been building through the first two films.
Would you ever be interested in sort of taking on more creative roles in that franchise like Leonard Nimoy did later on?
Like when he directed? Look, I want to direct. I’m already producing, and producing at increasingly on a high-profile level. I haven’t yet directed. That’s something I aspire to, but I doubt that I would feel confident enough to start in that realm. But yeah, look, I feel like we all signed on for three movies, so we’re coming up to the conclusion of that commitment. It will be very interesting to see how our relationships to the franchise evolve beyond that point.
Do you have the project for your directorial debut in mind?
I don’t, no. No, not yet. I’m looking for it, and I think that that’s the biggest obstacle because in order to lay myself on the line in that way, it has to be material that I believe in and material that I feel connected to in a way that I haven’t quite found it yet. But, you know, I know it’s out there.
How well did you understand the filmmaking process before you got involved in the industry?
Good question. I was always fascinated by filmmaking, but I don’t think I ever really had a serious idea of what’s required until I – I mean, how can you? It’s so experiential. I was also really lucky to come in – I mean Star Trek was my first movie, so to come in at that level and just see J.J. and Bad Robot and his producing partners and his production designers and all the people that work with him, he taught me as much, if not more, than anybody else ever could about how to do it. How to do it well, and how to do it with integrity and good nature, goodwill and positive reinforcement.
Were you more of an acting nerd?
Such an acting nerd! Yeah, I look at all those movies from the ‘70s, of that generation, all of those John Cazale, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep [films]. All of that stuff. I remember just sort of like being a kid and really, really – that’s all I cared about. I didn’t really know that there was anything else. It wasn’t until I got older, and I entered the industry as a professional I saw that there are like so many moving parts that go into this. I thought it was an exclusive sort of director/actor relationship that made a movie. I had no idea all of the many, many essential contributions.
Is that the kind of movie you want to gravitate towards, those ‘70s-style stories?
I love those old sort of narratives that are about character and about relationship, of course. I’ve been really fortunate to work on some high-profile projects and to work on a lot of highly stylized projects as well, but there’s nothing like that sort of gritty human connection. And it is the thing that I gravitate towards the most in my personal preferences whether it be television, film or theater.
How were you guys at Before the Door scouting these first-time directors? Do you have a methodology?
It’s really a gut check in a lot of ways. I mean, my company is truly an independent company, so we don’t have any affiliations with studios. We don’t have any first look deals or overhead deals. Every project we put together is put together on an individual basis. So we raise money per project to make our movies. And we don’t have a development fund. So we’re also looking for filmmakers who are interested in either working on spec or who have scripts that we can take and sell on their behalf. And then it really becomes about a like minded sensibility. We need people that are as hungry as we are, and we want people who have as much to prove as we do. And that’s kind of a really good foundation to build on because everybody learns and grows together.
How many applicants for these two slots on The Chair?
Actually, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Chris Moore. Although, we had a history with Anna. We knew Anna [Martemucci, one of the filmmakers on the show] through her husband Victor. And she wrote and was one of the actresses in Breakup at a Wedding. And we felt like this experience would be a really great opportunity for her. And Chris was introduced to Shane [Dawson] through Josh Shader. So I don’t really know what the application process was or if it was more of an organic decision among the producers of the show to say, “Well, these are two interesting candidates to start with. And let’s get a platform here that from there, we can reach out to a wider range of applicants,” which will happen, I think, in future seasons.
You’re in the first two episodes via Skype a lot. Are you going to be in person more?
Well, the interesting thing was I intended to be in Pittsburgh and on the ground for both of these productions the whole time, and be on set on a regular basis. And fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I got cast in another movie that I had to go do, right as they were starting. So I wasn’t as available as I wanted or intended to be. But I tried to make myself as available overseas as I could. And I was certainly being kept abreast of all the developments and all the evolutions of production. I was a remote resource for this one. I think in future seasons, I’ll have different capacities, and we’ll see where it goes, if we’re lucky enough to continue on with the show. I’ve done a lot of stuff since I’ve been back. I just wasn’t on the ground during production. But I’ve been at the screenings. I’ve been at the meetings we’ve had about the films. I’m definitely involved in the series on camera, not just on Skype.
Do you have a favorite moment?
I don’t. I feel like, for me, it was about giving these filmmakers an opportunity to tell their stories in their way. I think it becomes clear through the season how each of them handled the pressures and how each of them handled the experience. I think both of them did a fantastic job in terms of staying true to what they wanted to make. And it’s not for me to say at this point which one of them I think did a better job, or if either of them did a better job. And I think that, for me, the most interesting thing is to invite people in to watch the evolution and trust me when I say that I think it’s really addictive because not only are both of the filmmakers very unique characters, but all of the peripheral characters and peripheral – you know the crew, producers, everybody. There’s a pretty intense and eclectic group of people that are involved in this whole process. So I’m really proud of that.
The Chair premieres Sept. 6 on Starz.