I am more stunned about the death of Anton Yelchin than any celebrity in recent memory. And that’s saying a lot, because over the past two or three years, we’ve lost a lot of heroes. Christopher Lee, Gunnar Hansen, Wes Craven, we’ve lost some of the most important people in the genre’s history recently. And it hurts just as much, maybe worse, to lose someone who was going to be so important—not just to the history of genre, but the history of film.
Anton Yelchin was my favorite actor who was my age, bar none. While I had always held the idea that he was around the same age I was, I had no idea that he was actually twenty-seven, my exact age. He’d been one of my favorite actors for the better part of a decade. He was amazing and charismatic in everything that he did. He never turned in a bad performance and he never turned in the same performance twice. More than anything, it was immediately obvious that this was someone who was in it for the craft.
This was someone who loved the art of cinema and clearly had a knowledge and deep, deep love of film. It’s hard to pinpoint the first thing I saw this actor in, but I’m sure it had to be Star Trek or Terminator Salvation. Those were two huge productions that came out about the same time and I distinctly remember seeing the same actor in both and noticing that he was actually doing a really good job. Either just after or probably just before seeing Star Trek I saw Charlie Bartlett and truly understood how talented this guy was. He couldn’t really shine in those huge, studio ensemble pieces but this was a showcase for his acting and he knocked it out of the park.
You could change so much of that around and it would still work about as well as it works now, but you can’t even have a modern day incarnation of Charley Brewster without Anton Yelchin doing exactly what he did in that feature. As far as I’m concerned, he was the first and only choice. He nails everything that that character should be in 2011. Funny, witty, insecure, nervous, filled with questions about fitting in and masculinity. Much of it is what William Ragsdale already brought to the role but it is entirely Yelchin’s own spin.
Conversely, Odd Thomas was a movie I was not looking forward to at all. I’ve never been a fan of Dean Koontz, had never read the books, and really was not a fan of director Stephen Sommers. Had it not been for Anton Yelchin, I’m fairly certain I never would have watched it at all. And that’s unfortunate because it turned out to be one of my favorite films of that year. It’s great and he gives such a layered, funny performance. He’s absolutely terrific in it.
Not every great actor is great in every role, so it says a lot that he was always at the top of his game, no matter what. Even when he was in movies that weren’t that good, like Terminator Salvation, he would elevate them as much as he possibly could.
I never met Anton Yelchin, I never knew him personally, but I feel like I grew up with him. I was lucky enough to be able to watch him evolve and challenge himself as an actor and taking on new and interesting kinds of roles. Right from his early TV roles, Yelchin’s career was an upward trajectory. And it was cut horrifically short. Simply speaking as a fan, the fact that this was simply a terrible accident makes it that much harder to digest.
Yelchin had always been someone I’d wanted to interview. Hell, he had always been someone I’d wanted to work with. With several things I’d written, I would say “Anton Yelchin would be perfect for this part.” And they would always be very different roles and I’m sure that’s the thought process of most people who sought him out. The point, I think, is that I can always imagine casting people saying “We should get Anton Yelchin,” but I could never imagine someone saying “We should get an Anton Yelchin type.”
Because there wasn’t one. Anton Yelchin was truly a one of a kind actor, which is a very rare thing. He should have had a long and amazing career and it’s beyond tragic that it was cut so short. But if you look at the career he did have, it’s kind of fantastic. It’s amazing that someone so young accomplished so much, went into everything with so much passion. Yelchin wasn’t just an extraordinary actor, he was a cinephile who adored the art and the craft of movies—something that we simply can’t afford to lose. His death is honestly a loss for the genre and for cinema.
I can’t imagine what this is like for the people who truly knew him as a human being and not just a face on the screen. I can’t imagine what this is like for his friends and family. But as a respectful fan, all I can hope is that we give them their peace and distance during this time.
Featured Image Credit: ET