By Shannon O’Connor
From a super-powered serial killer in Heroes to the iconic character of Spock in J.J. Abrams’ revitalization of the cult favorite Star Trek to a psychopathic serial killer psychologist on American Horror Story, Zachary Quinto wears many masks (and not just Bloody Face). In Quinto’s latest artistic endeavor, however, he is stripped bare. The star appears on the stage of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Mass. as the raw and emotional Tom in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
Quinto is no stranger to the stage, as he portrayed the young and complicated Louis Ironson in the Signature Theater Company’s Off-Broadway production of Angels in America in 2010. His performance of Tom in The Glass Menagerie continues his run of fine work, breaking the hearts of the audiences while leaving them enlightened on the importance of family. With a successful career on stage, on television, and on the big screen, Quinto is a triple-threat within the industry and his next project, Star Trek Into Darkness, is becoming more and more anticipated with every passing day. Toggling between three mediums may seem overwhelming, but Quinto sees it as a challenge and a way for him to get everything that he can out of his career. Despite his busy schedule, Quinto always stays focused on the medium he is currently immersed in, although he did have a few minutes to spare to talk with me about The Glass Menagerie, American Horror Story and Star Trek Into Darkness.
How did you get involved in the A.R.T.’s The Glass Menagerie?
I wanted to do a play at the beginning of 2013, because it was the first window of availability that I had in my schedule. So, basically my agents brought me a few different projects that I was considering and it just felt like this was the best fit for me on so many levels. You’ve got the creative team [including] John Tiffany and Bob Crowley, and Cherry Jones was already cast when I came on board, so I knew that the caliber of people getting together to make this work was really in line with my levels of aspiration. Also, I have always respected the A.R.T. I feel like it is a place that allows for process to unfold and an incubative environment, so I was really excited by that and of course by the play itself was something I felt drawn to on a creative level. It was a pretty easy decision once the option [The Glass Menagerie] was presented to me.
What process did you go through to get into the character Tom?
I started by doing a lot of reading, Tom is the most autobiographical character in Tennessee Williams’ body of work, so for me I did a lot of reading about Tennessee himself, his upbringing, his childhood into his adolescence and adulthood. And then, we just got into the rehearsal process, which is a lot of discussion and a lot of reading the play out loud. We had a week of rehearsal in New York, before we came up here to Boston, so we just sat around a table and deconstructed the play and talked about the play. And then, it was just about availing myself to John Tiffany’s process and working with the company to bring the play to life and bring it off the page and fill the space with it. John was such an incredible director and his process is so organic that we got there pretty easily. It’s just about diving in and digging deeper.
You guys definitely did that, you guys were very raw up on stage, it was very good.
Yeah, we work well together, this company of actors, and we all bring something unique and different, but it works well together. We appreciate each other and value each other’s contributions and process, it’s a great dynamic among the cast and while John was here, I mean we all loved him and working with him.
After breaking onto the television and film scene, what keeps you coming back to the theater?
Theater is where I started and for me coming back to the theater in many ways was about making good on a promise I made to myself when I moved to Los Angeles almost 14 years ago. I saw the landscape of the commercial theater in New York and I saw the way it was really populated by actors who established themselves in film and television. That’s really different than it used to be; 35 years ago you couldn’t really star in a movie or television series, or be taken seriously in film or television unless you had been proven on stage or unless someone really found you in New York. And then, movie careers like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, John Cazale, Robert De Niro and all those people of that generation that are considered luminaries of the film and television world, they all started in the theater. I saw that disparity and I thought, let me cultivate or work towards cultivating a career for myself that would let me work where I want to work and do what I want to do and not be restricted or limited by finances or by the need to pursue work on a daily basis. So, I moved to L.A. in order to pursue that and now that I have finally gotten myself to a place where I think that is at least a little bit more true than it ever has been, going back to the theater is really important to me and something that I love basically more than just about anything else in terms of my work relationships, so that was the catalyst for me and I intend to continue to do it more.
Broadway and theater is definitely a changing business, now it is more for well known actors than it is for unknown actors.
Yeah, I mean it is like anything commercial it’s driven by revenue and it’s driven by value, unfortunately that is just a byproduct of the time that we live in. I feel grateful that I was able to indentify that path for myself and then follow it pretty consistently for a long time, more than 10 years, and it has lead me to a place where I have a little bit more control and I have a little bit more of an opportunity to declare the kinds of projects I want to be involved in and the kinds of stuff I want to do. So for me, coming here to the A.R.T. was right in line with that, it might not be what people would expect someone in my position to do and I am completely fine with that, it’s very clear for me about what I want the process to be, the experience to be. I’m very grateful that the A.R.T. exists and that they are creating the kind of work that they create and the way that they create it. In the last year alone, they have had three shows come to the A.R.T. in Boston once, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and now Pippin is going [to Broadway]. I think there is no mistake that that kind of momentum is born out of a process and the way in which A.R.T. supports the work. It’s not about the goal, nobody is trying to get those shows to New York, they just go because they are good and they are created in an environment that allows for a pure exploration of work, that is rare and I am grateful for it.
American Horror Story: Asylum just ended, The Glass Menagerie just started its run, and Star Trek Into Darkness is hitting theaters in May, how do you approach these three mediums of entertainment, especially when they are so close together?
Each process is a little bit different, but I thrive on the opportunity of going back and forth, I wrapped American Horror Story on a Friday and I started rehearsing for The Glass Menagerie on [that] Monday. It’s more really for me just about immersing myself completely in what’s in front of me. The details are a little bit different in each scenario, but the goal is always the same for me and so I just work towards that in whatever framework or structure [I’m in]. For me it’s really gratifying and I feel very grateful to be able to work in all these different mediums and I want to continue that as I move forward.
