Star Trek into Darkness: Lead Characters

James T. Kirk:

As “Star Trek Into Darkness” begins, Captain James T. Kirk is at a crossroads. He has developed into a consummate commander who will defy the rules to do what he believes is right. But his cheeky audacity and willingness to fly in the face of protocol continues to put him in conflict with Star Fleet – even as Star Fleet is faced with the most overwhelming danger to its mission yet.

Reprising the role of Kirk as he comes to grips with both his power and his vulnerability is Chris Pine, who will next be seen in the title role of Kenneth Branagh’s “Jack Ryan.” Excited as he was to return to The Enterprise, Pine notes that setting off on a second wild ride was rife with anxiety and expectations. “The first day on the set was a lot like your first day back at school,” he laughs, “seeing everyone again, feeling so excited about what’s ahead, yet wanting to do a great job for them. But once I got back into the rhythm of the character, things picked right back up.”

Only this time, Pine would put a new spin on those rhythms as Kirk goes through the most intense shake-up of his career, facing loss, doubt and big questions about what matters most to him.

Pine was particularly fascinated by how the script for “Star Trek Into Darkness” explores the intricate yin-and-yang developing between Kirk and Spock as they get to know each other better and struggle with both their glaring differences and their incontestable connection.

“There’s always been a sense that neither character would be the same without the other,” he observes. “And this story seems to follow a necessary journey for both. Kirk loves to flout the rules but when, in the beginning of this story, Captain Pine sits him down and says ‘you can be great, but you’re not yet,’ that becomes a crack in his armor. Kirk has always had that insouciant, razzle-dazzle charm but in the course of this mission, he’s wracked with doubts. I found it to be a really wonderful story for both characters.”

He continues: “You couldn’t come up with two guys whose DNA is more completely at odds, but they find their own synthesis as friends.”

While the themes of “Into Darkness” take Kirk into starkly emotional realms, he notes that Abrams seems to instinctually know how to balance darkness with color and light. “J.J. knows the power of having fun,” observes Pine, “and he knows the power of letting the audience really care about the characters. And no matter how fantastical or incredible the events he’s shooting, he knows how to connect the audience to the story. There are incredible action sequences this time, but at the heart of it all is that kernel of human experience.”

Spock:

Kirk is not the only one who must face his inner demons in outer space – his First Officer, Spock, is also compelled to look at himself as he never has before in “Into Darkness.” Returning as the half-Vulcan, half-human who grapples to keep his logical side on top of his peskier emotions is Zachary Quinto, most recently seen as an investment banker in “Margin Call,” which he also produced. “Into Darkness” takes Spock, and Quinto, in many new directions, equally in terms of drama, action and romance.

From the opening moments of the film, Spock is wrestling with his ideals of duty, adherence to the rules and selfless sacrifice – and with Kirk’s more passionate but troublesome way of engaging with the world. “I think for Spock this movie is about understanding what it is to be emotionally available and what it is to be a friend,” Quinto observes. “In the beginning of the film, Kirk, true to form, makes some cavalier decisions that come back to bite him in the ass, but the basic set-up is that Spock is willing to die in order to obey the law, and Kirk is not willing to let his friend die just because of some rules. That really sets them at odds early on and it becomes a recurring theme throughout the film. But then, there comes a moment when Spock really gets what best friends are for, when he admits to himself how deeply he can feel for people. It’s a moment when you realize he’s probably more human than he ever thought.”

Quinto notes that the film also required more physical intensity from Spock than any other incarnation of the character– from leaping into a fiery volcano to fierce hand-to-hand combat. “There was a lot running, a lot of physicality and I did a lot of training getting myself ready for the film,” he says. “But that was also one of the biggest rewards of the film because it allowed me to connect with Spock in a completely different way, which was a lot of fun.”

Also fun was further exploring the unlikely romance between Spock and Uhura, a relationship that has a tendency to reveal Spock’s inner world far more than he would like. “There’s a really nice moment in this film between Uhura and Spock, where she lets out why she’s so upset with him about his being willing to die, and he comes back at her saying ‘You think I make this choice lightly, but I promise you I don’t.’ So you get some real glimpses into Spock’s psyche in this that we haven’t seen yet. That was really powerful for me.”

