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Photo: Anton Yelchin/Tinseltown/Shutterstock
Before he gracefully bowed out of our world, young actor Anton Yelchin left audiences with a treasure of meaningful work as a parting gift. From his early childhood days, his choices of film revealed an inherent artistic taste to storytelling that only served to benefit both his career, and the average Cinephile’s insatiable hunger for engaging entertainment. From obscure, smaller films that enjoyed the exclusivity of the independent circuit, to hot blockbusters that heated up the Summertime, Yelchin made sure to always deliver a crisp performance. If he wasn’t the life of the film, he was consistently one of the best parts. When remarking on his untimely passing, words like, ‘He was just getting started’ is common following Yelchin’s tragic end. But even with him just getting started, he managed to eclipse some performers entering the twilight of their careers. And if his body of work left such an impression in its infancy, it’s almost frightening to think about the heights his talent would’ve taken him if his career wasn’t cut prematurely.
Apart from his successes and achievements as an actor, however, Yelchin’s true appeal was in his gentle spirit, his wisdom beyond his years, and his inspiring capacity for good that justified humanity’s existence. If you believe in the soul in a biblical sense, it’s easy to see why Heaven would want to keep Yelchin all to itself, but we can all take solace in knowing that Yelchin treated his time on Earth the same way he treated every movie scene he was in; making the most out of every minute of it.
Anton Yelchin’s Birthright
Yelchin’s career trajectory seemed to take shape even before his birth. His parents, Victor Yelchin and Irina Korina, were both Russian figure-skaters that engaged their audiences with synchronized, artful choreography, showing that this aptitude for entertainment was already coursing through family veins, fueling an unborn Yelchin’s ambition for showmanship. Although Yelchin’s parents were able to cultivate a comfortable lifestyle with their art in the Soviet Union, the two ultimately made the decision to flee their native turf and move to the United States; An endeavor that would’ve seen them leave behind the reputation and wealth they earned after years performing for Soviet Russia. When asked why they decided to uproot their lives, and sacrifice the fame and fortune they sharpened their legacy with to reboot their careers in another country, the couple gave The Los Angeles Times a simple one-word answer weighing a thousand pages worth of meaning.
“Anton,” the couple told the LA Times.” Yelchin went on to emphasize, “It is a very bad situation over there. I would get angry, too—I’d say, ‘Why should we have to buy things on the black market? Why should we have to stand in line?’”
At the time, Victor and Irina came face to face with many prejudices and oppression that interfered with their daily lives. Their religious origins barred them from participating in the Olympics despite qualifying, the figure skaters couldn’t perform outside of their own country, their work wasn’t credited to them after and because of them leaving their home country; the Soviet government’s attempt to dishonor and further shrink their legacies. Moving to Los Angeles, where young Yelchin would be guided by a city of angels, proved to be the best decision they could’ve made for their son’s future.
In the same Los Angeles Times interview, Korina recounts a time she ran into either a prophet, or a time traveler from the future, who predicted the Yelchin heir’s success when they first moved to their new home. “A woman came up, saw Anton, and said, ‘He’s beautiful. He will be an actor.’” A bold prediction that Yelchin lived up to in more ways than one.
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Even far before he got his big break in Hollywood, Yelchin was already getting ready to make his mark on Hollywood from an early age. In the documentary ‘Love, Antosha’, a very young Yelchin that can’t be any older than 7 or 8 years old is seen on camera crediting one of his imaginary movies. ‘Love, Antosha’ shows several clips of Yelchin throughout his childhood years directing and starring in make-believe films made with nothing more than an old video camera and a child’s boundless imagination. Creativity is a word that comes up frequently when discussing Yelchin, uttered by both friends and co-workers alike, as if the word only exists because of the late actor.
Eventually, at age 10, Yelchin was able to share this creativity with the world in his first television role as an actor in the show ‘ER’, a program that’s been the gateway to many prominent acting careers. In the Emmy-winning medical drama, Yelchin played Robbie, a boy who survived a car crash that took the lives of his parents. The sheer skill and maturity Yelchin displayed in the part seemed well beyond his years; a child harnessing an adult’s level of acting proficiency after barely a decade spent on this Earth. As rewarding as it is to find your calling, it’s just as rewarding to be born with it, and Yelchin’s trip to ‘ER’ all but confirmed that Yelchin was made for the entertainment business.
Even though he delivered a passionate and inspired performance in ‘ER’, there was enough room in the young actor’s career for doubt to break in and enter to potentially rob Yelchin of his childhood ambition. “After like six or seven commercials, I kind of said to my mom that it wasn’t what I expected.” Yelchin said in ‘Love, Antosha’. “And I got an agent, and I worked on my first movie, ‘A Man is Mostly Water’, and I realized that, that was what I really wanted to do.”
