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Director J.J. Abrams Talks About 'Star Trek'

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Chris Pine JJ Abrams Star Trek

Chris Pine and JJ Abrams on the set of 'Star Trek.'

© Paramount Pictures
Updated February 26, 2014
J.J. Abrams isn't afraid of taking on existing film franchises. In 2006, Abrams was at the helm of Mission Impossible III, an action-heavy thriller starring Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A couple of TV series and some producing projects later, he's the man in charge of breathing new life into the decades-old Star Trek franchise, a tough and risky assignment for any filmmaker. But Abrams knows his sci-fi and even though he confesses to not being a real Trekkie prior to this Star Trek movie, he understood what was needed to satisfy long-time fans of the series/films and newcomers to the franchise.

Hitting theaters on May 8th, Star Trek is one of the most anticipated films of 2009 and one with the most riding on its box office success. In a press conference in LA to support the film, Abrams talked about this new, reinvigorated Star Trek.

J.J. Abrams Press Conference

What is the possibility of a sequel to this film? Will you continue with the boldness of the first film?

J.J. Abrams: "Obviously, it was a dream to work with these guys and the whole cast and crew, and it would be incredible fun to get to do it again. It is also insanely presumptuous to assume that it will work when it’s out there, that people will like it, and that there will be a need for another one. If there is, the good news is that there’s a deal for the writers and a deal for the actors. It’s in place. We have not had one meeting. We have not had one discussion. There’s no outline. There’s no script. There’s nothing. We’re fishing for ideas."

In trying to reinvent something that people love so much, was there ever a moment where you thought, "Oh, my God, what am I doing?"

J.J. Abrams: "Yeah, there honestly were a few moments where I was looking at what we were doing from the outside in and just started sweating and was just terrified. You get so inside of it that you’re talking about these characters and these issues, and Romulans and Klingons, and the Starship. And then every once in a while, you’re on the set and you look at it from the outside and you’re like, 'This is ridiculous!' I had to literally psych myself back into the moment and say, 'This must be what Peter Jackson and George Lucas have gone through,' and I’d get focused again. But, because the script was so strong, because the characters were so good, and because the actors were so good, I felt like the risk of playing with something that is precious to many people was, to me, such a worthy risk. I felt like the result, if we did our job, could be a really fun movie and could introduce to so many people who had never seen it or thought it wasn’t for them or had never even heard of it, these characters who are so wonderful and the actors were so great."

Was there a point in the casting where you were worried that you'd never find the right actors?

J.J. Abrams: "Casting the movie was a huge challenge and we were incredibly lucky to find these actors. April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg, who are our casting directors, are terrific. But I’ve never had to cast something that had something that pre-existed it, where the actors have to take over these iconic roles. The key to each of these actors, and the one or two similarities, is that beyond just being incredibly talented, they’re all funny. They all have a great sense of humor, and that was incredibly important because I knew Star Trek had been parodied so many times that it had to be funny from the inside out."

Why did you decide not to put William Shatner into the film?

J.J. Abrams: "Nothing would have made us happier than to have William Shatner in this movie. His character died on screen in one of the films. When we tried figure out a way to put him in, every time we did it, it was a gimmick. Every time we figured out a way that we thought it could work, it ended up being a gimmick unless the whole story was about bringing him back, and that would have changed the entire story that we wanted to tell. So, it was either change everything or do it without him. But, we definitely love Mr. Shatner. Working with him is something that we would obviously be thrilled to do, and wanted to do. It just literally didn’t work for our story and he didn’t want to just do a cameo. We could have done a flashback, but he didn’t want to do that. And, if we had reinvented everything, it would have just been crazy."

"The YouTube thing happened because I was interviewed about it and I said, which was true, that we tried many different ways to get him in the movie and it just didn’t work. I guess he heard it and thought that they were saying that we had tried to get him in, and called him and were making efforts, so he did this video saying, 'You didn’t call me.' So, then I had to respond to that and say, 'No, no, no, I don’t mean we called you. We were trying, internally, to tell a story that was worthy of you and worthy of the audience.' There was no way to do it and have it not be a cameo, so it didn’t work in this one. But, all is good."

What made you decide to bring Winona Ryder into the Star Trek fold?

J.J. Abrams: "I’d always been a fan of Winona’s. One of the models that we had for this movie was Superman, the Dick Donner film. The way that he cast that film, all the lead roles were essentially unknowns and many of the supporting roles were people that you had seen before and knew, to some degree, and obviously, with Marlon Brando, knew very well. I just thought it would be nice, given that we had a cast that was, for the most part, unknowns that we give roles that we could to actors that were known. Eric Bana is essentially hidden in disguise in this movie. You can’t really recognize him. For the role of Amanda, to get Winona Ryder was just one of those things where I thought it would be great to have an actress who people would recognize and, hopefully, not get pulled out of the movie, but feel like there was some support for the younger, fresher faces."

Continued on Page 2

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