He adds: “Working with Zoe Saldana as Uhura is amazing. She has such openness and such vulnerability and yet such strength. She can kick ass with the best of them and then she can soften and open up in a way that is magnetizing. We’ve known each other for years and it’s great to come back to that kind of familiarity, especially when you’re working with such intimacy.”

Throughout all this change for Spock, Quinto says he fully trusted Abrams to take the characters in new directions. “What sets J.J. apart is the emphasis he puts on humanity and character. He doesn’t do things by the book and he certainly hasn’t with Star Trek. He also never let us take the first movie for granted. He made it clear we were resetting with a completely new kind of story and not just starting from where we left off,” he says.

One thing that did remain the same for Quinto was the daily makeup ritual that transforms his features into the classic Vulcan silhouette. But this time out, there were also new challenges. Early in the film, Spock dons a special volcano suit that allows him to descend into the Nibiru planet’s raging core of fire and rock – the building of which Quinto says became a process unto itself. “The suit was custom-made based on laser computer designs of my body so there were a lot of fittings,” he explains. “The suit was incredibly restrictive and uncomfortable, but it does look stunning. Working inside it became an exercise in meditation for me. I wore the suit for 6 days of filming the volcano sequences, and it was pretty challenging.”

Most of all though, Quinto was exhilarated by the chance to more fully reveal a character who has fascinated millions with his never-ending contradictions and search for a unified self. “It’s a huge honor for me to have this chance to inhabit a character who is so widely regarded as a beacon of intelligence, logic and compassion,” he concludes. “Spock teaches me every time I come into contact with him – and one of the things he teaches me about is integrity.”

Uhura: Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana also relished the chance to show new sides of Uhura, the ravishing, no-nonsense xenolinguist who puts her skills for listening and interpreting to vital use as the Enterprise’s Communications Officer. Like Quinto, Saldana was intrigued by the idea of pushing Spock and Uhura’s relationship to the next level – and into turmoil. “I think their relationship in the first movie surprised everybody, but the only way to move on was to go even further,” she comments. “If they’re going to be together then they will have to go through tests to their relationship – and the way it happens in this movie is one of those great twists that you love J.J. for.”

Once the sole woman on The Enterprise’s Bridge – joined on this new mission by Carol Marcus – Uhura occupies a distinct place between Kirk and Spock, sought after by both as an ally. “She’s drawn more to someone like Spock, because she’s more a person who lives by the book. But there’s a wildness to Kirk that she admires and she knows his heart is always in a good place,” Saldana says. “She’s in a unique position because her authority is so respected by both of them.”

That position gave Saldana a front row seat from which to watch Kirk and Spock confound and confide in each other in new ways. “It’s been wonderful seeing Chris and Zach continue to build these characters, respecting their essences but adding their own twists,” she observes. “I think they’ve only gotten better and I loved watching them banter on this film. When they go back and forth, you see underneath the beautiful, respectful friendship that Chris and Zach really have.”

Like Kirk and Spock, Uhura also undergoes major changes in “Into Darkness.” “The crew is shifting into adulthood, taking on bigger responsibilities and learning to accept the paths they each have chosen,” Saldana says. “You see them becoming more comfortable in their own skins – and Uhura is very much doing that. She is asking herself do I have what it takes to sacrifice my life for my team, for my ship, for the principles that I believe in? Those are exciting questions for her.”

Especially exciting for Saldana was a chance to display for the first time Uhura’s talent for fluent Klingon – which meant picking up a new, albeit entirely fictional, language with its own strange grammar and structure. “Klingon is a lot of fun,” she muses. “It was really interesting to explore the pronunciations and what every word means and then try to incorporate all that into the drama and tension of the scene. On the set, when I was with the Klingon actors with their cattails in the air, my imagination was really sparked to see how far we could take it. I love doing things like that, things that are so new and rare and challenging.”

Abrams was exhilarated by the way Saldana took on the Klingon encounters. “She has an ability, no matter what language she is speaking, to deliver lines in an emotionally compelling way,” he says. “Zoe brought it and made it real, so it became something cool and fun, not rubbery and silly. It can be a fine line in this movie and she was amazing.”