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Star Trek Into Darkness – JJ Abrams interview

Star Trek Into Darkness

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JJ ABRAMS talks about some of the challenges of making Star Trek sequel Into Darkness and how he reacted to landing the first Star Trek film.

He also talks about his passion for both Star Trek and Star Wars and how they differed during his formative years and what he’ll be hoping to bring to the latter franchise.

Q. What was the biggest challenge for you in making Star Trek Into Darkness?
JJ Abrams: There were a lot of challenges in terms of production because the set pieces are so enormous and despite having a healthy budget, we had an opportunity to bring these sequences together in a way that was authentic. We didn’t want to do a green screen or blue screen movie where it felt like it was people acting in front of nothing. We wanted to make it feel real. But the biggest challenge day-to-day was the tone and balancing the epic scale of the action and the set pieces with the intimacy, the comedy and the emotional content. And that was helped by the fact that we had an extraordinary cast.

Q. The John Harrison character exists on the grey side of good and evil. What was the appeal of the character for you and in casting Benedict Cumberbatch to play him?
JJ Abrams: Not only am I grateful to the writers for coming up with a script that celebrates and exploits ambiguity and allows the bad guy to live in a place that is compelling and not entirely clear and certainly not one note. I’m also grateful to Damon [Lindelof] who said I should check out Sherlock. It was the perfect medicine for what we were suffering from, which was not being able to figure out who to cast, who inspired us. And when I saw Sherlock and was of course blown away and we spoke and Benedict famously auditioned on an iPhone and when we watched that video it was 100% clear we’d found our man. Working with Benedict… frankly it exceeded all expectations. And I think everyone felt on the set… everyone stood a little bit taller when he was around. It was a wonderful way to take advantage of what the story was because this was a very intimidating figure.

Q. What was the first thing you did when found out you were doing Star Trek?
JJ Abrams: The first thing I did when I was asked if I was interested was call Damon, Bob and Alex and said: “Do you want to do this with me?” Because I was not a Star Trek fan, but I was very intrigued by the idea of creating a version of Star Trek that would appeal to me and people who are fans of adventure and fans of movies. Luckily, those three are significant Star Trek fans and immediately the beginning s of the conversations with me and Bryan Burk were among the most fun experiences ever and was really one of the reasons that doing a sequel appealed to me so much – the idea of working with them and the crew and the cast again.

Q. Zoe Saldana has alluded to the fact that Star Wars was the cooler science fiction franchise. Could you talk about the impact your love of Star Wars had on your approach to Star Trek. And now that you’ve made a couple of Star Trek films, what do you think might be the impact on approaching Star Wars moving forward?
JJ Abrams: I was a kid when I saw Star Wars for the first time and it blew my mind and around the same time I had friends who were huge fans of Star Trek and I don’t know if I was smart enough to get it, or patient enough. What I loved about Star Wars was the visceral energy of it, the clarity of it, the kind of innocence and big heart of it. Star Trek always felt a little bit more sophisticated and philosophical, debating moral dilemmas, and things that were theoretically interesting but for some reason I just couldn’t get on board. It really took working with all these guys and actually working on Star Trek to really fall in love with that.

So, my hope – and I think all of our hope – was that we could take the integrity, the spirit, with which Roddenberry created Star Trek, don’t throw away the critical stuff – the characters, those archetypes, the dynamic between the characters, and aspects of what it is to travel and explore and come up against, in the case of these characters, some incredibly insidious and unspeakable evil. But, the key was to also infuse it with this kind of energy and pace and action-adventure, so the movie has the balance of both, in terms of what Damon [Lindelof] was referring to earlier, the action and thrills, but also what Star Trek was in its early days – the stuff that Zoe [Saldana]’s mother loved.

In terms of Star Wars, it’s early days in going forward. Obviously, it’s a completely different universe and feels like it has a very, very different tone and history and characters and I don’t feel like there’s much of an overlap, there’s not a Venn diagram of the two.

Read our review of Star Trek Into Darkness

Read our interview with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto