Zachary Quinto, the Magnificent Man
In the next six months alone, Zachary Quinto will film the indie movie Michael, alongside James Franco and Emma Roberts, and The Chair, a TV show debuting in September on the Starz network. He’ll also produce and star in two more movies from Before the Door, the production company he founded with two friends. That’s not to mention the next installment in the Star Trek franchise, which Quinto anticipates to be looming on the horizon of 2015. Perhaps he doesn’t sleep; or maybe he stole the blueprints to one of those Star Trek transporter decks. “There’s a lot of balls in the air,” he says—to put it mildly. He seems surprisingly nonchalant for a man with so much on his plate. But this outlook is indicative of Quinto’s entire approach to life and career. The actor takes a confident yet laissez-faire stance in the face of an increasingly chaotic future.
Was acting something you were always naturally drawn to? How did you get started?
I’ve acted since I was a kid, I started when I was 10. I think it served a number of purposes for me. I was raised by a single mom, so it was a place to go and be accounted for and safe. I started performing and studying and it just evolved from there.
Was your mom always supportive of that?
I think she just wanted to make sure that I was any good before she came out in full support for me. So she did a little bit of vetting me through teachers and checking in just to make sure that they believed that I could actually do it, which I think is a smart thing for a parent to do. I mean, obviously, there’s never any guarantee and I had teachers who believed in me and supported me. But she was guardedly optimistic about it.
What do you consider your first big break in acting? Or did it feel like a slow, natural progression?
Well, it was a slow, natural progression until Heroes—that changed my journey completely, it just changed the game. And on the heels of Heroes, I was cast in Star Trek, so that was a really significant year. That span was really particularly influential in the journey that I took.
How do you go about preparing for a role, especially ones like those that are more sci-fi or spectacular?
It’s different—I mean it’s hard to classify how I prepare for a role because every experience is different. Star Trek is a sci-fi film, but it’s also very action-oriented. The preparation tends to be a lot more physical and about training and makeup tests. It’s a little bit more outside-in and more theatrical. There’s something sort of Shakespearean about the world of Star Trek. The language becomes very important, the characterization, and the way that they use words. Their relationship to text is always important in a story like that because of the way the character is presented in this very stylized, heightened world. And then it’s very different for something like I’m about to do now, a small independent movie in which I’m playing an actual person. [In this case] the preparation is more about knowing who that person is and how I can most accurately embody them in this story.
But I imagine there’s always an emotional component that exists no matter the character.
Well, I wouldn’t say that necessarily. It’s just that the path to that emotional depth is different. There’s a lot of emotion in the character Spock, and it’s just how I get to it. You know, I can’t really play Spock unless I shave my eyebrows off my face and get a bowl haircut and sit in a makeup chair for three hours and have someone put ears on me. That informs the emotional depth of that character. He holds himself in a different way, it’s something that’s applied more than excavated. We used to talk about that in acting school all the time, the difference between inside-out and outside-in, and where does the character start. I think with the example of [Heroes and Star Trek] it’s a little more outside-in, and with quiet, little relationships it’s always inside-out.
Have any of the more dark, fraught characters you’ve played crossed over and affected your personal life?
No, not at all. There are certainly scenarios or scenes that I’ve shot that have a lasting impact on me after that day of work, because I had to do something particularly distasteful or violent or brutal as one of the characters. But then that’s my job, and I then have to let being a human being come into play, figure out what I need to do to take care of myself and how I can prevent this from becoming problematic. I don’t tend to get lost, I tend to rather find myself.
What traits do you think make a great actor? Do you think it’s something that’s taught or something within you?
Well I don’t think you can have it at all if you don’t inherently have the constitution for it, or the innate desire, ambition, and capacity for it. I think you have to start there and then that’s where teaching becomes very important. I credit all of the teachers in my life for my understanding of what I aspire to and what I think is a pursuit of excellence.
How do you feel acting for TV, film, and theater differ from one another and what are the unique demands for you from each?
The demands of being on stage are the sustained commitment required over an extended period of time, doing the same thing. The challenges of being on television are the sustained demand of playing the same character for an extended period of time, but through multiple scenarios. If your show goes on beyond its point of creative inspiration, then that presents its own kind of challenge because you still have to play this character and find yourself potentially in different situations that are, you know, absurd or repetitive. People often refer to being on a television series for a long time as “golden handcuffs” because it can be very lucrative, but creatively it might lose its freshness or instinctive nature after some time and potentially switch on autopilot. [This] is why doing something like American Horror Story was so appealing to me, because it’s different characters in different situations and you know every year it’s different. It’s amazing and smart and fun for actors to do that. And the challenges of being on a film is that you have a tremendous amount of pressure because you only have one story to tell, and if that story doesn’t find its audience or succeed in the telling, then your opportunities might be more limited in the future. In creative terms, I think there’s similarities between all of them, I’m just never more comfortable than when I’m on stage. Being on stage is something that I’m thrilled that I’m able to find my way back to.
