Talkhouse Film Contributors Remember Anton Yelchin

Joe Dante, Martin Donovan, Ben York Jones, Victor Levin and more pay tribute to the late great actor and ardent cinephile.

In the post below, Talkhouse Film contributors remember the brilliant actor Anton Yelchin, who so tragically passed away yesterday at the age of only 27. The tributes below are from filmmakers who worked with Yelchin, and demonstrate both how deeply respected he was as an artist and beloved as a curious, generous human being.

More remembrances will be added to this post as they come in. Feel free to leave your own tributes and memories in the comments section.N.D.


Joe Dante (Director, Burying the Ex)
When Anton was playing the lead in the movie we did together, I peeked at his script to find every page laden with notes and observations about the character he was playing. The movie was a low-budget zombie comedy (or zomcom), but he took it as seriously as Shakespeare. I’ve never worked with a more intelligent actor, or a more engaging one. He chose projects because he wanted to work with their creators.

His Star Trek success could have led him to headline more blockbusters, but he was more interested in collaborating with people he admired like Paul Schrader, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Almereyda and Jeremy Saulnier. When he wasn’t working (incessantly it seemed), he was an insatiable film buff and I especially enjoyed turning him on to obscure and classic movies from my stash of DVDs. He could expound on Bela Lugosi, for instance, or more recently Peter Lorre, till the sun came up. And he always had a new and fascinating take on the subject. I will dearly miss the opportunity of working with him again, as we had planned, but more so I will miss his inimitable presence: full of excitement about the work and the art, with a seemingly limitless future ahead of him. He so reminded me of myself at his age. Sometimes when friends leave, they take a part of you with them. Anton got the better part of me.

Ben York Jones (Screenwriter/actor, Like Crazy)
The last time I saw Anton was outside a restaurant, somewhere near the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. I happened to be there with John Gulesarian, Like Crazy’s cinematographer. We were having a cigarette, sharing a comfortable silence, when a svelte young fellow in a fedora and long coat came into view. We stared for a moment before the light hit his face, revealing Anton. “Whoa, hey guys! Do you guys always hang out together on the sidewalk like this?” Anton was on his way to see a film playing at a Film Noir festival. Contently flying solo. Neither Gules or I had ever heard of the rare film he was off to see, but Anton had been wanting to see it for years. He was excited. We chatted for a minute, then he continued on his way, in his trenchcoat and hat. Aptly dressed. As if he didn’t simply want to watch the film, he wanted to fully melt into it.

What struck me most about Anton was his love for cinema. He was the hungriest of students, and adored the conversation, and the debate. On set we talked Herzog and von Trier. He had a great affinity for theatrics in film — even the melodramatic. He got a kick out of it. I lent him my copy of My Best Fiend on DVD, admittedly partially in hopes it would provide an excuse for us to continue the conversation.

We had a few scenes together in Like Crazy, and between takes, found ourselves opening up over our petty fear of balding prematurely. My hair was thinning a little, and he seemed to believe his would too one day. But he had a plan, “Yeah man, when it really starts to go, no Rogaine, none of that… I’m going full Bruce Willis. That guy’s a badass.” I agreed, that would have worked for Anton. As they applied a false mustache and goatee to his face, he would joke along the lines of: “May I have my face merkin now, please…” A comment intendedly met by groans and chuckles. Then musically, in the style of Harry Connick Jr., “Oh my merkin’s smirkin’! Oh my merkin’s hurtin’!”

There was such life, and a sense of gleeful mischief in every aspect of Anton’s presence. Curiosity and mindfulness. Our interactions became few and far between as the years passed, but my admiration for him only grew, as I continued to see him flourish as an actor and a storyteller. Most notably, I remember seeing him in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and thinking to myself, “Anton’s so perfect in this, it’s almost hilarious.” I got such a kick out of watching him do his thing.

The news that Anton had died so tragically, came very hard for me, as it did for so many. My reasons for writing this now are intended to tribute, but they’re also selfish. I’m happy to avoid the upset I’m feeling. I spoke to my friend Drake, who directed him in Like Crazy, and have been in touch with two of the producers from that film. I spoke to my dad and my girlfriend, both of whom had met Anton. All in hopes of somehow wrapping my head around the reality. That he’s gone and I don’t understand it. Perhaps most upsetting to me, is that he doesn’t get to keep doing the thing he loved. We all get to continue enjoying and making movies if we’re lucky. But he has to stop, and it’s so unconscionably unfair it makes me want to scream. My heart goes out to his family and closest friends. His mother in particular, who I know loved him with all her being.

In one of my final email exchanges with Anton, he signed off, “Into the jungle…” He was prone to regale us with his plans to infiltrate the creative jungle, using a Herzog-like accent. The jungle would be the ultimate conquest. The ultimate adventure. His tragic and untimely passing only further provokes me to follow that mantra. Into the jungle. That’s where the adventure is. You’ll live in our hearts always, Anton.

Victor Levin (Writer/director, 5 to 7)
I’m in utter disbelief at the news of the passing of our beloved Anton Yelchin. You all know his talent, which was in evidence every time he stepped before a camera. He was smart, he was funny, he was always authentic, and he instantly and lovingly connected with audiences. He worked incredibly hard at his craft, reaching deeply into the psyches of the characters he played, always in search of the truth.

Anton was an eager collaborator, extremely modest about his own abilities and always respectful and admiring of others. He had an open mind. He gave the benefit of the doubt. He was as intellectually curious as anyone I’ve ever known. If you had Anton in your film, you felt as though destiny had smiled on you and the sky was the limit.

