Shocking details continue to surface surrounding the death of Anton Yelchin, a young actor at the ripe age of 27 with much of his life and career still ahead of him. Regardless of how or why Yelchin died – his death is currently being reported as a “freak accident” – the important details are in the man himself and his lasting impact on the film world in a career that lasted for 17 years.
Yelchin’s most recent claim to fame is for his role as the sprightly Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek series. Born in the USSR’s Leningrad – what is now Saint Petersburg – Yelchin had the opportunity to use his country’s native accent for the role. Despite being Russian born, Yelchin resided in Los Angeles for his entire life where he took up acting lessons at a young age. His first role came at age 10 when he was cast in a single episode of the television series ER. His first notable recognition came a year later, however, in 2001 when he starred alongside Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis, which won him a Best Performance in a Feature Film accolade at the Young Artist Awards.
Throughout his childhood career and into his young adult roles, Yelchin continuously took on indie and art-house films and proved to be an actor dedicated to his craft. At 14, Yelchin co-starred in David Duchovny’s directorial debut House of D. In the following two years, he worked with Kristen Stewart on the film Fierce People and followed that up with another breakout indie role in Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog. Based on a true story, Alpha Dog followed Johnny Truelove, a drug dealer who came to be one of the youngest men on the FBI’s Most Wanted list after kidnapping and eventually murdering the young brother of a man who owed him a large debt. Yelchin played that young boy, Zack Mazursky, in the film, and blew audiences away with his complete vulnerability and emotive maturity at such a young age. Yelchin stood out among the bevy of young talent already in the cast – Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster – launching him into the ranks of top young indie stars at that time.
The following year in 2007, Yelchin landed the lead in Charlie Bartlett, a subversive high school comedy that also starred Kat Dennings (Thor) and Robert Downey, Jr. Bartlett was Yelchin’s introduction into the Young Hollywood world, showcasing his ability to charmingly carry a film next to the likes of RDJ as well as show off his natural comedic talent and his potential as the “unconventional heartthrob”. Yelchin followed Bartlett with more impressive indie fare, appearing in the vignette-driven film New York, I Love You and the little known film Middle of Nowhere in which he starred alongside mother-daughter duo Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri.
By this time, at age 20, Yelchin’s career officially began to take off, sending the actor into studio franchise territory. In 2009, he appeared for the first time as Chekov, the Enterprise’s Russian navigator, in J.J. Abram’s reboot of Star Trek. He would play this role two more times in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness and the soon-to-be-released Star Trek Beyond. Yelchin brought understated comedy and light to the role, making a lasting impression on the entire series. Aside from Trek, Yelchin also nabbed a starring role in the Terminator franchise in 2009’s Terminator Salvation in which he played that film’s version of Kyle Reese opposite Christian Bale’s John Connor.
Two years later – 2011 – would see Yelchin take on what many would agree was his greatest and most finely crafted role to date in the Drake Doremus film Like Crazy. Yelchin starred opposite future Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) in a film that pushed the boundaries of capturing the realities of a romantic relationship onscreen. Yelchin worked intimately with Jones and Doremus throughout production simulating the rise and fall of a relationship, working from a bare bones script that relied heavily on the improvisation of himself and Jones. Yelchin left the film as a true artist. It won the Sundance Jury Prize soon after and he proved to audiences his raw unfiltered abilities to pull emotion from a scene and his scene partners. He was an “actor’s actor” and Like Crazy proved just that and more.
Following Like Crazy, Yelchin continued to dedicate a great deal of his career to independent film – Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, the Dean Koontz adaptation Odd Thomas, the critically acclaimed Only Lovers Left Alive, and William H. Macy’s Rudderless. He also balanced the ranks by embedding himself into several franchises, those being Star Trek and The Smurfs as well as the un-reached potential of the Fright Night remake. In recent years, Yelchin has strengthened his indie ties, appearing in the zombie rom-com Burying the Ex, Cymbeline with Ethan Hawke, the charming 5 to 7 with his New York, I Love You co-star Olivia Thirlby, Dying of the Light with Nicolas Cage, The Experimenter, Broken Horses, The Driftless Area with Zooey Deschanel, and Jeremy Saulnier’s (Blue Ruin) Green Room. The common denominator of all these recent movies appears to be his draw toward working with up-and-coming filmmakers involved in each aspect of production and in films with clear vision and true independent spirit.
Yelchin is in no way ready to leave us indefinitely. The actor has several upcoming projects waiting to be released, one of which is his final Star Trek film coming out in July. He also has Rememory with Peter Dinklage in post-production as well as We Don’t Belong Here with Catherine Keener awaiting a release date, the destination romance Porto, and Thoroughbred with Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) expected sometime next year.
With the outpouring of industry reactions across social media, it is clear that Yelchin was a beloved contributor to his craft and to those who were privileged enough to work with him. He leaves the world and the film industry much too soon, but as a testament to the value of his art, the integrity of his work, and the immense well of talent to remain untapped.