ORLANDO, Fla. — Seeing as how Zachary Quinto’s most famous big screen character personifies logic, reason, and intelligence, and how his character in the new film Margin Call has been described as a “hotshot ‘rocket scientist’ ” of Wall Street (Slant Magazine), “an ambitious math whiz” (comingsoon.net) who is the first to realize the Great Recession is coming, a question from blog commenter “PA” seems fair, to the point and on the money.
“Do you think you’ll ever be cast as someone less than intelligent? Someone thoroughly clueless?”
Quinto chuckles at that. At 34, he hasn’t always played brainiacs. Take What’s Your Number? in which he had an opening scene cameo as the feckless beau the heroine (Anna Faris) kicks out.
“I was so NOT the smart guy in that movie. For all of, what, 30 seconds, I’m in that?”
As if to give the lie to that image, Quinto peppers his speech with the words “totally” and “man.” But he owns that pigeonhole the film business is building for him.
“Sure, man, I’m totally OK with being ‘the smart guy’ in the movies. I’ve always been interested in being challenged by intellectually stimulating material. So if that puts me in the category of actors offered that kind of material, I’m happy.”
(Over the weekend, Quinto made news when he decided to end speculation about his sexuality by coming out as a gay man in an interview with New York magazine. In a blog post on his website, Quinto wrote that he was moved to do it by the suicide of a bullied gay teen, Jamey Rodemeyer.)
Margin Call, which opens in limited release Friday, is a smart Wall Street expose that doesn’t so much point blame at who caused the financial meltdown of 2008 as reveal the mindsets behind it, looking into one firm which sees the end coming and must make survival decisions that have little with do with ethics, morality or human kindness. Quinto isn’t just one of the stars of this ensemble drama. He helped build it. He and his company, BtD, Before the Door, produced it.
“I had a lot of conversations with actors directly,” he says. “I got them to meet with our writer-director (J.C. Chandor) and assuaged their fears about working with a guy that new. Kevin Spacey was the first person, after me, to sign on. You get Kevin Spacey on board, other people who were maybe considering doing the film become convinced to do the film. He paved the way for others, like Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, and Simon Baker.”
Smart, but then, we’d expect nothing less. Quinto, a Pittsburgh native, had kicked around doing bit parts for TV for a few years after finishing up the Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama until landing a role on the hit sci-fi series Heroes. That led to Spock in J.J. Abrams re-launch of the Star Trek film franchise.
“Starting my production company is something that Star Trek allowed me to do,” he says. “I could utilize that exposure and parlay it into opportunities that would allow me to tell my own kind of stories instead of stories other people see me in. It’s all tied into Star Trek. It put me in a position to have access that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I wanted to use that access to tell my own sorts of stories, with me involved in telling them.”
Margin Call, with its moral ambiguity, intrigued him. “Nobody really gets raked over the coals, nobody is lionized. It really just presents an exploration of the human impact that these actions had on people who were somehow responsible for the decisions. It lets the audience formulate its own opinion, maybe generating a little dialogue afterward.
“I wanted to make a movie that requires people to really invest — no pun intended — to connect with the characters as the story unfolds. It doesn’t necessarily do the work for you. That’s something I value as a storyteller and as someone who goes to see stories told, I like when my participation, my close attention, is required.”
Quinto’s participation is required next in a Star Trek sequel, which starts filming early in 2012 and will take up the first half of the year. “I’m starting to shift into that mode of preparation,” he says “I have physical training and other ways of prepping for it. None of us have seen the script. We’re all very curious to see where he’s taking us this time. We’re going on rumors, little hints here and there, stories we’ve been told.”
And after that, BtD is doing a “found footage” comedy, having just finished the horror film, The Banshee Chapter.
“I may or may not have a conventional actor’s journey in this business,” he says. “That remains to be seen. But as a producer now, I have a chance to have a hand in creating the sorts of projects I want to put out into the world.”
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