As the world mourns the young Chekov, SFX remembers an actor taken long before his time
This year continues its extraordinary tally of taking the great and the good away from us by adding 27-year-old Anton Yelchin to its list – just one month before the release of Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the franchise that made his name.
As the teenage navigator on the USS Enterprise, Yelchin stepped into the shoes of Star Trek’s original Pavel Chekov, Walter Koenig, in 2009 and brought a wide-eyed wonder to the bridge. His charismatic performance – not to mention his outrageously enthusiastic Russian accent – made him a fan favourite and helped to bring him to the attention of Hollywood. Although, given that Yelchin had been acting since the age of nine and appeared in Terminator: Salvation as Kyle Reese, no less, in the same year as Star Trek was released, he was already a rising star.
Yelchin was born in 1989 in what was then Leningrad and is now St Petersburg, moving to the United States when he was six months old with his parents, who were figure skaters. When he didn’t show much inclination to follow in their footsteps on the ice, they sent him to acting classes and he started getting parts in television shows such as ER and Curb Your Enthusiasm. His first big sci-fi role was in Steven Spielberg’s Taken miniseries in 2002, and large parts in Fright Night, the brilliant Odd Thomas and excellent indie vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive kept him on SFX’s radar. He also wowed critics in violent drama Green Room in May, alongside Patrick Stewart.
Yelchin was in his driveway when his Jeep rolled backwards down the slope, crushing him. A known fault in the vehicle’s gearshift, which hadn’t prompted a recall from Jeep, is being blamed and a $5m lawsuit has been filed against the company for other suspicious deaths.
The actor’s friends and colleagues left many moving tributes for him. “He was a lovely young man, a gentleman,” said Spielberg, while Zoe Saldana talked about Yelchin’s “beautiful spirit”. But JJ Abrams made collective chins wobble when he said: “Anton, you were brilliant. You were kind. You were funny as hell, and supremely talented. And you weren’t here nearly long enough.” We agree.