I feel like my openness has served me. It’s an openness to possibilities and to different opportunities. For me, being in more comedies is something that I’m interested in, or getting into that space. It becomes about what motivates my decisions. I don’t really think in terms of what I don’t have, I think in terms of what my opportunities are and what best serves what I want to aspire to creatively and professionally.
What inspired you to start your production company Before the Door, and what does it provide you with that you weren’t getting from an acting career alone?
I have control and I have a hand in the stories that I’m a part of telling. Whether I’m producing or an actor in something that I’m producing, I get to help shape the content that’s put out into the world. That’s a humbling responsibility, but it’s also a great opportunity to not just wait around for somebody to say, I want you in my movie! While I’m waiting for those things to happen, I’m going to go and do other things and give other people opportunities, the way people gave me opportunities, to support new voices and filmmakers and put stuff out there that hopefully generates a dialogue. That’s a great gift. I feel lucky and I don’t know why I had the foresight to do it, but I just knew that at a certain moment, when Heroes and Star Trek converged, that I better lay a foundation. Now that foundation is starting to build upon itself which is really great.
I watched the short film you made about adopting your first dog from the animal shelter. Is that something you feel strongly about?
I’ve done a lot of work to support organizations that are dealing with animal rights and animal protection. I would never get a dog from anywhere other than a rescue organization or a pound. That’s where all my animals come from. Animals are a huge part of my life. They always have been. I feel like they are teachers in ways and guides through our lives if we let them be. I’ve had one of my dogs for over eleven years, and I feel he’s taught me more about myself. It’s been the most important relationship of my adult life. Caring for that creature and going through all my life changes and experiences, it’s been an incredible and powerful connection on a spiritual level. That’s what animals can be, so we need to protect them every way we can. It breaks my heart a little walking through Manhattan when I pass a pet store that I don’t expect. If I know it’s there, I’ll try and cross the street, because just seeing windows full of dogs that are bred in puppy mills and sold for thousands of dollars, oftentimes to people who may be wealthy but not necessarily responsible parents, it’s just discouraging. It’s disheartening. I love animals and I love to take care of them and help them whenever I can.
Sure, in my oodles of free time. No, I’m interested in a lot of different things. I really like design, I really like creating space, whether it’s living space or working space. I’m really interested in real estate. I love that whole investment of time, energy and money that is rewarding on a very personal level.
What encouraged you to come out publicly as a gay man, and how do you hope that encouraged other LGBT youth?
I think there’s power in visibility and we need power. It’s a movement that is swelling and growing, a wave that has been building for a long time and it’s really cresting in our lifetime. This is happening. This is a tremendous moment in history that I feel honored and lucky to be living through. Standing up and acknowledging my truth, I feel like that’s what more people need to be doing in the world. If I’m not going to be willing to do it myself, then I can’t authentically benefit from the work of other people. I need to be a part of it. I feel enormously grateful every time I meet a young person whose experience is reflected back at them in a way that empowers them. That is something that is incredibly rewarding and I think it is a responsibility that I feel personally. I don’t put it on anyone else. At this point in my life, I have to take action in order to fully experience. I mean, kids are killing themselves. It’s not ok. We look at the world now, and you know, we’ve made great strides at home, but we also need to be an example for the world and for the human race. This is not an issue that is nationalized, it’s a global phenomenon of hatred and exclusion and alienation that I just didn’t want to be a part of. It wasn’t interesting to me. I want to be interested in the other conversation, which is the one that I started to have with myself when I came out in 2011.
What is your WILD Wish?
My WILD Wish is to really, really travel the world for an extended period of time, at some point in my life. Like for months. I travel all the time, obviously, and I’ve been to places for a month here or there, but I mean, what if I took a year and just traveled the world. That would be an amazing experience I would love to have some day.
Photographer: Tetsu Kubota
Stylist: Julian Jesus
Groomer: Losi @ Brydges Mackinney
Digital Operator: Tomonori Iwata
Photographer’s assistant: Scott Junj
Stylist’s assistant: Robert Liabraaten