How did you approach the character, Dr. Thredson on American Horror Story: Asylum? Did you incorporate any part of your character Sylar from Heroes?
Not consciously, but there similarities between the two characters that I am sure overlapped at times. The great thing about that character on American Horror Story, was that I had a secret that I knew for the first 5 episodes [about] where the charactering was heading, which really was not the case in Heroes. It was a great gift for me as an actor to be able to anticipate the turns that were lying around the corner for the character, because I could sort of build towards that in a specific way, so for me it was about selling the audience one version of the character knowing that a very dark and different version would emerge. That was fun to be able to do and then I think if there were any similarities in the characters, I think they emerged later on when his darker side was given full birth. I was lucky to be working with a lot of friends and as dark as that show is it was actually a very enjoyable process, because everyone working on that show is a constant professional and brought their A game, but also really how to keep it light and not let the heaviness of the world that we were creating every week slip through.
Where would you like to see American Horror Story go next season?
I don’t know. I haven’t had any conversations about coming back, so at this point I don’t think I will be part of the third season as no one has mentioned it to me and I know that they have been making other announcements for the cast. Which is fine, when I signed on for the second season, Ryan [Murphy] and I talked about it being a one year commitment and I think just where I am in my work and what I want to accomplish, I think it is good to have a little flexibility and a little bit of freedom. So, at this point I don’t really have any plans to go back, but from what I’ve heard and what I know is maybe going to happen a little bit, I am really excited to see the characters that Lily [Rabe], Sarah [Paulson], Jessica [Lange] and Evan [Peters] all play. I know Frances Conroy is coming back, which I think is amazing and I think it is going to be a different world all together and knowing Ryan as I do. I think that it’s only going to be more exciting and more surprising than anything we have seen so far. I look forward to watching it.
So there has been a lot of speculation from clues given throughout the second season that witchcraft may be involved in season 3, do you have any comment on that?
I don’t have any comments on that, because I just haven’t been in touch with them since I left, so I finished that and I just completely put on a different hat and dove into a different experience. I really haven’t been in touch with anyone from the show since I finished the second season, so I don’t really know what they are planning, but I am sure it will be good.
Portraying such an iconic character as Spock in Star Trek and doing so successfully in the first film, what kind pressure does reception of the sequel put on you, if it puts pressure on you at all?
I never felt any pressure from being a part of that franchise, I only felt supported and I have only felt like my job is to get to work and be a part of something that people want to watch and want to see. That certainly was the case the first time around and I think it will be more the case this time, because it is such a bigger experience. We shot this movie in 3D and IMAX and I think the story just lends itself to much more of an explosion onto the summer movie schedule scene. I am just really excited to get it out there and share it with people and I don’t feel any particular individual pressure to doing anything other than my job and my job is already done. I shot it in the first half of 2012, so I’ve been done for a while and now the responsibility is in everybody else’s hands to bring it all to life. J.J. [Abrams] is just a genius and everybody who works around him is incredibly talented at what they do, so I feel like people won’t be disappointed, that is certainly my hope.
Just from the trailer it looks like the franchise is becoming a lot darker.
Yeah, darker, bigger and there’s just more at stake for everybody. So, I think that’s exciting for an audience.
What should audiences expect from the next film?
More action, more peril and there’s more at stake, as I said, for the crew of the Enterprise this time around. More danger and just a bigger, bolder experience I would say.
How would you describe your take on Spock in the new Star Trek films? Does it relate more to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock or mainly your own interpretation?
It’s definitely my own interpretation, Leonard and I obviously spent time working together on the first film and became very good friends and are still very close, and speak of the character from time to time. He was very clear about wanting to hand it [the character of Spock] to somebody that he could trust and that would respect the character the same way that he did. We are very different people and we come at the experience from very different perspectives, and invariably it is going to be unique to me even though it is a character he created. I think J.J. really supported that as well, he wanted all of us to bring our own points of view and perspectives to the characters we are recreating. I think all of us have done that and I think that now that we are into our second film the thing that was most important to all of us was maintaining our sense of personal integrity and personal relationships to the characters we set.
How did having Leonard Nimoy on the set of the film affect your portrayal of Spock? If it did at all?
I don’t think it affected my portrayal; it affected my appreciation for the character, my appreciation for how important it’s been to him in his life and how much it’s been formed from his perspective and his work and his creativity. I’d say getting to know Leonard was one of the biggest gifts of the experience that first time around and now having him in my life the way I do; it means the world to me that he is invested not only in me and my relationship with the character of Spock, but also me as a person and me as I relate to the world. I have learned so much from him and I value him so much, so to me [him being on set] took a lot of pressure off actually when we were making the first movie, because I felt like he was always there for me if I needed any help, advice or guidance. We had many conversations during the first movie about the character and it was enormously helpful to have him around, certainly more helpful than it was stressful.
What are your thoughts on J.J. Abrams directing the new Star Wars films, as a Star Wars fan yourself?
I support J.J. and his pursuits and the expansion of his entertainment empire. I think he is one of the most revolutionary storytellers in the business and I think that this bold, bombastic statement on his part from a creative standpoint is going to be a huge part of a legacy to revitalize one franchise only to follow that up by revitalizing another of that scale and scope. I think it’s so impressive and I think he is a perfect choice for it. I can’t wait to watch what he does with it, I think it will be a remarkable experience. He basically has the sci-fi market cornered now, so I think that is a great place to be. In one breath I was surprised and in the next breath it made perfect sense.
With a well established career in the three largest acting mediums, we are sure to be hearing about and seeing a lot of Quinto in the years to come.