It is rare that one so gifted is also so full of love, in all its forms – love for others, for art, and for life itself. He carried himself with goodness and grace, and with a certain quiet, unassuming wisdom that came to him long before it comes to most people.

I will never forget the joy of working with him. From rehearsals to shooting days to editing to watching the film with festival and theater audiences, he always brought a sense of wonder to the day. He could go from raucous laughter to the most astute analysis in a heartbeat. He was tirelessly dedicated to the film’s success and so generous with his time.

Anton walked in the light, as I hope he does still. He was an island of goodness and sanity in an insane world. I will miss him like a brother.

Please may your thoughts today be with his marvelous, adoring parents, Irina and Victor. I cannot imagine their pain at this moment and wish that there were something I could do to ease it.

Zachary Sluser (Director/co-writer, The Driftless Area)
As many have shared, Anton was endlessly curious and playful – both observant and engaged. He was always exploring the world through different means of artistic expression.

He was undoubtedly one of the finest actors around, a remarkable presence of intellect and heart, of pure being.

In between his acting work, he would take photographs, compose music, write poems, screenplays, he was even preparing to make his own films. A student and lover of cinema, more well-viewed and appreciative than any film school student I’ve known, it’s another loss for us all that we’ll never see what he was planning to film.

There never seemed to be a moment around him when he wasn’t filled with ideas to consider and express.

After a beautiful take on the set of our film, The Driftless Area, I’d be ready to move on and Anton would approach me and ask me how it was. “No, really man. Was it OK? We can do it again. We should do it again.” Trying to read through my eyes to see if I was on the level with him. He knew there was more left unfound, even if we didn’t have the time to give him.

He’d write journals as his character and send them to me. He learned to play the cello and read books on quantum physics to prepare for his role. Even after wrapping a long day, late at night, Anton would text me idea after idea for the next day’s scenes.

What more could you want from an actor or collaborator? He was so giving and the commitment to his work brought him so much joy.

When we were in prep, Anton got himself a job as a bartender across from our hotel in downtown Vancouver, so he could learn for the shoot. He worried for a whole day before starting if he had the right type of black pants and shirt for his uniform. After a few days, I went to see him in action. The waitresses took great joy sending him back and forth from the kitchen, making him do the grunt work. Walking to the kitchen, balancing crates of glasses stacked on top of each other up to his chin, he shot me a wild, big-eyed smile. He was bussing glasses at a bar, and enjoying every moment.

Looking back through old email correspondences with Anton, I found a note he wrote to me and a fellow cast member the morning after we returned to LA from the shoot of our film:

Thank you for all the moments you shared with me – small beautiful funny things. We are accelerating through this universe together and I am grateful for it.”

Anton accelerated faster than most. He never stopped investigating and exploring. He never stopped working.

He had much more to create and share with us all.

I will miss him immensely. My love and thoughts are with his family, and especially with his dear mother.


Hutch Harris (consultant, Green Room)
In all walks of life there are talented, successful people who, despite working hard for every job or opportunity the receive, have seemed to make a career out of just showing up. Maximal rewards are often earned by people who put forth minimal effort. Anton Yelchin was not one of those people. He was the opposite – an artist who, at a young age, already knew so much about art and achievement through hard work and only wanted to know more.

I worked with the cast of Green Room for a short week a few summers ago, helping the cast learn and rehearse songs for their roles as the onscreen band The Ain’t Rights. I didn’t recognize Yelchin when I met him – he was friendly, but very low-key and unassuming. He didn’t act like a Hollywood celebrity, star of two blockbuster franchises (Terminator Salvation and the rebooted Star Trek series). I would say that he acted like a normal person – but he didn’t, and he wasn’t. There wasn’t anything normal about Yelchin; the more I got to know him, the more I saw what a truly magical person he was. He was fully invested in every task we had to complete. He was endlessly interested in the scenes and songs we were exploring for the film. His talent stretched well beyond his acting chops – he was already an accomplished musician, hardly in need of my coaching. I’ve said before that Anton probably could’ve done my job on Green Room, and probably could’ve done it better than me.

Anton Yelchin’s death at an extremely early age is beyond tragic. Most brilliant artists that die young usually succumb to drugs or demons they can no longer outrun. Anton’s death was accidental and undeserved, a sad and senseless misfortune in a world that, after his passing, feels even more sad and senseless. Anton led a life above and beyond what most of us will ever know, and even though he passed at such a young age, he accomplished more than most people will in a lifetime.

Martin Donovan (actor, Rememory)
A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with Anton Yelchin. I had not seen any of his work so he was totally new to me. We had a couple of extremely intense scenes to shoot and he grabbed me with his presence. He had soul and was committed to the work. His demeanor on set was low-key and unassuming, even sweet.

We did the usual swapping of life stories actors tend to do when given the time. We talked about LA and I told him about some of its history which he didn’t know. He was extremely curious and eager to learn.

My fellow actors will know what I’m talking about when I say that under the right conditions (enough time, the right chemistry, scenes that require baring of soul or involve intimacy) actors can achieve the deepest bonds with each other on a set in a matter of hours or a day or two. During the course of such a gig you unpack your chest cavity in front of each other on multiple takes, put it all back together and then part ways wishing each other well perhaps never seeing each other again. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I feel lucky to have met him.

It’s a terrible loss. RIP my good young man.

[The above was originally posted to Martin Donovan’s Facebook page and is used here with permission]

Images courtesy of Zachary Sluser.