After ‘A Man is Mostly Water’ facilitated Yelchin’s pursuit of his career goals, the legend was officially born. In real-time, audiences were watching Yelchin’s growth as an actor in subsequent movies like ‘Delivering Milo’ and ‘Hearts in Atlantis’. Much credit goes to ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ for expanding Yelchin’s brand and getting his name out there as an actor. The movie saw Yelchin hold his own with Hollywood legend Anthony Hopkins, and won Yelchin the 2002 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film as Leading Young Actor. It was only up from there, with Yelchin continuing to star in challenging roles that padded out his resume and fed his creativity.
Through his young adult years, Yelchin further found his footing in Hollywood by continuing to feature in provocative material. 16-year-old Yelchin gained much notoriety for his role as Zack Mazursky in the dark crime thriller, ‘Alpha Dog’. The interest in the film stemmed from the premise, which was based on the real-life murder of Nicholas Markowitz who Zack was inspired by. Boosting Yelchin’s career was his habit of picking a variety of meaty roles full of depth and intensity that further pushed his boundaries as an actor. Apart from ‘Alpha Dog’, films like ‘House of D’ and ‘Fierce People’ see Yelchin slip into characters full of emotional angst, surrounded by an environment that nourishes their more destructive habits. Even his lighter comedic films like ‘Charlie Bartlett’ had a deeper undercurrent to them that showed even his comedies had to have a certain level of artistic intelligence. Yelchin’s devotion to film, not because of money, but because of the art, was exemplified through the roles he chose, and is one of the reasons why his performances will continue to endear us for years to come.
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A Decade of Great Momentum
From 2009 onward, Yelchin’s star was reaching critical levels of power. At the end of the 00s, the artist began to diversify his roles a bit more, while also nabbing roles in a couple of hotshot blockbusters in his quest for artistic fulfillment. 2009 witnessed Yelchin featuring in both ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Terminator Salvation’ as major, core characters for these franchises. In ‘Star Trek’, Yelchin portrayed Pavel Chekov, a mathematical genius who is instrumental to the Star Trek’s crew’s mission.
Out of all of his roles, Chekov was particularly unique. The character’s accent allowed Yelchin to exploit his own Russian heritage to further authenticate the young prodigy he was portraying. In ‘Terminator Salvation’, he played a younger Kyle Reese, the father of human resistance fighter John Connor, inheriting the role from the original ‘Terminator’s’ Michael Biehn. Both movies went on to gross over $300 million at the box office, and though they were modest hits, the two films only elevated Yelchin’s profile. Yelchin continued to play Chekov in the two sequel films after ‘Star Trek’, while continuing to evolve his career. He began lending his voice to animated features like ‘The Smurfs’ and ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’, but maintained his devotion to experimenting with smaller, more independent stories.
In 2016, his choices in roles and work ethic led him to arguably the most important film of his career in ‘Green Room’. Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, ‘Green Room’ follows a music band that ends up trapped in a horror scenario after witnessing a heinous crime done by the audience they’re performing for. With the culprits wanting no evidence of the crime to spill out, the bandmates find themselves hunted down by a sadistic group, looking for any way to escape. Although ‘Green Room’ didn’t score big at the box office, it was a hit in all other areas. Critics praised Saulnier’s work for its immersive thrills and its ability to elicit powerful scares despite its minimalist setting. It currently sits on Rotten Tomatoes with a 90% score, with the majority of professional critics agreeing that ‘Green Room’ is fine Cinema and one of, if not the best work involving Yelchin to date.
Posthumous Work And Impact
Yelchin’s posthumous roles are bittersweet. They display his tremendous growth as a performer, while leaving his audiences questioning just how great he could’ve become. ‘Thoroughbreds’, in particular, was another feather in Yelchin’s cap that was also welcomed with open arms by critics. In the film, high school best friends Lily (Anya Taylor Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) plan the murder of Lily’s stepfather, and they drag Yelchin’s Tim into their scheme. For Tim, Yelchin circles back to playing a drug dealer, a role he’s well familiar with, but with a fresh twist.
In addition to raw acting talent, Yelchin also dabbled in music. He was the lead guitarist for the punk rock band The Hammerheads, and when he wasn’t performing in either music or film, he enjoyed being behind the camera as a photographer. His Instagram page is full of vivid pictures and imagery that allow fans to see the world filtered by his own unique vision, and even as an outsider one can tell that Yelchin’s perception of life was breath-taking at all angles, and almost comes off as a different reality completely parallel to ours.
Yelchin’s time on this Earth may have been short, but he made up for it by making all of his years count. A once in a lifetime talent and human being, the beauty behind this tragedy is that an artist like Yelchin doesn’t just pass away. He’s touched too many with his artistry for him to just walk off into the unknown. Because of his influence, Yelchin will continue to live vicariously through his peers, loved ones, fans, and especially his art.
By Caroline Schneider
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Caroline Schneider has always had a fascination with television and film. She revels in analyzing and writing about her favorite television shows and movies while looking for the greater meaning within Cinema. Finding the elements that really make people think about deeper messages and trends – which is exactly what Hollywood Insider continues to do.